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Trump guilty verdict: The fallout for US democracy

The trial of Donald Trump has undermined US democratic institutions, despite illustrating that no one is above the law. Trump’s base remains supportive, however, but independent voter support has declined.



Trump guilty verdict: The fallout for US democracy

T he US’s democratic reputation and institutions may have been undermined by the trial of Donald Trump, analysts said as the former president was found guilty of 34 charges.

Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor at Princeton University who studies constitutional government, said that the trial, and the “attacks against the country’s democratic institutions not only have effects on those willing to serve in those positions, but they also lower the perceived legitimacy of institutions that should stand above the political fray”.

Trump’s message of constantly attacking the judge and prosecutor was meant to undermine the validity of the proceedings in the eyes of the public, according to Republican strategist Alex Conant

While Tom Hayes, chairman of investment firm Great Hill Capital in New York, said that international judgements of the trial could affect the financial stability of US investments, especially “if the world starts to view it that the last bastion of democracy, free markets, fair legal system, is perceived to be tainted”.

But there is something to be said for a justice system that is prepared to put a former president on trial. Michael Tyler, the Biden-Harris campaign communications director, said that the verdict illustrated that “in New York today, we saw that no one is above the law”.

Former president Trump was found guilty of all thirty-four charges relating to falsifying business records to conceal a hush-money payment made to former porn star Stormy Daniels. He is the first former president to be found guilty of criminal charges.

Sky News’ US correspondent, James Matthews, wrote that these “these might be the most significant verdicts ever delivered by an American jury” because of the status of the defendant and possible impact on November’s election.

Trump emerged from the court and denounced the whole procedure: “this was a rigged, disgraceful trial”, he said, adding that: “The real verdict is going to be November 5th by the people.”

It’s unclear, as yet, whether the court case has affected Trump’s chances of reelection in November, but there are some signs his base have doubled down after Trump’s campaign donation page crashed once the verdict was announced.

Voters’ response

Since the trial started in April, Trump’s lead in the polls over the incumbent president, Joe Biden, has stretched from 0.7% to 1.7%, according to leading US poll analysts FiveThirtyEight.

Among Republican voters, according to a YouGov poll this week, Trump received a favourable rating of 41%, while 85% of registered Republican voters intend to vote for Trump in November’s presidential election. This is a slight fall on the 89% of Republican voters that said they would vote for Trump in a YouGov poll at the start of the trial.

While this might not be enough to cost Trump the election, the number of independent voters who said they intended to vote for Trump fell from 42% to 37% during the same period. Only time will tell whether the guilty verdict will have a further impact on Trump’s support.

What is perplexing is not that Trump has been found guilty of the charges but that he continues to attract support in the polls. But most of his supporters believe he has been the subject of a political witch hunt.

After yesterday’s result, Republican congresswoman Mary Miller said “The leftists are trying to tear America apart by erasing our borders, bankrupting us, and ending our impartial system of justice. The American people see right through these rigged political show trials against President Trump.”

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Republican, reacted to the news by saying that the charges brought against Trump were part of “a purely political exercise, not a legal one”.

Questions remain as to how the international community will react if Trump is reelected as president. However, these allegations are not new and the Trump presidency managed to survive two impeachments as well as an investigation into alleged ties to Russia, of which he was cleared. Although he was impeached by a Democrat-controlled House, the Senate split along party lines and failed to find him guilty on both occasions.

European leaders are likely to be more focused on any action Trump takes concerning the war in Ukraine and the US continued commitment to NATO.

What happens next

Trump faces additional charges to those he was convicted of yesterday. All remaining cases carry the potential of substantial jail time. Whether these will come to court before the election is still uncertain.

The Trump legal team have sought a decision from the Supreme Court as to whether a president can be charged for criminal acts conducted during their presidency. Trump’s lawyers have argued before the Supreme Court that presidents should not be legally restricted from performing their constitutional duties, and that retrospective legal cases brought against presidents, such as that surrounding the 2020 election results, did just that.

Surprisingly, the majority of Republican voters polled in April by YouGov did not agree that presidents should be exempt from charges for illegal actions taken during their term of office.


Trump will learn his fate of yesterday’s verdict when he is sentenced by Justice Juan Merchan on July 11 in the New York court, just days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

Trump’s potential sentence is unclear. It could potentially be anything as lenient as a verbal warning to a four-year prison sentence. It is likely that Trump will appeal the sentence in a process that will take the final result past the next election.

There is no possibility that Trump can pardon himself, if he is reelected as president in November’s election, because the case was a state case and not tried under federal law.

Trump will not accept any form of guilty verdict. Throughout his trial he has maintained that he innocent of all charges. In an email to his supporters, Trump still declared that “we did nothing wrong”. But the record will show that the former president is a convicted felon. What impact this will have on the election and the US’s international reputation will play out over the coming months.

PUBLIC SQUARE UK



Sources:

▪ This piece was originally published in The Conversation and re-published in PUBLIC SQUARE UK on 2 June 2024. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Dreamstime/Elliott Cowand.



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