Mehdi Hasan: Dems would be foolish to let Trump do all the talking about his charges

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So, America has arraigned a former president on federal criminal charges for allegedly leaving the White House with state secrets, keeping them at his resort home and refusing to return them. It’s new territory for the American republic.

The natural question is: What happens now? What should happen?

We know how Trump’s defenders on the right are reacting, with denialism. conspiracy theories. Even calls for violence.

How should Democratic officials respond to this moment? How should my colleagues in the news media cover it?

But how should Democratic officials respond to this moment? How should my colleagues in the news media cover it?

Here are five suggestions for how to think about, and talk about, Donald Trump the federal defendant, as we move deeper into this uncharted territory, heading for not one, but two, Trump trials.

Number One: This federal case is about national security, not just “documents.”

Trump took home nuclear secrets and war plans. He kept them in his resort home, and, according to the indictment, showed them off on two occasions. People have gone to prison for much less than that. Calling that a “documents case” is trivializing it. It’s like reducing Watergate to just a simple office burglary. Trump is accused of stealing some of the most sensitive secrets America has, so this case is about the direct danger his actions put everyone in.

Number Two: Don’t give free publicity to Trump. 

Time and time again the man has used coverage of his own lies and corruption to rally supporters and spread more self-serving lies.

The Tuesday he was arraigned was no exception. After his arraignment in Miami, Trump was driven to a cafe in that city’s Little Havana neighborhood, a decades-old campaign stop for presidential candidates, before jetting off to his Bedminster golf resort in New Jersey to give yet another rambling speech about witch hunts and banana republics to his faithful devotees.

How did the watchdog press respond to this circus? Mostly by playing into Trump’s hands. “Momentous scene in Miami,” read The New York Times headline, beside a photo of Trump anointed by the U.S. flag on his jet’s tail rudder. It’s reminiscent of 2016, when Trump got an estimated five billion dollars in free media coverage, more than seven times what Hillary Clinton got.

The point is that Trump sees the notoriety from being America’s first indicted former president as a clear P.R. opportunity, but the media doesn’t have to help him do it.

Number Three: Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. 

A vacuum allows Trump and the MAGA media machine to flood the zone with lies. Trump and his allies — including some of his supposed primary opponents! — are already blasting their own false version of the story loud and clear to the Florida public, any one of whom could possibly wind up on the jury deciding the former president’s fate.

Meanwhile, President Biden has ordered the DNC and his own re-election campaign to remain silent about the indictment. So, Republicans get to endlessly run their mouths on this, while Democrats take a vow of silence?  

This is madness.

Trump sees the notoriety from being America’s first indicted former president as a clear P.R. opportunity, but the media doesn’t have to help him.

I get it. President Biden has to stay independent, neutral and above the fray on a case involving his Department of Justice. But candidate Biden, at some point, surely has to say something about his GOP opponent being indicted for major and multiple crimes, does he not? You can’t allow Trump and his Republican apologists to face no political penalty for one of the biggest scandals in American history. That’s just political malpractice.

Number Four: We cannot allow political violence to be normalized.

A number of Republicans have already responded to Trump’s indictment with violent bluster.  Whether it’s failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake talking about 75 million mostly-armed Trump supporters  or the  not so subtle hints at civil war from Congressmen Andy Biggs and Clay Higgins. If we’ve learned anything from January 6, 2021, it’s that we can’t shrug off this rhetoric and ignore where it leads. We have to call it out at every turn and not just move on, as much of the media already have.

Number Five: This is a test of American democracy, but not in the way you think.

MAGA Republicans want you to believe this is a test of President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland — even the Department of Justice. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to regurgitate that nonsense, as The New York Times did with the headline, “Trump’s Case Puts The Justice System On Trial, In A Test Of Public Credibility.”

No. The only person who is about to be on trial is Donald J. Trump, and the test of democracy is whether or not the United States can prosecute, even convict and jail, a former leader without everyone losing their minds. Like the rest of the world does all the time, without incident.

At least 78 countries around the world have prosecuted or jailed former leaders just since the start of this century.

At least 78 countries around the world have prosecuted or jailed former leaders just since the start of this century. That includes leaders from democracies and allies of ours, such as France, Italy, South Korea, and Israel, where the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the middle of his own ongoing corruption trial. A reminder that in other countries even sitting leaders can face justice.

So this notion that the prosecution of a former American president is somehow a corrupt and partisan attack on the “political opposition,” or a sign of democratic dysfunction, is just absurd. All across the world, democracies hold their current and former leaders to account for their alleged crimes.

Here in America, right now, this isn’t just about whether Trump wins or loses in court. It’s also about whether he wins the battle for public opinion. It’s about whether Trump and his allies are able to frame and define one of the biggest political stories of the modern era.

We can’t let them.

This is an adapted excerpt from The Mehdi Hasan Show on Peacock on Thursday, June 15.


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