American democracy is only as strong as its legal system. The founders of the country created the judiciary as the third branch of the federal government to keep executive power in check and prevent corruption. So it was a cause for deep concern last week when Donald Trump unleashed a verbal tantrum on his Truth Social platform, accusing special counsel Jack Smith of “prosecutorial misconduct” even before he filed four federal criminal counts against the former president over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in a bid to remain in office.
An identical barrage came last April when a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump on 34 felony charges for falsifying business records. That time, he also called for defunding the justice department and the FBI, even though the charges did not come from either federal agency. Both reactions were part of a long-running campaign by Trump to undermine the rule of law in the US and dismiss the multiple charges he faces, and has denied, as politically motivated. Even lawyers who once supported Trump have told me that delegitimising the law and the judiciary could destroy the country’s system of government. Yet, even if he is convicted, Trump’s supporters will probably remain loyal to him, convinced that the entire legal system is “rigged” – a favourite Trumpism.