Ali: The jury has spoken. What happens next will be a great test of American democracy

The verdict is in. Former President Trump was found guilty Thursday of all 34 felony counts against him in the New York hush money case in connection with falsifying records around a payment made to silence porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

Now the real test begins.

Will Americans who disagree with the outcome respect the rule of law, and more importantly, the safety of the jurors who decided the case? Or, as a country, are we so conditioned along partisan lines that we vehemently reject all outcomes that don’t serve our political interests?

Trump wasted no time delegitimizing the verdict, the trial and the rule of law when he addressed the media outside the courtroom. He said the trial was “rigged,” the judge was “corrupt,” the “country’s gone to hell” and “the verdict was “disgraceful.” He also took the opportunity to campaign, claiming incorrectly that “this was done by the Biden administration in order to wound or hurt an opponent — a political opponent.”

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s response to losing was predictable. We’d seen him use the same language to discredit the results of the 2020 election. The rant outside the courtroom was clearly pulled from the same playbook. But like polling numbers and election results, the jury’s verdict was not as easy to predict.

The news that he was found guilty on all felony counts was stunning, even in an era when nothing should stun us. We are, after all, living through one of the most tawdry chapters of American history, when the cover-up of an alleged tryst between an ex-porn star and a former reality TV host might have influenced the outcome of a historic election. If only our decade had a gallant narrative for the history books to counterbalance all of the sleaziness, like when the Continental Army took over airports during the Revolutionary War.

Verdicts in all 34 counts had not even been read before the partisan spin began — including a fundraising appeal from the Trump campaign calling the ex-president a “political prisoner.”

But it is important to acknowledge the gravity of the moment. The legal system worked, despite all the outside scrutiny, pressure and organized efforts to invalidate the proceedings by those who’d prefer to see their guy in the Oval Office rather than a jail cell. We should be buoyed by the fact that prosecutors, the judge and a jury of 12 citizens refused to be intimidated by the defendant, his GOP surrogates and radical followers.

But we now face a bigger stress test: Will folks believe in the legal system or the discreditation of it by Trump and his acolytes?

Fox News was immediately on the defense, which of course means offense. “The Biden-Harris campaign is now free to call him a convicted felon,” one reporter said.

Anchor Jeanine Pirro naturally took it a step further: “Americans believe in justice, and in their gut, they realize that there is something that is very wrong here,” she said. “We’ve gone over a cliff in America. This verdict is the verdict of someone who was forced to fight a 1,000-pound gorilla with both hands tied behind his back. This is a defendant for whom crimes were created.”

Surrogates from the GOP, such as Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.), were also quick to denounce the verdict as unjust — or worse.

“Today is a shameful day in American history,” Johnson said in a statement released minutes after the guilty verdict was announced. “The American people rightfully see this is lawfare, and they know it is … dangerous.”

Pitting the people against the legal system isn’t just a disingenuous move, it’s dangerous.

Violent threats and doxxing have been prevalent in all four of the ex-president’s criminal cases. Also prevalent are the portrayals by Trump and the right-wing media of the prosecutors, judges and anyone else who might compromise his chances of winning as being crooked or a tool of the Democrats. Last summer, Trump supporters posted the names and addresses of the Fulton County grand jurors who indicted him and 18 of his codefendants. As recently as this week, false reports about jury instructions proliferated across right-wing media, leading to more threats against Judge Juan Merchan.

“Several conservative news personalities, including some affiliated with Fox News, falsely claimed that Judge Juan Merchan, as one Fox News anchor put it in a viral post on X, ‘told the jury that they do not need unanimity to convict.’ That’s not true,” reported NBC.

Thursday’s guilty verdict followed weeks of salacious testimony around a sexual encounter alleged between Trump and Daniels and falsifying records around a $130,000 payoff to ensure her silence. Sentencing is set for July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention opens in the swing state of Wisconsin.

Trump tried to bulldoze past the jury’s decision Thursday when he proclaimed outside the courtroom, “The real verdict will be Nov. 5 by the people.”

When it comes to selecting our next president, that is true.

But we are a nation of laws. And that means with this jury’s judgment, the presumptive Republican nominee has earned a new title.

Convicted criminal.

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Kevin harson

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