Charles Dickens would have depicted Donald Trump’s New York trial as a stark contrast to modern reporting, showcasing Trump’s loss of control in a dramatic courtroom setting.

I f only Charles Dickens were in the New York State Supreme Court where Donald Trump’s criminal trial is being held.

Instead of the endless stream of breathless reportage on the “historic” nature of the proceedings (it’s true they’re a first for anyone who’s been US president, but are they historic?) Dickens would have painted the court scene — and the glowering, sometimes somnolent defendant — with such precision and insight it would be quoted years later.

Consider this priceless scene from Dickens’ Bleak House, written in the mid-19th century. A long-running probate case Jarndyce and Jarndyce has suddenly come to an end. For good. “…a break up soon took place in the crowd, and the people came streaming out looking flushed and hot, and bringing a quantity of bad air with them. Still they were all exceedingly amused, and were more like people coming out from a Farce or a Juggler than from a court of Justice.”

— Imagine Donald Trump in Victorian times.

Instead of Dickens, we must make do with what we have. Some of it is pretty good. I can’t remember if it was Bloomberg, Axios or the FT, but somewhere, some incredibly smart columnist extrapolated as follows after the first week of the trial: for the first time in his life, Donald J. Trump is unable to do as he damn well pleases.

Or words to that effect.

In court, said the columnist, Mr Trump can’t speak when he wants, say what he wants, get up and leave, or do any of the things we take for granted as free citizens. Though the criminal fraud trial could obviously go either way — it is for the prosecution to prove the case against the former US president beyond reasonable doubt — and Mr Trump can try and spin it for political benefit, the reality is that these weeks in court are constraining.

That, suggested the columnist, is an unaccustomed place for Mr Trump. Apart from infancy and toddlerhood, his 77 years have mostly been spent doing what he likes, as he likes, when he likes. It must be uniquely enraging now to be forced to submit to the writ of Judge Juan Merchan, to have to listen to the opinions of him held by potential jurors during the jury selection process and to participate in a process that cares little for his preferences.

So to Timothy L. O’Brien’s excellent new Bloomberg piece, which kicks off week two of Mr Trump’s trial.

“Trump is veering from rage to petulance,” he writes, “and from slumber to intimidation, in the courtroom because he’s the star of a lurid Manhattan reality show he isn’t producing or directing. He doesn’t control the narrative and others are writing the scripts. And some of the scripts say nasty things about him, his sex life, his bookkeeping and his attempts to bury stories that might have derailed his 2016 presidential campaign.”

He goes on: “Trump, in his younger days, probably never imagined he’d be in the State Supreme Court dock as a former president accused of falsifying business records to mask payments to paramours who might have otherwise upended his political career. Yet here he sits, forced to observe the law.”



▪ This piece was first published in Medium and re-published in PUBLIC SQUARE UK on 23 April 2024 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
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