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The Good Fight

Donald Trump’s Arrest Shows the System Is Working

Our democratic institutions are flawed but in dire need of defense against the right’s racist and antisemitic threats.

Anti-Trump demonstrators outside of the Manhattan Criminal Court
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Anti-Trump demonstrators outside the Manhattan Criminal Court on April 4

Donald Trump is going down in history. The only president to face two impeachment trials is now the first former president to be arrested in a criminal indictment. At the same time, we have seen antisemitism and hateful propaganda rise. In 2022, antisemitic incidents rose 36 percent compared to 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League; during the same period, white supremacist propaganda increased by 38 percent. Meanwhile, we have been debating whether racial diversity and inclusion efforts in schools and the private sector harm white people—whether learning about slavery, LGBTQ experiences, or even baseball hall of famer Roberto Clemente is just too hard for white children.

What does all this have to do with Trump’s indictment by a grand jury impaneled by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg? Everything. After news broke of Trump’s imminent arrest, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance said, “Alvin Bragg is bought by George Soros. He allows violent criminals to walk the streets of New York City but will prosecute the likely Republican nominee (and former president) on a baseless misdemeanor charge. These people are trying to turn America into a third-world country.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted, “The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.” Other Republican politicians, including Trump himself, have made similar accusations.

The attacks on Soros and Bragg, while protected free speech, are intentionally divisive and manipulative by using antisemitic and racist tropes to distract from Trump’s actions. The goal is to discredit a democratic institution and by-the-book prosecution because a Black man, supposedly financed by a wealthy Jewish businessman, is leading it. The necessary response is clear: As Yale historian Tim Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny, to protect democracy against tyranny we have to protect its institutions. That includes the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the grand jury process.

Many news outlets are correcting the record to make clear that Soros has neither met Alvin Bragg nor directly funded him. Soros contributed $1 million to a political action committee that had previously pledged to spend $1 million in support of Bragg; Soros did not earmark his donation. But so what if Soros was a donor? So what if he did meet Bragg and decided to follow campaign finance laws and support Bragg’s run? That’s exactly how our elections work.

Defending democratic institutions in need of reform is not always easy. Bragg was elected in 2021 among a big field of candidates and in a very competitive race. He ran on a promise of prosecutorial reform and fairness: He would continue to prosecute violent offenders, but he would not turn a blind eye to wealthy white-collar criminals. Black people and Latinos made up 95 percent of marijuana arrests in 2020. Unless you believe that almost all white people abstain, you can see the concern. About 190,000 people faced misdemeanor prosecutions by the Manhattan district attorney’s office during the two years before Bragg’s run. Half of them were Black.

The criminal justice system is often unfair to Black and brown people. That doesn’t make it always wrong, either. But those who get away with things are more often white and wealthy. What needs to be done and how to do it are what voters decide by choosing their district attorney. The majority chose Bragg, and they can choose to keep or replace him when his term is up.

The grand jury process, meanwhile, was adopted from British common law. Grand juries acted as a check against the monarchy. Trump is being indicted because 23 of his peers voted to indict him. (Yes, his peers. Trump is a born New Yorker and a New York business owner.) Also, consider the history of this indictment. It didn’t begin with Bragg but with his predecessor, Cy Vance. Bragg has been slow and deliberate in investigating Trump. He was pilloried by his own former prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, for refusing to agree to indict Trump on tax fraud because Bragg believed the evidence was insufficient. Does he sound like a Black puppet of a cabal-running Jewish financier to you?

Trump has a history of being under investigation for civil and criminal violations, from housing discrimination in the 1970s to whiffs of concern about his casino business dealings. Civil fraud allegations have plagued all his large endeavors, from the Trump Organization to the Trump Foundation to Trump University. Were he not a former president of the United States, we would hardly be surprised that the law was catching up to him.

Rather than defend himself on the facts or express confidence that the process will vindicate him, Trump turns to antisemitism and racism to deflect. This is not surprising. Trump has amplified white supremacy and other extremist propaganda on Truth Social. The platform even “verified” antisemitic Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes, with whom Trump met. Back in 2020, Trump called on the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” in a presidential campaign debate. Several extremists, along with the leader of the Proud Boys, have been prosecuted for their role in the Trump-stoked insurrection on January 6, 2021. Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who has dismissed this violent sedition, suggested last week that a jury of Trump’s peers is the true threat to democracy. Sadly, the antisemitic and anti-Black stereotyping is an active part of Fox News’s opinionators who defend Trump even when they don’t believe him.

Now more than ever, we must oppose antisemitic and racist tropes and defend our democratic institutions from right-wing attacks. These institutions are imperfect but ours to fix. And we do that as voters choosing leaders, as citizens sitting on juries, and as folks who refuse to be told to fear one another. To do and be anything less is to risk losing our democracy altogether.