The many trials of Donald Trump, each seemingly more absurd than the last, reveal the farcical nature of the American justice system. Each case, from the civil trial brought by admittedly biased AG Letitia James, the criminal case about bookkeeping records brought by equally partisan Alvin Bragg, the harebrained RICO case undertaken by Georgia's Fani Willis, the two intensely politically motivated cases brought by the Justice department of the sitting president—and intentionally structured in a way to disrupt the election, to the sensational "defamation" suit brought by a washed-up writer looking to cash in on the Trump name, is intended to remove or discredit Trump to such an extent that he's no longer a viable presidential candidate.
Repeatedly, Trump has told Americans that the weaponized powers of justice are not coming for him, "they're coming for you," and Trump is just in the way. He stands up, he fights back, he refuses to submit to gag orders, accelerated timelines, or to stipulate to the basis of any of the cases. Yet watching the cases unfold, the days spent in court before Trump Force One goes wheels up, off to another campaign destination, recalls an old story of a singular trial.
A man is arrested, his home raided, his possessions seized. As the police search his home, his neighbors look on. He's not told what he's suspected of. He's given papers to appear in court. He reaches out to friends only to find that they've turned on him. They avoid him, the accusation alone is enough to color their view of him. Not that anyone seems to know what he's charged with, least of all the accused. It's entirely besides the point, in fact, the only thing that matters is that he's been accused.
He tries to go to work while juggling the demands of his trial, attending court dates where time and location are ever changing. He soon realizes that everyone, be they friends, neighbors, strangers, are in effect part of the court, part of the process of accusation, of depriving him of liberty. And they all act like they are thoroughly entitled to his freedom.
This is the plot of Franz Kafta's iconic book The Trial, detailing the state of justice in Prague in the 1910s. And much of it will be familiar to any American who has been paying attention, likely too, to Trump—not to mention the Brits, the Irish, and the rest of the anglophone nations.
In the UK a person can get arrested for a tweet. Viral videos of these arrests show defendants absolutely gobsmacked to find out that they are being arrested—handcuffed, dragged from their homes—for having posted something on X, Facebook, Instagram. In Ireland, hate speech laws are under consideration that would criminalize some forms of political speech if someone, anyone who complained, found that speech to be offensive.
And in the US, one need look no further than the weaponized Department of Justice. President Joe Biden and his White House minions have said again and again that the DOJ is independent, but a search back through the papers of record reveal that Biden encouraged his AG Merrick Garland—who has his own personal beef with Trump—to go after the man as hard as he could.
But it's not just Trump, this DOJ has willfully prosecuted peaceful protesters, journalists, and has taken up the "domestic extremist" or "MAGA extremist" rhetoric of the Biden White House. It was revealed only this week that Biden's officials warned financial institutions to flag transactions containing the words "Trump" or "MAGA." Biden's FBI issued memos about the problem of "extremist" Catholics and the DOJ took aim at parents who speak up at school board meetings. Even more, it was revealed by Rep. Jim Jordan that the DOJ requested that the National School Boards Association ask the DOJ to look into these parents in order that they could do so with some seemingly legitimate basis.
Moms have been questioned by authorities for speaking out against mandatory masking, or required lengthy absences after Covid exposure, or for demanding answers as to why graphically pornographic novels were being made available to school children. A dad demanding to know why the school covered up the actual rape of his daughter by a boy in a skirt in the girls' bathroom was taken away by police in handcuffs. This is the state of justice. Is it any better than what Kafka saw from the official organs of early 20th century Czechoslovakia?
K, the defendant in The Trial, finds that there are other men also accused, and all of them, like himself, are ashamed for having been accused itself. The process of being involved in the court system, of being accused, charged, forced to spend time and money defending oneself against unknown allegations, feeling the entire world is against them, destroys this man, is capable of destroying all men.
It doesn't seem to destroy Trump. It doesn't diminish his support. He fights where others can't, don't have the means, don't have the strength, don't have the backing of 75 million Americans.
In the cancel culture era, an accusation was all that was needed to fell a man, but it has now gone much further and entered the American justice system. The process of generating anonymous accusations against an individual, encouraging a public outcry, destroying their relationships and work all with the shade of shadow prosecution that takes no form, has no standards, obeys no laws.
Kafka didn't need to predict the future when he wrote The Trial in 1915. He was living in Prague, the screws were tightening on individual liberty, on freedom. War was coming and would last for decades. Dissent would be criminalized.
