Charging Trump over attack on Congress complicates US politics

Donald Trump gained a reputation as one of the most litigious real estate developers in the US. [AP photo]

Donald Trump is a creation of the media. His years in the real estate business, controversial statements, rapacious extramarital affairs, and brazen style on the television mega hit 'The Apprentice', were a godsend for many in the media. Trump was a man and a brand rolled into one.

However, 2023 does not look like a pleasant year for the Trumpster. He faces a slew of legal challenges that are unprecedented in his business and political career. How would a Trump inditement in 2023 play out in US politics?  

An inditement in the American legal system is a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime. According to the January 6th Committee investigating the attack on the US Congress, Trump has been indited on four charges; obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement and “inciting” or providing “aid and comfort” to an insurrection.

The first charge relates to Trump’s effort to obstruct the process of confirming Joe Biden as president. The second relates to his effort to do two things; either have false electors replace the legitimate electors from the states or have the electors returned to the swing states for verification.

The conspiracy to make false statements relates to his continued statements insisting that the 2020 election was stolen from him even when his campaign and closest advisors had made it clear to him that he had lost to Biden. Lastly, inciting and providing and comfort to an insurrection, relate to Trump’s efforts to rile up his supporters to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election.

How would a Trump inditement in 2023 play out in American politics? It will have a different impact on different electoral constituencies. For his core supporters on the far right of the Republican Party, it will solidify his place as a martyr. It will confirm the range of conspiracy theories around how the democrats and deep state in Washington DC are determined to prevent Trump being on the ballot in 2024. For more mainstream members of the Republican Party, it complicates the effort to attempt to get an alternate to Trump that has the Trump message without the baggage.  

Members of the far left of the Democratic coalition will be looking to have the inditement pursued aggressively in court in the shape of a trial that will result in Trump's conviction. Those on the centre left of the Democratic Party, will be in a dilemma but of a different type to their Republican congress mates. An inditement could galvanise the base or far right of the Republican Party and lead to a strong Republican showing in the swing states.  

If he is convicted, the Democrats and Biden will be forced to consider a full pardon for Trump. Imprisoning a former US president will not only be unprecedented, but would also further divide the country. It will iconise Trump as a valiant fighter for the Right. It will also serve as a major damage to the institution of the American presidency for years to come.

-Prof Monda teaches political science, international relations, and American government at City University of New York. [email protected]