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Martin Schram, an opinion columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.
We, the chroniclers, in order to help the People of the United States form a more perfect Union (or at least salvage the shaky, imperfect one we’ve got!) are today proposing a two-part effort that may be our best chance for re-establishing Justice and returning our homeland to a semblance of domestic Tranquility.
First, we all need to simply pause, declare and then implement a Great American Timeout!
Why? Because, as we have just discovered about ourselves during this first ever arrest and arraignment of a former U.S. president, everyone’s political and even personal values — left, center, right — have become all bollixed and backward. None of us got this quite right. We all need to downshift our overwrought gray-cells — rewind, rethink and maybe re-sync. We need to reconnect with the core values that once helped us pick our politics.
Second, we then need to declare and implement a Great American Reset!
We all need to get our personal and political patooties back to where they always used to be. We need to get ourselves back to being true to ourselves.
This was a week where people of all political persuasions had legitimate reasons to look at what their side has just done — and say: Wait! That’s not what we stand for. We are better than that.
Last Tuesday, in New York City, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought the first criminal indictment, arrest and arraignment of a former U.S. president in U.S. history. Donald Trump’s crime wasn’t really paying a porn star hush money to keep quiet about sex (that isn’t a crime). It was paying her during his 2016 presidential campaign and not listing it as a campaign contribution. That legal technicality is apparently what made it a felony.
No wonder, as we watched Tuesday’s slo-mo news drag out, we all knew we weren’t watching the crime of the century being pursued. It just didn’t compare with watching Trump being arrested for things we have long known about: trying to overturn the 2020 election Trump lost. Or coercing election officials. Or hiding classified documents from FBI and archives officials.
The timing of this was off-putting. Democrats found themselves privately confiding that they actually agreed with U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. He said Trump was unfit to be president — but he criticized the district attorney for having “overstretched” to charge a political opponent with a felony. Romney called that “a dangerous precedent.” Democrats know that someday some red state DA will do it to them.
The New York City district attorney would have been wise to find a way to wait — and not go first. Atlanta’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis had said in January that her office’s charging decisions were “imminent.” A grand jury with the authority to indict was formed in March. Major election interference charges may be just weeks away.
If that New York City case had been announced after Atlanta’s decision, or a major indictment for deliberately withholding classified documents, none of us would be focusing on whether that New York felony indictment was an “overreach.” It would just seem like an add-on to the real, fundamental crimes against our nation’s democracy.
Meanwhile, we all can use our present national timeout to get back in touch with our core values — the ones that helped us decide we are Republicans, Democrats or independents. We need to remind ourselves of just how ugly it can be when we deep-six our core values, just for an instant feel-good moment. And that’s just what Trump did on Wednesday, when he was feeling alone and victimized in Mar-a-Lago.
Trump, still the leader of the Republican Party that for a half century had branded itself as America’s law-and-order party, deep-sixed all that and borrowed the hated slogan made infamous by America’s farthest left fringe. Trump urged Republicans to “defund” the federal police. Really.
“Republicans in Congress should defund the DOJ and FBI until they come to their senses,” Trump wrote, using all caps, on his Truth Social site.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, did a full-Jimmy Swaggart, pleading in a teary, trembling-chin video for people to send money to help Trump (who calls himself a billionaire) pay his lawyers. But Trump’s call to “defund the DOJ and FBI” was more than even Trump’s Robin could take. Graham called Trump’s “defund” the federal police plea “a bad idea,” adding: “Terrorism lurks out there, and taking your guard down for one moment could be very dangerous for the public.”
Of course, Graham wishes his hero would issue a powerful law-and-order declaration, maybe something like this: “The Radical Left Democrats new theme is ‘Defund the Police’. …I am the complete opposite, more money for Law Enforcement!” Oops, that was then-President Trump, tweeting on June 4, 2020.