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Trump Should be Charged, Convicted and Sentenced. But That Won’t End Trumpism

James Devaney/GC Images via Getty

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe published an editorial calling upon the Justice Department and other law enforcement officials to prosecute former president Trump for crimes committed while he was in office. This is a fairly significant statement from a leading news organization because, while there are likely forthcoming indictments from the grand jury against Trump for tax and bank fraud committed as a private citizen, his illegal actions committed while he was president remain far from any kind of clear resolution.

The editorial board wrote:

"Presidents also need a clear message, one that will echo through history, that breaking the law in the Oval Office will actually be punished. Trump's presidency didn't just expose glaring legal weaknesses: It also made clear that our institutions are incapable of holding presidents accountable for breaking even our existing laws. If Congress had played the role the Founders envisioned, by removing Trump from the presidency after his criminality became clear in the Ukraine affair, that might have been enough of a deterrent to scare future presidents straight. But lawmakers didn't."

The Globe's board noted that coming after presidents once they are out of power should not be undertaken lightly, as this could be viewed as raw political vengeance (something Trump himself has already convinced his base to believe).

Any move to arrest a former political leader could result in a downward slide as subsequent governments, once in power, attempt the same against their own political opponents. But as the Globe's editorial board also pointed out, other democracies, such as South Korea and France, have successfully prosecuted former presidents without their democracies unraveling.

The true danger is that prosecution might turn Trump into a perverse kind of martyr, someone whom the "deep state" allegedly hates and has always tried to destroy.

The ex-president is a master at shifting attention from his myriad wrongdoings to his victim status as the target of a "witch hunt." Much of his base already idolizes Trump as a moderrn Messianic character, so even if he were garbed in prison orange, they likely would not abandon him. Indeed, they might flock to his cause with even greater fervor.

This is not to say the prosecutions shouldn't go forward. Indictments are likely forthcoming against his closest aide, Rudy Giuliani. Cy Vance's investigators are now leaning heavily on the CFO and Controller for the Trump Organization to pressure them to turn state's evidence.

At the end of the day, Trump still needs to be held legally accountable for his actions, both before and during his presidency, even if only for the sake of the integrity of our system and to deter would-be future leaders from similar crimes, which now include obstruction of justice, election fraud, and incitement of insurrection, to name a few.

But for Trump-ism to be defeated, we shouldn't pin our hopes on indictments and sentences, even of Trump himself.

MAGA must be defeated resoundingly at the ballot box in 2022 and likely again in 2024. Nothing short of continued and catastrophic loss of political power will cause the GOP to finally abandon Trumpism. So long as the political calculus dictates that you cannot win a primary in your districts without swearing fealty to the former president, that is what we will continue to see from his many acolytes and sycophants, even if Trump becomes a convicted felon and must dole out his blessings from a prison cell.

What a picture that would make.