By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Regarding the long-awaited indictment and arraignment of Donald Trump, all I can say is I’ve lived through some scary times but this tops them all.
I’m old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of Oct. 1962, but I was only five at the time. The implications didn’t dawn on me until years later, but I recall the anxiety in the adults around me. I knew something terrible was happening.
I vividly remember the assassination of President Kennedy a year later, but again my sense of unease was based on my parents’ reaction.
I was in Manhattan during the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. They were horrifying, but even with security experts urging us to buy plastic sheeting for our windows to protect against chemical attacks by terrorists, I never felt as threatened as I do by Trump. He has more potential to reduce this country to smoking ruin than Al-Qaeda and ISIS ever did. That possibility feels much more likely now that he has become the first former U.S. President to face criminal charges: 34 felony counts related to falsifying business records.
During the last seven years, I’ve watched Trump stoke dangerous, bitter, angry divisions in this country while trashing our nation’s most cherished ideals and principles such as honesty, integrity, kindness, decency, civility, intelligence, generosity and equality.
I’ve had friends and even family members who support Trump stop speaking to me because of our political differences. I see huge, vulgar “F—k Joe Biden” flags on houses and trucks and read about militia groups allied with Trump that vow to exterminate liberals. (See Malcolm Nance’s recent book They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists, and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency.)
I was casually informed by a Trumper I worked with that my views are going to get me a bullet in the head. I believe him. I often wonder what some of my fellow citizens are willing to do to harm me, my family, my friends, and other innocent people because they’ve been convinced by Trump that we are their enemies and an existential threat to America’s greatness.
Trump’s disgusting attempt to overturn the 2020 election that culminated with the sickening spectacle of January 6, a deadly insurrection he inspired and egged on, is surely the worst moment of my lifetime as an American.
And now we have his first indictment, a historic precedent that is much needed to uphold the rule of law even while it raises the specter of years of civic unrest and possible violence. Trump promised as much during his rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25. Calling Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (a Black man) an “animal” and a “degenerate psychopath” is the kind of dehumanizing rhetoric demagogues like Adolf Hitler have long used to stoke their followers into a frenzy of blood lust. “I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution!” Trump vowed to his acolytes.
“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting President in history, and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime,” Trump wrote on his ironically named Truth Social site, “when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?”
With almost everyone opining on the Stormy Daniels hush money case before even knowing the specifics of the extensive charges and evidence, a media circus set up its tents by the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse where Trump was arraigned on April 4. Pro- and anti-Trump protestors gathered, including right wing firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene and fraud poster child George Santos. The GOP has now circled its wagons with Republicans clamoring for “creative” charges against Democrats such as Joe Biden (and his son Hunter), Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and possibly ex-Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and more.
While the twice-impeached Trump portrays himself as a martyr (the “most innocent man in U.S. history”), even Mike Pence, ridiculed by Trump whose tweets put his Vice President’s life in jeopardy on Jan. 6, has dutifully called the indictment an “outrage.” All of this uproar has been a boon to Trump’s piggy bank as a purported $14 million (and counting) in donations have poured in from supporters since the indictment was announced on March 30.
I find it hard to wrap my mind around the historic nature of this indictment. So much unprecedented stuff has happened since Trump descended on his golden escalator on June 16, 2015 to announce his first run for the White House that it feels like business as usual. But it’s clearly going to be a stern test for a legal system the GOP is trying to neuter in order to protect Trump and the party. Trump’s son Eric has already posted a photo of the case judge’s daughter to social media with the intentionally inflammatory message that she worked for the Biden-Harris campaign.
This is only the beginning of a long slog with three more serious indictments likely. The possibility of our legal system and other democratic institutions being destroyed in the process and a vengeful Trump returning to power with the intention of delivering retribution is the scariest prospect of all.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.