Think of it as part of a continuum of corruption baked into the DNA of a man with no moral scruples. Only now, Donald J. Trump has finally hit a trip wire in the legal system.
On Thursday, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict the former president for his role in a $130,000 payoff to porn actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep her from speaking publicly about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
But Trump’s long track record of questionable behavior, so excessively dishonorable and often outright heinous, practically drowns out the act of allegedly paying hush money to a porn star.
Where do we begin? Nearly 50 years ago, Trump was accused by federal authorities of racial discrimination because Trump, his real estate company, and his father would not rent apartments to Black or Puerto Rican tenants. Trump fought back, fiercely and disingenuously, and the case was settled.
He continued displaying a now-familiar tendency to skirt the law and the most basic ethical principles and moral norms, a master in operating in the gray areas of the law and attacking, undermining, and belittling anyone who tried to stand in the way.
Among his worst moral crimes before he ran for president: his evil campaign in the late 1980s against the Central Park Five, the Black and brown teenagers who were wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of a white woman and eventually exonerated; his prominent role in the blatant lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace, an unprecedented and vicious attack on a sitting president. And let’s not forget the fraud case against Trump University, which he settled for $25 million.
Trump, of course, never apologized for any of that. Nor did he admit to any wrongdoing. In fact, that’s been the single constant in Trump’s public life: lie, deflect, deny. The playbook has worked, in that he’s literally normalized the act of escaping accountability for half a century.
Until now, that is. (Well, maybe.)
And yet it’s a powerful marketing opportunity for Trump, who’s already announced a 2024 presidential run. Now his goal will be to convince his base and others that the criminal justice system is corrupt, not him; that he’s been indicted for the equivalent of a parking ticket. His indictment would be a career-ending episode for 99 percent of politicians. For Trump, it’s a new fundraising opportunity.
But, of course, Trump faces more serious legal troubles. There’s the pending case about his alleged interference with the 2020 election results in Georgia, which may result in an indictment later this spring; the investigation into classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago Club; and the federal special counsel investigation into his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.
Trump already set a precedent when he became the only president to be impeached twice on significant charges. His long record of sins during his presidency — including his grotesque immigration policies, from his Muslim ban to family separation, and repeated racist comments and attitudes — really numbed us into resignation.
We’ll know more about the charges that Trump faces next week when the indictment is unsealed. For now, I can’t help but revel in the words of Yusef Abdus Salaam, one of the Central Park Five teens. Salaam, who’s running for New York City Council, tweeted on Thursday: “For those asking about my statement on the indictment of Donald Trump — who never said sorry for calling for my execution — here it is: Karma.”