I read The Trial in high school when I was obsessed with the work of writers speaking out against authoritarianism. I read everything of his I could find on my parents' bookshelves: The Castle, Metamorphosis, Penal Colony, Hunger Artist. I was fascinated by the stories written by men who were facing absolute totalitarianism.
I thought we Americans were protected. I thought we fought to defend our natural rights and had secured them in perpetuity. But at some point not only did we stop fighting, we stopped believing that these rights are of paramount importance. It's likely that many Americans, due to a distinct decline in a once robust educational system, cannot even name all of our Bill of Rights.
Under that document, for which so many have fought and died, we Americans have, bestowed not by government but by God, the right to free speech, free press, freedom to peaceably assembly, to petition our government for a redress of grievances, to freely practice our religion. We have the right to keep and bear arms, to not be forced to house soldiers in our homes, and to not have our homes, persons, property or papers searched without probable cause. This is a huge deal.
We have the right to due process, and cannot be forced to answer for a capital crime without indictment by a Grand Jury, and we cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Moreover, the trial to which we are subjected must be speedy, and judged by an impartial jury of our peers. We have the right to defense. Cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail are prohibited under our Bill of Rights. That these rights and others are not enumerated in the document does not preclude their existence, and states, too, have the right to make determinations that are not elucidated in the Constitution.
It was the awareness of these rights that lulled our culture into a false sense of security that they would exist forever, that they could not be violated. And here we are.
Government has been exposed as a censoring entity that has routinely and systemically interfered in the free speech of Americans by working with social media companies to silence voices and ideas that go against the government. The Department of Justice has determined that domestic extremism is the greatest threat to American life and then redefined the very concept of domestic extremism to include Americans who vocally do not trust the government.
Persons who petitioned their government for a redress of grievances on January 6, 2021, have been arrested, their homes and property searches, have been held in detention for months on end, all to find they were charged with misdemeanor trespassing in court, but insurrection in the press. The same has been done to a former president. There have been accounts of citizens being questioned by officers over comments they've made on social media.
Press entities use their power to suspend the very concept of due process by leveling non-criminal accusations against individuals and then using those accusations to destroy the livelihood of those individuals. This has been done at the micro and macro level. The cancel has been leveled at people, organizations, and companies.
The media entities that direct the mob appear to claim a moral superiority, and the accusations they level are often ephemeral in nature. The trial by media is shockingly similar to what happens to K in Kafka's Trial: they are anonymous, ephemeral, rhetorical. Much as K is forced to traverse a justice system without knowledge of the crimes he is alleged to commit, those who come under media scrutiny aren't able to face their accusers, and aren't told what their crimes are. Instead, they hear they are misogynistic, racist, transphobic, sexist, problematic.
These are claims it is impossible to defend oneself against. And as one tries, it becomes clear that all those around you are part of the accusatory mob. Whether they believe the accusations or not, they pass judgment, they have to decide to believe the accusers or the accused.
Kafka's defendant K tries every avenue to get out from under the weight of criminal prosecution. He tries to petition the court, curry favor with others to seek leniency on his behalf. At a certain point he gives up trying to figure out just what he's accused of having done wrong, he simply tries to exist with the burden of prosecution. It is then that he is dragged from his apartment at night, taken out by the guards, and murdered.
K never stands a chance. The machinery is too big. The system is designed to favor the accuser, and to paint the accused as guilty. There is no presumption of innocence.
In the United States, only criminals have the expectation of a fair trial. Those who stand accused of political crimes, crimes of intent and no action, the crime of standing up for your belief, are squashed. And perhaps the worst part is that none of us can recognize it for the authoritarianism that it is. None of us can see past the curtain to the truth of it until it is ourselves in the crosshairs, and by then it's far too late.
That is the real reason that the lawfare waged so wickedly against Trump has not diminished the support among his constituents—far from it. We all see what is being done against not only him but grandmas who were on the lawn of the Capitol Building on J6—the lawn! Not even inside!—we see how sons have turned against fathers, not just on J6 but Covid regulations, and we see how there's only one man who is actually, visibly, and successfully standing against it.
The more media pundits on MSNBC, CNN, Washington Post, politicians on the steps of Congress, in the White House, self-aggrandized rulers of the world at Davos, tell us that Trump is the bad guy, the more clear it becomes that they're not just coming for his freedoms, but the rest of ours, too.