I’ve been kicking around the idea of remaking Back to the Future. I don’t have anything substantial to add to the movie to make a remake worth it, except for one joke: in my movie, the protagonist travels back from 2025 to 1995. Someone asks them who the President is in 2025, and the protagonist answers, “Donald Trump, in his second nonconsecutive term.” The person scoffs and says, “Donald Trump, the actor from Home Alone 2?”
I’m not sure that a second term of President Trump is worth one joke (although there are some comedians out there who might disagree). You would be forgiven for believing that Trump’s chance at a second term has become less likely thanks to his indictment on April 4 in New York City. Prosecutors in the Empire State are charging Trump with a raft of offenses related to campaign finance laws and his hush money payment to Stormy Daniels regarding their affair. It feels like this day has been building since long before Trump was President. Now that it’s here, I gotta be honest. This entire process has been very anticlimactic.
I naively followed the Mueller investigation, waiting with bated breath for the FBI to declare “collusion!” and march Trump off to the stockades. I expected the first impeachment to end with his embarrassing resignation or, even better, him being removed from office in disgrace. I believed – again, naively – that even Republicans wouldn’t abide Trump undermining US military and diplomatic strategy regarding Russia and Ukraine.
Then came the outright craziest moment in recent political history: an insurrection against the federal government instigated by the President. Trump and his associates spent weeks laying the groundwork for the attack, all in plain sight on social media. And then we all watched live as his followers, gathered and incited by him, attempted to storm the Capitol building to commit murder. Surely, there would be serious consequences for him from this. A bunch of foot soldiers got arrested, but the leaders remained free to this day.
So yeah, I’m a little underwhelmed by the arrest on Tuesday.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been very skeptical of Trump even being indicted for any of the myriad crimes he’s committed, so Tuesday was at least a victory for the rule of law. No one is above the law. It just turns out that the most objectionable and dangerous conduct of the former President isn’t illegal. Despite the headlines screaming that Trump faces 34 felony charges and a potential of 136 years in jail, he’s not facing anything close to those gaudy numbers in reality. Several legal experts have already pointed out that campaign finance violations typically result in fines, not federal prison.
At the end of it all, is this the best that our system of government can muster for Trump’s literal decades of wrongdoing? A slap on the wrist over less than $150,000? There are pending investigations in the Department of Justice and Georgia, related to more substantive charges. But there’s no guarantee that those investigations will lead to indictments.
More to the point, it appears that none of these investigations or indictments will have any impact on Trump running for President again. The lines between his supporters and detractors have calcified, so there’s little chance that his legal troubles will move anyone. This latest chapter in the Donald Trump saga feels political, performative, and pointless because there are no rules which prevent someone who is under indictment, convicted, or even serving time in prison from running for President. We may end up with Trump as President again even if he’s in jail.
I mean, at least I might get to make my joke.