“We Got the Bastard!”
By Stephen Golub, May 11, 2023
Versions of this article have also appeared in Stephen Golub’s national and international affairs blog, A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country.
From Manila to Manhattan
The same sentiments cross my mind as I reflect on the results of E. Jean Carroll’s case against Donald Trump. In the legal equivalent of a New York minute – less than three hours of deliberations – a Manhattan jury held him liable for sexual abuse and defamation.
Perhaps just as important: For the first time in his narcistic, bigotry-promoting, insurrection-igniting existence, Donald Trump has been held accountable.
Women and the justice system, two forces he’s spent his life thumbing his nose at (or worse, far worse) ushered in this accountability.
The $5 million fine awarded to Carroll can’t begin to compensate for the lifelong trauma Trump triggered through his sexual abuse. That trauma continued throughout the trial, as his lawyer’s brutish cross-examination featured such wince-worthy questions as asking her why she didn’t scream while being raped.
None of this is to cast Carroll as a victim. She braved the attacks. She showed what she’s made of. And without judging other women for whatever tough choices they make under such trying circumstances, she won simply by standing up to this spoiled brat of a man.
Explicitly supported by other witnesses who are women, implicitly so by countless others (as well as men) across the country and the world, Carroll withstood the waves of insults and threats from Trump and his supporters.
In fact, in the other significant trial outcome, Trump was also held accountable for the first time for his cruel barbs against women, in terms of his being found liable for defaming Carroll.
Analogously insulted, the justice system stood its ground against a man whose porcine personality reflects how accustomed he’s been to having his way with it.
Marcos comes to mind yet again at this moment. Just as Trump has done for decades, he manipulated the law throughout his life. This stretched back to evading a murder rap while still a law student, partly because the court considered him such a promising young man. Throughout his dictatorship, he operated under a veneer of legality, so that his defenders (not least the U.S. government) could argue that whatever he did – rampant corruption, atrocious human rights abuses – was not really his fault, or not so bad, or justified to combat a communist insurgency.
Until this week, Trump had been similarly successful in twisting the justice system to his desires. Through intimidation, delay, drowning opponents in litigation costs and many other tricks, he’d ruined lives, drained savings and scammed a variety of victims. He consistently got away with figurative murder.
True, he’d paid some prices at the margins. For instance, a court forced him to dismantle the Trump Foundation, one of his countless con jobs through which he helped himself rather than others. He was impeached twice, though never convicted. Thus, he never was brought to account in any fundamental sense.
In addition to whining about his supposed victimization, Trump will brag that he wasn’t found liable for rape. He’ll seek to paper over the reality that sexual abuse constitutes forcible sexual contact without the victim’s consent.
So, rape or not, that reality is repugnant. Sexual Abuser is now his own scarlet letter.
Does This Make Any Difference?
As my old law school Torts professor used to ask, Is this a difference that makes a difference?
When applied to the verdict, the question makes sense for all sorts of reasons. After all…
There was the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump boasted that he could get away with grabbing women by their private parts against their will, employing (be forewarned) some very lewd language:
A month after the tape’s October 2016 release, he won the presidency, making many wonder whether he could get away with anything without paying a price. In addition…
The Republican Party’s leadership will likely continue to kowtow to him. The Republican base will probably continue to speak, see and hear no evil about its Feckless Leader. And…
A week is a short time in politics. Eighteen months until the 2024 presidential election is immeasurably longer. Other trials, scandals and events could make the Carroll case seem like a distant memory. Plus…
Those other, potentially more salient events could include the state of the economy, overseas crises, whether Joe Biden comes across as feeble or forceful on the campaign trail and matters we can’t even start to foresee.
What This Is All About
So why is this trial and verdict such a big deal? Especially if Republicans continue to rally around this flagrant abuser of women and all civilized norms?
Because it’s not about Trump’s lackeys and cultists.
It’s about us – that is, folks who value democracy over demagoguery and the rule of law over mob rule.
Seeing this scoundrel brought to some semblance of justice reminds us that he can be beaten, and not just in an election he refuses to concede. And though other issues could loom larger in next year’s presidential campaign, don’t underestimate the reality that the contest may well be won at the margins, by a relatively small swing of votes. Which in turn means that its outcome could be swayed by the lingering stink of this – say it again – proven sexual abuser.
His 2016 electoral success, despite the Access Hollywood video, may suggest otherwise. But a potential array of prosecutions of Trump could add to the weight of the Carroll verdict. And sometimes a specific, verified instance of abuse, as in Carroll’s case, can move the public – or at least the small slice that can determine even a presidential election’s outcome – more than a justified flood of trials or the Access Hollywood video’s more generalized misogyny.
Picking apart the particular is an art that Trump himself has mastered. He singles out an opponent’s alleged violation (as in the Hillary Clinton email “scandal”) such that it matters to the media and public more than his hundreds of misdeeds.
All of this brings us to Trump’s biggest trick. It’s not simply to convince his cultists of his appeal. It’s to demoralize his opponents. To cast doubt on the very viability of our institutions, our democracy, our justice system. To make us despair over the rot he’s promoted and revealed in our country.
A victory like the Carroll trial reaffirms that the rot is not irredeemable. That the rat can’t always wriggle through legal loopholes. That he can’t buy or bulldoze his way out of all accountability.
The impact of this trial, then, is not mainly about how it might affect Trump’s chances of securing the Republican nomination. It’s about what the verdict achieves against injustice, for women and for all of us battling this would-be despot’s desperate attempt to drown our democracy.
Because, for the first time, in the broadest sense of who we are…
We got the bastard.
Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.