After years of baiting the law, Donald Trump has now moved from being the first former President of the United States to be formally arraigned on criminal charges to being the first former leader to be found criminally culpable by a jury. Regardless of the narratives, many observers have weaved around the ongoing prosecution, what is undeniable is that the whole situation has sent a powerful message that impunity can actually be checked.
Trump’s ongoing prosecution is a significant step towards checking impunity and upholding the rule of law. Trump’s Presidency was marked by numerous controversies, including allegations of corruption, abuse of power, and obstruction of justice. Despite these allegations, Trump was never held accountable for his actions during his time in office. However, the ongoing investigations and prosecutions against him could change that, and set a precedent for future leaders.
The investigation into Trump’s alleged financial improprieties and tax fraud has been ongoing for several years. In February 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States cleared the way for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to obtain Trump’s tax returns and other financial records. This move was a significant victory for Vance, who has been seeking these documents as part of an investigation into potential financial crimes committed by Trump and his company. Additionally, New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a separate investigation into whether the Trump Organisation misled lenders and insurers about the value of its assets.
Trump’s impeachment trial in early 2021 was also a significant step toward holding him accountable for his actions while in office. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for incitement of insurrection related to the January 6th, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, and was subsequently acquitted by the Senate. However, the fact that he was impeached at all demonstrates that there are consequences for a president’s actions, even after they leave office.
It is now over two years since Trump brazenly incited his supporters to attack the Capitol possibly to halt the ratification of Biden’s victory by the Congress. As many people will recall, the riot which ensued on the 6th of January 2021 actually led to quite a lot of deaths and injuries. While this was going on, Trump refused to call off the mob until it was rather too late to do anything. He went on to hail the rioters, describing them as heroes. These were very much documented and should be enough to nail Trump. Granted that Congress has before now conducted exhausted investigations into the whole attack, however, the whole situation leaves one wondering why US attorney general, Merrick Garland has not been able to move fully against the chief instigator of the insurrectionists as well as the perpetrators of the coup attempt.
The ongoing prosecutions against Trump are essential for checking impunity and upholding the rule of law. Leaders must be held accountable for their actions, especially when they abuse their power or engage in corrupt behavior. If Trump were to go unpunished for his alleged crimes, it would send a message to future leaders that they can act with impunity while in office. This would be a dangerous precedent to set, as it would undermine the integrity of the US government and erode public trust in the rule of law.
The truth remains that prosecutions against former leaders around the world, if normalised can serve as a deterrent to those currently in power. Knowing that they could face legal consequences for their actions after leaving office could encourage them to act more responsibly and ethically while in office. It could also encourage them to make decisions based on the long-term interests of the country, rather than their own personal gain.
Some analysts have rightly described Trump as lucky because during his life, he has been a litigant in 3,500 cases but he has managed to skate through all and avoided spending some time behind bars. His justice-evading techniques have always been spot on. Learning extensively from his mentor Roy Cohn, Trump has always managed to cast himself as a victim in any matter while he aggressively moves fast to smear adversaries. For him, the technique has always been attack-heavy, delay-and-deny, and finally resort to any useful anti-legal game plan.
In his ongoing prosecution, whether he goes to jail is not the issue as he could also be acquitted, or the case against him could collapse just as it has always done. However, the big point has however been made by his technical arrest and arraignment and the point is that the law is no respecter of persons no matter how highly placed.
For the US, it is an important process because the principle of legal egalitarianism which is enshrined as Article 7 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adopted as provisions in national constitutions clearly makes a strong case against persons like Trump who want to be bigger than the law. The US will have some bragging rights because they live in a democracy where the equality of all citizens is supposed to be the bedrock of representative government.
Many have welcomed Trump’s comeuppance. His brash, arrogant, and vindictive disposition has easily given him away as one of the most polarising figures as far as American politics is concerned. As expected, this has accentuated the divide along the lines of social and political issues, religion, race, and gender rights. His campaign for the presidency was one that saw him unleashing vicious attacks on critics, opponents, and different kinds of groups. Not even the media was spared. For Trump, he believed that the world revolves around him and that was not up for a contest.
His entry into the 2024 Presidential race has set off on the same mark. While Trump stokes the fire, he doesn’t seem to care what becomes of the polity. Because of his impact and that of his collaborators, politics in the United States have now been divided into two very hostile camps that are always prepared to pour vitriol on the opposing side of their views.
Trump rode on the back of the support he managed to suck up from religious fervour and the genuine grievances of the conservatives (mostly White Americans) who were still yet to recover from the reality that an African-American, Barrack Obama was President for two terms. His pathway to electoral success has always owed its success to national divisions whether real or imagined which he mischievously creates.
If his political conduct was controversial, his numerous skirmishes with the law in and out of office have been more so. Ever before he became president, he had several brushes with regulators and state and city attorneys over his business practices. In office, he appeared to believe that constitutional immunity was infinite.
According to The Economist of London, Trump is facing about 20 criminal investigations and lawsuits. Apart from the NY case, federal agents are mulling whether to formally charge him for removing classified government documents to his Florida residence after leaving office.
He broke the record of being the first former US president to be impeached twice; he has broken another by being the first to be arraigned on criminal charges. The lesson for Nigeria and Africa’s ‘Big Men’ is that the law has a long reach and ideally, would eventually catch up with those who assault it while holding public office.
Everywhere, people in power tend to entrench a system of privilege, but some countries have made the point that offenders must pay, no matter their positions. A report by Axios indicates that at least 78 countries have jailed or prosecuted past leaders who left office since 2000. These include former South Korean president, Park Geun-Hye, former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. In Africa, Jacob Zuma, Omar al-Bashir, and Hosni Mubarak of South Africa, Sudan, and Egypt respectively have similarly faced the music.
In conclusion, Trump’s ongoing prosecution is a crucial step toward checking impunity and upholding the rule of law. It sends a message that no one is above the law and that leaders must be held accountable for their actions. The outcome of these investigations may have far-reaching implications for future leaders and could help to promote greater accountability and transparency in government.