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US politics

It’s madness to indict Trump

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

“Are they all drunk in the Manhattan district attorney’s office?” says Will Lloyd in The Times. Until DA Alvin Bragg announced last week that he was planning to indict Donald Trump, the former president looked “finished”. Sitting alone by the pool at Mar-a-Lago, he was creating the “classic American image” of the embittered magnate, like Richard Nixon hiding out at San Clemente or Howard Hughes in “sun-blasted isolation” at the Xanadu hotel. But instead of harming his chances of returning to the White House, the indictment is already “filling his fundraising coffers” and mobilising loyalists – four in five Republicans agree that it’s a “witch hunt”. The only thing that can stop Trump winning the Republican nomination now is a heart attack.

It’s the long-term effects that worry me most, says Ramesh Ponnuru in The Washington Post. The case itself is incredibly weak – even Bragg was hesitant until he felt public pressure to do it. That’s a big part of the problem: “Short of being written on Biden campaign letterhead, this indictment could hardly be more nakedly political.” And if it works, we can expect a torrent of “dubious prosecutions” of politicians from both parties. District attorneys in deep-red jurisdictions are no less creative than those in New York. Thanks to Bragg’s reckless case, the argument that “nobody really cares” about the civic norms that once prohibited this kind of “abusive” political prosecution has become more persuasive. This is exactly the kind of “decay and decline” of the legal system predicted by Founding Father James Madison when he warned that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm”. How right he was.