Americans must reject Trump’s assault on rationality

By Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe, June 3,

Donald Trump was the defendant for the past five weeks in Manhattan. Now, American rationality is on trial.

Trump, his attorneys, and a broad array of Republican elected officials are driving the ridiculous assertion that the former Republican president was tried and convicted at the behest of President Biden. That’s a lie, and as such, it obviously lacks any supporting evidence.

Meanwhile, Trump and company are dismissing as outrageous his conviction on 34 felony charges in his hush-money trial. A New York City jury decided that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had marshaled enough evidence to prove its case.

But in Trumpworld, neither that evidence nor the jury’s assessment matters.

“This was a rigged, disgraceful trial,’’ Trump said shortly after the jury verdict. “This was done by the Biden administration.’’ He kept that up on Friday in a half-hour press conference, a rant that will be a field day for fact-checkers.

“This is all done by Biden and his people,’’ he claimed, adding, “It all comes out of the White House, crooked Joe Biden.’’

Sadly, presented with a choice between backstopping the rule of law and the American judicial system or serving as an echo chamber for Trump’s shameless claim that this state-level prosecution was somehow ordered from on high, prominent Republicans quickly decided that Trump mattered more than truth.

Two egregious examples:

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a man who hopes to land the role of Trump’s running mate, compared the Trump trial to a show trial in communist Cuba. House Speaker Mike Johnson, the GOP’s highest-ranking federal elected official, professed democratic sorrow on Fox: “This is diminishing the American people’s faith in our system of justice itself. And to maintain a republic … people have to believe that justice is fair, that there is equal justice under law.’’

In fact, what may well diminish the American people’s faith in our system is the concerted assault the GOP is waging to undermine that confidence, the better to preserve the political viability of the man they seem all but certain to nominate for president in July.

So let’s state what’s true: Sadly, prominent Republicans have failed in their responsibility and rationality tests.

Let’s hope the American people rise above the example of the Republican officials. A democracy requires a functional majority willing and able to reason critically, to sort truth from lies, and to acknowledge the reasonableness even of court decisions with which they may disagree.

Certainly one of the most dismaying aspects of the Trump era has been the way that his hard-core base has adopted his false claims as virtual reality.

After winning an upset victory in the Electoral College in 2016, Trump quickly asserted that he had actually beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote as well. That was a clear precursor to his biggest falsehood, that he actually won the 2020 presidential election, only to have it stolen from him by the Democrats.

That evidence-free assertion proved to be ridiculous. Still, it was real enough in the minds of Trump supporters that they stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to pressure Congress not to count and certify the legitimate results.

Now we have this latest lie.

Let’s be clear here: It’s fine to disagree with this verdict, to think that the instructions to the jury were flawed, that other legal errors were made, or that the prosecution didn’t meet its burden. Trump will appeal his verdict, of course, as he has every right to do. If he succeeds — and there’s some chance he may — people should respect that decision as another legitimate aspect of our legal system.

But if you believe in the US Constitution and in the rule of law, you can’t reflexively retreat to the comfort of conspiracy theories to rationalize away unwelcome court verdicts. It is irrational in the extreme to maintain that this trial and its verdict was somehow directed by Biden or Attorney General Merrick Garland or the Department of Justice.

Amid the GOP’s lemming-like rush toward Trumpian untruth, one Republican deserves real credit. That’s former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, who said on X before the verdict, “Regardless of the result, I urge all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process. At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders — regardless of party — must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship. We must reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law.’’ A top Trump apparatchik immediately blasted him for that remark.

I’d like to think that common sense will prevail and that Trump and his enablers will fail in their effort to turn a majority of Americans against the US legal system. Still, as Trump has already demonstrated, endlessly repeated conspiracy theories can be a powerful weapon in the hands of a determined demagogue.

Where that would leave us a country no one can yet say. But it certainly won’t be in a good place for a democracy.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. 

 Image Credits: JOHN MINCHILLO-ASSOCIATED PRESS

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