Thursday, July 18, 2024

Indictment shows how Trump waged an assault on American democracy

Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the Moms for Liberty meeting in Philadelphia, Friday, June 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

With his federal indictment Tuesday for trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat, former President Donald Trump stands accused of the most serious crimes against the United States since Southern states seceded and waged the Civil War to preserve slavery.

While leaders of the confederacy were focused on depriving enslaved Black people of their rights, Trump stands accused of trying to deprive all Americans of their right to freely elect a president. Had he succeeded in blocking the peaceful transfer of power to now-President Joe Biden, Trump would have imposed the death penalty on American democracy.

The indictment charges that Trump sought to hold onto power even though he knew he had been defeated by Biden in a fair election. No president has ever been accused of this crime. More than 60 court decisions, including decisions by the Supreme Court, have rejected Trump’s false claims.

The grand jury indictment returned against Trump accuses him of four crimes: conspiracy to violate the right of Americans to vote; conspiracy to defraud the government; obstructing an official proceeding; and conspiring to carry out that obstruction.

The charge of violating voting rights accuses Trump of conspiring to deprive the American people of their civil rights by denying them the right to have their votes for president count. The law Trump is accused of violating was enacted after the Civil War to prosecute white supremacists who used terrorism to stop formerly enslaved Black men from voting. The Supreme Court later ruled that the law also covered efforts to stop women (who gained the right to vote in 1920) and other American citizens from voting.

Trump is accused of conspiring to defraud the United States by trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, including by pressuring state legislators and election officials to change electoral votes won by Biden to electoral votes for Trump. 

Finally, Trump is accused of seeking to obstruct the certification by Congress of Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021 and conspiring to carry out that obstruction. Trump publicly summoned his supporters to a rally in Washington, D.C., and then told them at the rally to march on the Capitol, where they broke into the building and staged a deadly riot. Trump also pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory, which Pence refused to do, to his credit. 

Trump says he is innocent of all the charges. He is expected to be arraigned on the charges Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I put my loyalty to America ahead of my loyalty to my political party and any candidate I’ve ever worked to get elected. The same can’t be said for Trump.

Despite his incessant claims that he wants to Make America Great Again and believes in America First, Trump has spent his life focused on making himself great, putting himself first and making as much money as possible from his supporters and from being president.

When I managed Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, Gore told me to stop his strong challenge to his narrow election loss after the Supreme Court ruled against him and quickly conceded to Republican George W. Bush. Similarly, in 1960 Republican Vice President Richard Nixon rejected calls by his supporters to challenge his narrow loss to Democratic Sen. John F. Kennedy.

Yet Trump, to this day, stubbornly insists with zero evidence that he won the 2020 presidential election and has convinced millions of his fellow Republicans to accept his lies. He has a huge lead in opinion polls over the dozen or so other candidates seeking his party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

Even though Trump has also been indicted by another federal grand jury in Florida on charges of mishandling highly classified government documents after leaving office and obstructing an investigation of his actions, his loyal base is standing by him. Nor have charges in New York involving hush money payments to a porn star who alleges she had an affair with Trump (a claim he denies) reduced Trump’s support in polls of Republican voters.

Trump also faces a likely indictment in Georgia this month for his efforts to persuade Republican election officials to “find 11,780 votes” (recorded in a phone call) to overturn his election defeat in that state.

Trump’s election lies have had enormously harmful consequences. They have undermined the faith of millions of Americans in our elections, badly divided our country and prompted some Trump supporters to threaten and even carry out acts of violence, as we saw in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The people threatened include federal and state prosecutors investigating Trump, among them two Black local district attorneys — Alvin Bragg in New York City and Fani Willis in Fulton County, Ga. Trump has absurdly accused the two of being racists for prosecuting him. 

Among the many other victims of threats by Trump supporters were two Black poll workers in Georgia, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss. The women were forced to go into hiding because of threats after Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani accused them of mishandling ballots in 2020 to give Biden more votes than he actually received.

Freeman and Moss sued Giuliani for defamation, leading him to admit in a court filing last week that he made false statements about them.

I vividly remember my parents telling me how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 at long last enabled them to vote, ending the Jim Crow suppression of the Black vote in our home state of Louisiana and elsewhere in the South. I remember reading when I got older about the many Black civil rights workers and their allies from other races who marched and in some cases were beaten and even killed to win the right to vote for folks who looked like us.

I would never have believed back then that someday a president of the United States would be criminally charged with wanting to rob Americans of every race of their right to vote. I look forward to Trump’s trial, where he will be presumed innocent unless proven guilty but made to stand before a jury and face the accusations against him, just like any other American.

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is a veteran political strategist, Senior Advisor at Purple Strategies, New York Times bestselling author, Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and sought-after Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning media contributor to such outlets as ABC News, USA Today and TheGrio. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. Donna was the first Black American to serve as the manager of a major-party presidential campaign, running the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in 2000. She serves as an adjunct professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Georgetown University and served as the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University and as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. She has lectured at nearly 250 colleges and universities on diversity, equity and inclusion; women in leadership; and restoring civility in American politics.

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