In perhaps the least surprising twist of the past seven years, they finally got him: Former President Donald Trump was formally arraigned Tuesday while hundreds of Resistance members camped gleefully outside with their cameras and press passes.
We knew they’d eventually get this day, and he knew they would too; it’s one of the many reasons he moved his operation from hostile New York City to friendly Florida in 2019. Some version of this was always going to happen.
Trump left office four years after now-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer threatened that American intelligence agencies would get “back” at him. During those four years, he’d suffered through Russiagate, Mueller-obstructiongate, Ukrainegate, and Post Officegate, with a sprinkling of kids-in-cagesgate. Having flown back to Palm Beach, he was greeted by take-home-docugate and the reanimated corpse of Stormygate.
There was no way they weren’t going to find some way to get Trump, but by this point what ought to be a shocking statement — that some institution of law enforcement would eventually find a pretext to prosecute a political enemy — to most Americans is simply understood reality. More than three-quarters of us think his arrest is politically motivated, according to a CNN poll conducted at the end of last week, and 60 percent of us think it’s fine anyway.
It’s notable, though, that while the former president has been the illicit target of shadowy figures in the past (from former intel chiefs to current National Security Counsel staffers), the man who finally pressed charges is a fairly standard leftist.
Far from some mastermind playing three-dimensional chess, Alvin Bragg appears by all accounts to be a medium-level attack dog, eager to please a left-wing base. And that very fact, as much as any of the high-ranking conspiracies against the former president, illuminates the striking difference between the American left and its political opponents.
Let’s compare. Despite the chorus of execrations, Republicans’ “lock her up” chants were so much political theater. Sure, they could yell it real loud and even print it on hats, T-shirts, and bumper stickers, but it was never going to happen. While liberal reporters and politicians launched accusations of fascism over the chants and the merchandising, conservatives never really had the power to affect as hardline a policy as they were accused of. Under President Trump, Hillary Clinton wrote books, did podcasts, and worked on documentaries about herself, while FBI leaders colluded against the White House, and FBI agents kneeled before anti-Trump protesters. Right-wing fascism, this was not.
The American left, in stark contrast, actually has the power to undermine administrations and even arrest its enemies. The power is innate, wielding it doesn’t even take beaming some nefarious order from the top — the institutions themselves are thoroughly captured.
President Barack Obama, for example, didn’t need to call Lois Lerner and order her to use the Internal Revenue Service to hobble conservative nonprofits, just as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland didn’t have to order FBI tactical teams to target Christians after Roe was struck down. All it takes is mid-level functionaries who believe their cause is just, are willing to use their powers to punish their political enemies, and aren’t really afraid they’ll ever be held accountable for it.
The execution is where loyal lieutenants like Bragg come in. He’s openly bragged that this is his role. When running for New York City prosecutor, he touted that he’d sued Trump more than 100 times. He all but promised partisan allies he’d hold their political enemies to account.
You might think these sorts of things get a little close to the truth — that men like Bragg were too honest about their intentions for comfort. And yes, his candor caused some hand-wringing and awkwardness among the more professional Democrats like former spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who warned liberals not to publicly celebrate the arrest.
We saw similar squirming when Garland issued his memo explicitly instructing agents to target parents at school meetings, but as with Bragg’s flimsy case, no harm will come to the perpetrators. No one will be held to account; the game will go on.
Republicans will of course accuse their opponents of “hypocrisy.” They’ll take to the networks and send out emails and raise millions of dollars. They’ll yell “hypocrisy” because that’s what powerless people see when actual power is wielded against them. And when it’s over, Bragg’s publicly political and legally weak case isn’t going to cause any trouble for the American left beyond a little heartburn. Another norm will be bulldozed, and Republicans will claim they’re too principled to respond in kind, contenting themselves instead with calling their opponents hypocrites and other words the weak fling helplessly against the strong.