In August 2016, I took a train from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to a modest auditorium in Connecticut to attend a rally of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Trump, then just 12 weeks away from being elected U.S. president, had long muscled out of the “hopeful” category. He was, whether or not his detractors were willing or able to appreciate it, firmly on track. I went to the rally hoping to gain some appreciation of my own; ready – or as ready as I’d been or ever would be – to take things seriously.

No space, today, to be as elaborate as I’d like to be about the distinctive blend of abject chaos and crippling boredom that transpired that afternoon.

It all unfolded under challenging circumstances. With an “excessive heat” advisory in place, Trump was over an hour late, leaving supporters toiling in a sealed building without air conditioning. A number of people were extracted from the crowd on stretchers.

To my dismay, everything else was just as I’d seen it on TV.

Little to nothing that Trump had to say made sense. His words were consistently limited, repetitive, uncivil and boldly disconnected from reality. You know how it is. Something is either great or it’s garbage. Nuance has not been party to this political career.


Neither has shame. None of what might have been regarded as deal-breaking developments prior to Trump’s 2016 run had managed to as much as glance against the deal.

As I stood among hundreds of transfixed listeners in that sweltering hall, sweat running down my shins, I began to understand why. Those gathered were hellbent on change at any cost at all. No baseness, no lie, no unsavory position (no amount of fainting!) could slow the roll. It all served to accelerate it.

The question of the invincibility enjoyed by Trump played on my mind last week as his former associate Michael Cohen, himself a convicted felon, said with no small measure of self-satisfaction that the former president must now “be held accountable for his dirty deeds.”

This is both a seductive idea and a complete impossibility in our lifetime.

So eager are parts of the American electorate to see Trump pay for the dysfunction and disgrace he has wrought that anything, any crime – including the potential violation of state law in paying hush money to an adult-film star – will do.

Suggestions last week that the pretext for the indictment could be thin, in the end, or that there were far bigger and more meaningful Trump fish to fry, or that there might be inflammatory downsides to the decision to prosecute, were promptly derided by Trump’s leading critics and held up as tantamount to support of him.


This style of thinking is as disordered as it is desperate. This is not a commentary on the merits or demerits of the case against Trump – even if I wanted to go there (I don’t), the indictment isn’t expected to be released until Tuesday. Rather, it’s a reflection on what a national obsession with “political motivation” has done to public life and discourse.

Even if we restrict the analysis of the indictment to symbolism, we don’t have to think about it for very long to understand that if this is being interpreted as a victory, it’s a pyrrhic victory.

It’s understandable that we have reached this place. I find the relationship between the President Trump experience and the indictment in New York impossible to analogize.

“Nobody is above the law” was among the choice aphorisms in circulation late last week. Living with the atmosphere of lawlessness and immorality that Trump has fostered, unchecked, are we suddenly to be consoled by this most fundamental of expectations?

Consider the bar-lowering that goes on when a goody-bag instance of malfeasance is taken to the finish line; when a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels becomes a focal point because we have utterly failed to draw any lines in any other respect.

The problem that persists is that – for decades – Trump has been rewarded for hovering above judgment for offenses bigger than this, smaller than this, and infinitely more dangerous, damaging and precedent-setting than this. It stands to reason that the outcome here, whatever it may be, will form just another hurdle for the former president to clear.

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