Nuance is vanishingly rare in the public arena these days, much to the detriment of American democracy.

Increasingly, we see society trying to pigeonhole everyone. Take abortion: Everyone is supposed to be either pro-choice or pro-life, and most people happily adopt one label or the other.

If you delve more deeply into the issue, you find a much wider range of opinions. From an ardently pro-choice point of view, there should be no limits on abortion at all; from an ardently pro-life point of view, abortion should be completely illegal regardless of the circumstances. Most people don’t fall into either of those two camps. Instead, they debate when abortions should be allowed and for what reasons. That leads to a much more nuanced discussion than what are allowed under the simple pro-choice or pro-life labels. The forces that try to eliminate nuance from the discussion are, inevitably, the most extreme voices, the people who lack real conviction in their positions and are trying to bully us into agreement. Those people are better off ignored. If you wish, mocking them is also acceptable.

We see a similar general lack of nuance regarding the conviction of former President Donald Trump in a state trial in New York.

According to the predominant narrative, one must either believe that he is a criminal who should go to jail or that it was a rigged show trial designed to influence the presidential election. The truth is quite a bit murkier, and it wasn’t quite reflected in any of the statements released by the Maine congressional delegation.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, predictably, essentially celebrated the decision; Rep. Jared Golden and Sen. Angus King said basically nothing, as is their wont; and Sen. Susan Collins decried the verdict, like most Republicans.


The only surprise amongst these statements was the degree to which Collins denounced the verdict; she’s never supported Trump, and could have easily released a bland statement like King’s or Golden’s. Collins’ statement, while not entirely right in tone, was right about one thing: This wasn’t an example of the judicial system operating fairly.

While it’s clear that the district attorney in New York stretched the law to pursue the case, that was entirely within his rights. Thanks to the concept of prosecutorial discretion, prosecutors – at both the state and federal level – are within their rights to decide whether to press charges. It’s patently obvious that New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg would not have brought these charges against anyone other than Trump had someone else done the same thing. Regardless of what your feelings are about the verdict, we all ought to be able to admit that. If an incumbent Democratic congressman had paid off his mistress with campaign funds, this trial never would have happened.

It’s also possible to believe that, while Bragg probably never should have brought the case to trial, Trump did exactly what he was accused of and the trial itself proceeded fairly.

The problem with this case was in the prosecutor’s decision to pursue it initially; once it began, the prosecutors and the defense both had the chance to pursue their own strategies to emerge victorious. That’s how trials work. Now, it may well be that the prosecutors’ strategies were legally unsound. If they were, Trump – especially as a well-off defendant – will have every opportunity to address that on appeal.

Trump’s defenders have a point when they dismiss the trial as being politically motivated, but they’re wrong to declare it a show trial. It wasn’t a show trial because it wasn’t rigged to produce a certain outcome. It was a political trial because the case was brought forth for political reasons rather than for judicial ones.

Trump is unlikely to spend a single day in jail; even if he does, it won’t stop him from running. Instead, the biggest impact it will have will be on the margins of this presidential election in the minds of a few key swing voters in important states. The district attorney, as a savvy politician, likely knew this, and that’s probably why he brought this case forward – that and to advance his own career. Just as prosecutors shouldn’t ignore crimes committed by their buddies, they shouldn’t have the leeway to overzealously pursue their enemies.

Prosecutorial discretion has its place when applied properly. This case was an abuse of it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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