Trump’s indictment fuels global concern over U.S. politics


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In the United States, all eyes are on Tuesday. That’s when former president Donald Trump is slated to appear for arraignment at a Manhattan courthouse on yet-unspecified criminal charges in a case that involves hush money paid to an adult-film actress around the time of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Whatever the details of the indictment — and the drama of Trump’s appearance in court — it marks an unprecedented moment in which a former U.S. president will be charged with a crime.

For Trump’s supporters on the U.S. right, news of the indictment has already stirred a hornet’s nest of grievance and anger. On social media and in the right-wing echo chamber, influencers and pundits gnashed their teeth over criminal proceedings they view as politically motivated. Fringe neofascist militias are making online calls for war. More mainstream broadcasters view Trump as the victim of a vindictive liberal establishment.

“Donald Trump is not even a person anymore. He is a symbol,” right-wing commentator Glenn Beck said on Fox News. “He is a symbol of the average, everyday guy that keeps getting screwed every single time.”

How Trump — a real estate mogul, tabloid celebrity and one-term occupant of the Oval Office with a long, checkered record of legal travails — can be equated to “the average, everyday guy” is a feat of imagination perhaps only possible among his base. While raging against the multiple criminal investigations closing in around him in different jurisdictions, the former president has decided to make lemonade with the lemons he has been handed. Myriad pundits think the spotlight of the indictment may boost his chances in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

“Trump — a former reality TV host who is seeking to win a second term in the White House in 2024 — has already begun privately musing about the indelible images that will likely emerge from his day in court Tuesday, talking about everything from his mug shot to possible perp walk and how he can use the moment to convey defiance,” my colleagues reported.

Shocked and defiant: How Trump is responding to unprecedented indictment

The rest of the world is watching, too. Some prominent onlookers shared the skepticism and outrage of Trump’s supporters, viewing proceedings as part of a weaponized agenda aimed at bringing down the ultranationalist ex-president. “Sadly, it’ll be very hard for US Foreign Policy to use arguments such as ‘democracy’ and ‘free and fair elections’ or try to condemn ‘political prosecution’ in other countries, from now on,” tweeted Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador.

In a separate tweet, Bukele, who has clashed with the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers over his perceived erosion of democratic norms and safeguards in the Central American country, wondered what the reaction in Washington would be “if this happened to a leading opposition presidential candidate here in El Salvador.”

In China, the spectacle in the United States reflects the perils of its political polarization and gives the one-party regime’s mouthpieces in Beijing an opportunity to lecture. Since Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the United States has “been unable to fix the systemic dysfunction that led to the riot,” noted China’s state-run Global Times, which suggested that the “upcoming election season will amplify the confrontation and division in American society, with chronic problems such as racism, gun violence and political violence witnessing a possible surge.”

Striking an altogether different note, influential Emirati commentator Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who has criticized U.S. policy in the past, said on social media that Trump’s prosecution showed that no one in the United States is above the law and was a sign of the strength of the American system.

In Europe, analysts and policymakers aren’t taking for granted the current cozy atmosphere in transatlantic relations and recognize that Trump, no matter the indictment and subsequent prosecution, may return to power. Other mooted Republican alternatives to Trump, like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), offer little more comfort.

“Trump is a phenomenon, but no longer unique,” Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to the United States, said to the New York Times. “He has spawned a whole generation of mini-Trumps and Trump-lites.”

Trump indictment marks a first for U.S. democracy. It may not be the last.

DeSantis, potentially Trump’s main primary challenger, aped Trump’s rhetoric, decrying the proceedings as a politicized farce. Like Trump, he pointed to the spectral presence of George Soros, the aging Jewish American financier, in the investigation. Trump sent out fundraising emails decrying Soros as the “puppet master” controlling Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney prosecuting the current case that led to a grand jury voting to indict Trump. DeSantis said Trump was being hounded by a “manufactured circus by some Soros-DA.”

Soros is an open backer of many left-leaning causes around the world and in the United States, from buttressing civil society in fledgling democracies to pushing for drug legalization and liberalization. He helped fund an organization that backed Bragg and other left-leaning would-be district attorneys in their election campaigns, though the two never met.

“Soros is simply a large political donor who entered the fray in 2004, when he contributed $27 million to groups trying to oust President George W. Bush,” explained journalist and Soros biographer Emily Tamkin in a 2020 piece for The Washington Post. “He also has supported progressive district attorney candidates and is putting millions into defeating Trump. But there’s a difference between making political donations — something many rich people do — and plotting a revolution.”

Tell that to conspiratorially minded right-wingers around the world, from India to Hungary to the United States, who all invoke Soros’s network of influence as if it’s a coherent, masterminded project of global domination. The vehemence of this rhetoric, many critics suggest, has more to do with summoning antisemitic canards than any actual political critique.

“We need to understand that this has nothing to do with Soros,” Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, told the Associated Press. “But it has everything to do with a very old, antisemitic view that even though Jews are small in number, they really control everything. The idea that behind the scenes, and barely visible, look for the Jew.”

The steps of the Trump indictment process, explained

A Trump spokesperson recently dismissed the allegation of antisemitism, contemptuously responding to my colleagues: “What world are you living in?”

Well, we are living in the world where, when Trump and his allies engaged in an earlier round of Soros-bashing, linking him facetiously to a caravan of migrants approaching the U.S.-Mexico border, it prefigured a far-right attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The danger of referencing Soros in a call for protests like this, is that you never know what bad actors are interpreting that as,” Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last month. “It’s not unreasonable for the Jewish community, who feels particularly vulnerable, to hear that in a way that is uncomfortable as well.”

At the same time, a major basher of Soros is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like Trump, blames his legal troubles on a supposed left-leaning judicial apparatus. But he is also like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another illiberal fellow traveler, who casts dissent or challenges to his rule as the work of foreign-backed liberal plots.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu’s firebrand son, Yair, attended a conference in Hungary linked to Orban’s ruling party and raged at the plots of Soros, the liberal media and the globalist elite. The Netanyahus have seethed as anti-government protesters have taken to Israel’s streets for months — their ire reflects the same contempt for domestic opposition shared by Trump and his allies.

“This is Netanyahu like he’s never been before. Gone is the risk-averse and pragmatic prime minister who even his rivals admitted didn’t ‘play games with national security,’” observed Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer. “Benjamin Netanyahu at 73 is now the pyromaniac-in-chief of a government of arsonists prepared to set the country alight just so they can bulldoze the hated judiciary and establish their own hegemony.”

The same passions are swirling around Trump.

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