Kentucky Republicans help Trump tear down the system Skip to content

Kentucky Republicans help Trump tear down the system

Trump has long been running on lies, and now Kentucky Republicans are facilitating those lies.

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When Mitch McConnell voted not to convict Donald Trump on impeachment for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, which he nevertheless blamed on Trump, he excused himself in part by saying “We have a criminal justice system in this country.”

The Senate Republican leader was surely not thinking about the $130,000 in hush money the president paid a porn star to help his 2016 election chances, which led to Trump’s May 30 conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records – judged to be felonies because they facilitated another crime, election interference.

 It was the weakest and least significant of the four criminal cases against Trump, and the verdict may be overturned on appeal; the election-interference crimes weren’t specified. But no other cases are likely to be tried before the Nov. 5 election, so Republicans are using the curiosities of the case to delegitimize the verdict of the jury – a linchpin of our system of government.

They avoid direct attacks on the jury, blaming the judge and the prosecutors. But when they say such things as “judges, investigators, and prosecutors ... misled the jury,” as 4th District Rep. Thomas Massie did on X, they impugn the intelligence of the jury, which included two lawyers and people who get their news from a wide range of sources. And they are, with little evidence, undermining public trust in our courts.

Sixth District U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a lawyer who knows better, called it a “sham trial.” Second District Rep. Brett Guthrie, a former Army officer who should know better, called it a “kangaroo court.” They didn’t hear the case; the jury did. McConnell was circumspect, saying “These charges never should have been brought.” Sen. Rand Paul, state Attorney General Russell Coleman and Reps. James Comer of the 1st District and Hal Rogers of the 5th District, a former prosecutor, called the case political.

There’s no real proof of that. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a Democrat who, like most prosecutors, is elected on a partisan basis. Prosecutors are supposed to be advocates, and while Bragg’s theory of making it a felony case looked like a stretch, he had a mountain of facts to prove the charges. And an appellate court rejected Trump’s attempts to disqualify the judge for alleged conflicts.

Yes, the judge made $35 in anti-Trump political donations, but he swore an oath to render impartial justice, and so did the jurors. Republicans’ attacks on that system are the purest form of cynicism: a belief that everyone always acts in their own self-interest. And the attacks are right in tune with Trump’s siren song to cynical voters, that our whole system is corrupt and nothing is on the level – so he’s the one you should trust. Autocrats have been selling that sewage for centuries, and sometimes millions of people join their cults. Sadly, that is what we see in our country today.

The case’s details take some explaining, so some persuadable voters will be steered by the simple but vociferous arguments of Trump’s defenders. It seems that an outrageous proposition – electing a convicted felon who faces even more serious charges in three other jurisdictions – calls for a defense full of outrage.

The basic fact of the case is Trump did everything he was accused of, and as conservative commentator David French said, “The underlying facts of the case here should be totally disqualifying for any presidential candidate ever.” That is also true of the other cases (about the insurrection, election interference, and secret documents), which have much stronger facts that make convictions likely – if they ever come to trial. The election of Trump could prevent that, and cause more injustice. He’s already said he would use the government to wreak revenge on his enemies; allegations that Biden is doing that to Trump are completely unproven, and his own Justice Department is trying his son!

But Trump has long been running on lies, the biggest one being that he was defrauded in 2020, and now Republicans facilitate those lies because his election chances will be the biggest factor in their party’s election performance (that’s McConnell’s rationale as party leader); Trump may become president again, and has made clear he will help friends and punish enemies; and even if he doesn’t win, apostates could suffer bad consequences because he’s primed for revenge and has a firm grip on most Republican voters.

So, as disappointing as the reactions of leading Kentucky Republicans are, they are understandable if you think cynically, that they are acting purely in their own political interests. So much for the national interest, and for the moral high ground.

As conservative commentator David Brooks says, moral character was once a pillar of American conservatism, and “Character is destiny, and if private virtue falls apart, the public order collapses.” Danger lies before us.

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Al Cross

Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and a professor at the University of Kentucky. He served as a political reporter and commentator at the Courier-Journal for 26 years.

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