🔒 Trump’s felony conviction: A victory for truth – Noah Feldman

In a landmark decision, former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction stands as a triumph for truth within the American legal framework. While political manoeuvres shielded him in the past, a New York jury meticulously weighed the evidence and rejected Trump’s fabrications. This verdict underscores the stark contrast between legal justice and political rhetoric, where falsehoods can sway but courts demand evidence. Now, as voters, we face our own trial: can we acknowledge the truth and hold leaders accountable?

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By Noah Feldman

The historic felony conviction of former President Donald Trump marks a meaningful victory for the beleaguered American legal system and a win for truth over falsehood.  ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Three other criminal trials involving Trump have bogged down for various reasons. Two impeachments by the House of Representatives ended in partisan votes against conviction in the Senate. But in an ordinary New York courtroom, 12 men and women considered the evidence, weighed Trump’s various defenses, and concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that he was lying.

Trump has gotten away with lying to an extent unmatched in US history, and he may get away with it again in the November presidential election. In the courtroom, however, truth prevailed. That matters.

Understanding why Trump was convicted can tell us a lot about how the criminal justice system differs from large-scale electoral politics — and why the former is more resistant to the problem of lies and misinformation.

In court, Trump’s lawyers adopted a strategy of brazen falsehood, denying every element of the prosecution’s case, up to and including the allegation that Trump had a sexual encounter with adult film actress and director Stormy Daniels.

As any lawyer could tell you (and many legal commentators did, as the trial played out), this was a legally risky strategy. Trump had a better option: He could have admitted the affair and the cover-up and asserted that he was simply trying to avoid personal embarrassment and never knowingly intended to falsify records. That would have given his legal team a better chance of undercutting the basis of the felony charges against him: that he falsified the records to interfere with the 2016 election.

It seems pretty clear that the reason Trump’s lawyer went with the deny-everything approach is that it represented the essence of Trump’s entire (and largely successful) strategy throughout his political and business careers. Trump has come to learn that he can forcefully and regularly assert things that are patently untrue, and that plenty of the public will still vote for him.

Some of his supporters believe his lies literally, accepting, for example, that he really won in 2020. But much of the Trump-supporting public — it’s hard to say exactly how much — believe Trump’s lies in a more metaphorical fashion. That is, they believe there are forces out to get Trump and that in some grand sense those forces cost him the presidency in 2020. Either way, his supporters don’t have to test his lies against any concrete evidence. They can vote and act on the basis of a general feeling.

Not so in a courtroom. There, the authority figure of the judge (notably absent in the political context) tells the jurors what counts as evidence, spells out what law they should apply, and specifies what conclusions they should reach depending on what facts they believe after hearing the evidence.

Then, prosecutors trained in presenting facts lay out the evidence and propose reasons to believe that evidence. Crucially, the jurors have no choice but to listen, again unlike the domain of politics, where you can choose what information you’re willing to hear and from which sources. The defense gets the opportunity to question the prosecution’s factual assertions, to be sure. But the fight in the courtroom is supposed to be a fair one, with each side entitled to equal time. If the prosecution’s case is convincing beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant gets convicted. The rules of the game are designed to expose the truth.

Under these idealized courtroom circumstances, Trump was sure to be convicted. It’s no exaggeration to say that, if charged and tried in this way, he very likely would have been convicted in any court in the land, even in a venue dominated by Republican voters. He simply didn’t offer a defense that would function plausibly in a court of law, as opposed to the court of public opinion.

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of criminal cases never go to a jury at all. There is much to be said about the failings of the criminal justice system when it is all plea-bargaining. In Trump’s case, however, the jury trial embodied exactly what is supposed to happen in a criminal case: The facts were tested and the truth won.

If the criminal justice system were on trial alongside Trump, and came through with flying colors, the next test is our system of electoral politics. Now, we voters are on trial. Are we capable of accepting the factual truth that Trump is now a convicted felon? Can we translate that into the political truth that the president of the United States should not be a liar who has been criminally convicted in a court of law? That is a much different, and much harder test for us to pass.

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