Manhattan, as the finance capital of the world, usually has a district attorney who spends lots of time on white-collar crime.
Alvin L Bragg is Manhattan’s district attorney. Unlike what it might look like, say, in the TV show Law and Order, the DA is an elected politician who runs for office. He or she is selected by a party and runs on a platform.
A Democrat who was only elected in November, Bragg will now be forever famous as the first man to have brought charges against a former or sitting president; in this case Donald Trump, who won in 2016, lost in 2020 and is the present front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024.
Bragg was born and bred in Harlem, something he is very proud of. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
He will have grown up reading about Trump’s exploits and escapades in the Big Apple. He knows that Trump is known there as Don the Con. That was what we called him when I lived in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1980s, and it is the nickname many still know him by, with good reason.
Bragg ran for office on a platform that included bringing Trump to justice in relation to Manhattan. Last December, he won a conviction of Trump’s company over a 15-year tax fraud, and now he has moved on to allegations that Trump falsified dozens of business records in order to make hush money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels.
The bad news for Trump is that Bragg is tenacious and that the 34 felony charges he has filed could add up to four years in jail. The good news for Trump is that he now has a martyrdom myth to exploit.
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, former Trump protege and now his biggest rival for the nomination, has fallen in line with this narrative, and so has almost everyone else in the GOP, including senator Mitt Romney, a guy who voted to impeach Trump. All are hailing the former president a martyr – most of all Marjorie Taylor Greene, the congresswoman from QAnon, who compared her hero to Jesus and Nelson Mandela.
After the Trumpistas realised that the judge had extended poor Donnie the courtesy of not having to have a mugshot taken, they mocked one up anyway so Trump could sell it to his people. You can get it on T-shirts that come “free” if you make a £38 donation to Trump’s presidential campaign, which is said to have taken in £6.4m since he announced his impending arrest in mid-March.
The T-shirts were designed as his plane “Trump Force One” made its way back to Mar-A Lago from Manhattan. There, a “pity party” awaited him, in which he even admitted that he had knowingly taken White House documents back to Florida with him, because “it’s my right”.
Meanwhile, the White House is correctly saying nothing, Democrats as a whole are staying schtum.
Most Republicans, when asked, say that they will stick by Trump, stay with him until the bitter end. Those who register as Independents say that they will not. They swung the 2020 election.
Plus the majority of female voters polled continue to say that they will not vote for Trump.
This matters most because women turn out. It is women who will make gun violence and abortion rights two of the pillars of the 2024 presidential vote.
The Democrats can run on that, even though most would prefer another candidate this time around.
The Republicans have to run on Trump. Run on his existential rage, his longing for the adulation of Manhattan because, for The Donald, Manhattan is the root of everything; to finally “show” Manhattan why he came down that golden escalator with his ex-model wife what seems like a thousand years ago.
He won election as president because he wove together his own rage/love/hate against/for The Big Apple into something that his followers could use and apply for themselves in whatever situation they find themselves, whatever city, town, village or farm they call their own. That’s what a good cult leader does.
He also knows, like all good hucksters do, that you play, and play to the “suckers”. The phoney mugshot; even the fact that a police guy let a door close in Trump’s face and he had to push it open himself… all of this adds to his martyrdom, from which his followers believe that he will rise again.
Meanwhile DeSantis, a Harvard Law grad like Bragg, has to figure out where he stands, who he is in relation to all of this. Already outplayed by the Disney Corporation when his handpicked board signed a covenant stating that the Mouse Kingdom will effectively remain in charge of governance of its land in Florida, until “the last descendant of King Charles III of England dies”, DeSantis is starting to look a little bit like a fool.
On a talk show that I did last week, I was seated next to a woman who yelled: “What’s happening to America? We’re tired of this! Why don’t you get some leaders! The world is in shock!”
I quietly told her that the US has never had qualms about electing celebrities: Shirley Temple was ambassador to Ghana; Ronald Reagan became president after hosting a western series on TV when I was a kid. He rode a horse on screen while touting the values of a soap powder called 20 Mule Team Borax. Then there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, who probably would have been POTUS if he hadn’t been born in Austria – foreign birth to non-US parents being a disqualification. Celebs and political office go hand in hand in America, and they always will.
But what we have never had before is a celebrity politician who is a real demagogue. A potential dictator. Donald Trump must not win again.