MAGA pals ignore Trump invites to raise hell at his trial
Former president Donald Trump, left, watches as David Pecker answers questions on the witness stand, far right, from assistant district attorney Joshua Steingless, in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024, in New York. | Elizabeth Williams/AP

NEW YORK—What if you were Donald Trump and called for mass nationwide protests at courthouses in all 50 states and only one person showed up to demonstrate in New York and, worse yet, nobody showed up anywhere else including in the reddest of red states?

What if you were Donald Trump and no one, no friends or family, not even your wife, sons and daughter, showed up to be with you inside the court? Trump had to sit there all alone as the prosecutor talked about the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about being able to grab women’s genitals whenever he wished. The man who called President Biden “Sleepy Joe” nodded out frequently in court, with his head slumping down to his chest and then shaking it to wake up.

What if you were Donald Trump and you had to sit there all alone, with no family or friends with you in court, and no throngs of MAGA supporters outside demonstrating, as you had asked, in front of the courthouse or across the country while the judge told your lawyer that he was making a fool of himself?

Or that if you kept spewing insults at the jurors, the witnesses, their families, and everyone else within earshot or social media reach and you were threatened with jail for contempt of court—after your trial is over? Meanwhile, potential fines for that same offense keep mounting up.

The number of Trump violations of the gag order so far: Ten in two days. Fines per insult: At least $1000. Prosecutors and Justice Juan Merchan keep count. Your lawyer calls the insults presidential campaign rhetoric and acceptable speech. The jurist replies “You’re losing all credibility” – on the second day of a six-to-eight-week trial.

What if, as you were dealing with all that President Biden was campaigning in Florida, blaming you for the six-week abortion ban imposed on the people of that state? Florida, you realize, is now back in play for Democrats as a result of your being blamed for imposition on its people of a draconian anti-abortion law forbidding the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy?

Welcome to the new not-so-wonderful world of Donald Trump, sitting in Justice Merchan’s courtroom for an election interference and hush money cover-up trial, his mouth zipped up, at least in court, by the judge’s gag order.

There, Trump has to take, on the chin and in his sight, the uncomfortable aforementioned truths—notable since truth is a foreign concept to the ex-president and current Republican nominee.

While Trump may not have “seen” it as he sat there he surely knew of the evidence of his declining popularity, and not just in opinion polls. Those polls show Trump’s share declining and Democratic incumbent Joe Biden’s rising. They’re now tied.

The latest polls also report half of Republican voters will desert Trump this fall if he’s convicted in this trial of any of the 34 felonies for falsifying business records to cover up his prior sexual affairs during the presidential campaign eight years ago in order to reverse what looked like a sure loss of the election as a result of the Access Hollywood tapes. They say they will abandon him too if he is convicted in any other criminal trial he is facing.

But on this trial’s second day, April 23, the real ignominy for Trump occurred outside.

Trump had issued a call on his Truth Social platform to his MAGA legions to protest in his favor outside every courthouse in the country.

Total attendance of Trumpites in his support nationwide on April 23: One, in Foley Square in Manhattan opposite the New York Criminal Court while Trump was inside, and as mentioned, none anywhere else. Traffic passed the courthouse freely all day. No tie-ups resulted from surges of Trump supporters but the ex-president couldn’t resist lying even about that. He said Trump supporters were kept blocks away from the courthouse where they could not be seen. NYPD reported that there were no such protesters anywhere to be seen.

Once boasted about “civil war”

The bombastic ex-president had once claimed that if he was put on trial anything and everything up to and including civil war would break out. His loyal MAGA supporters just can’t be bothered, it seems, with coming out in praise of their master as he faces a criminal trial.

Even that embarrassment didn’t humble the sexist, narcissistic, misogynist, white nationalist, and liar Trump. He posted all-caps insults on Truth Social. Among them: “EVERYBODY IS ALLOWED TO TALK AND LIE ABOUT ME, BUT I AM NOT ALLOWED TO DEFEND MYSELF. THIS IS A KANGAROO COURT, AND THE JUDGE SHOULD RECUSE HIMSELF!”

This Manhattan trial will decide whether Trump falsified business records while having his then-lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen give adult film star/stripper Stormy Daniels a Trump-signed $130,000 check. It was hush money eight years ago to shut her up about their affair while he was running for president against Hillary Clinton.

And it wasn’t Trump’s only hush money payment, either. Former Playboy playmate Karen McDougall got $150,000 via Trump, Cohen, and the National Enquirer, to kill its story about her affair with Trump. That check, though, is not part of this Trump trial.

Neither is the $175 million cash bond Trump had to put up after his most recent trial in a New York court, for defrauding the state of taxes and his lenders of true estimates of his property values in order to get loans for buying pieces of his real estate empire. State Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James caught him lowballing the state and highballing the lenders.

Trump actually paid Cohen more than triple the Daniels check afterwards, prosecutors said. And then covered it up by charging the checks off as a “business expense,” thus committing both financial fraud and violating New York State campaign finance limits.

This trial is especially important to Trump’s political future because it’s the only one of the four Trump trials that will definitely conclude before Election Day. Trump lawyers have managed to delay the other three.

One, in federal court in D.C., is over his direction of the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite invasion, insurrection, and coup d’etat attempt at the U.S. Capitol. Trump is accused of depriving Americans of an honest vote count and defrauding the government, among other charges.

The second trial, in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta, is for racketeering and conspiracy when Trump and his team tried to steal key swing state Georgia’s electoral votes from Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The two are scheduled for a rematch this November.

And the third, in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla., deals with Trump’s purloined top-secret papers from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate, including a Pentagon plan to make war on Iran. He kept boxes of sensitive material, unprotected, in a toilet.

The Manhattan trial is the first-ever criminal trial of a president or former president in U.S. history. And if he’s convicted, Trump can’t pardon himself if he wins the White House back. Presidential pardons cover only federal crimes.

Judge Juan Merchan presides over Donald Trump’s trial in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024, in New York. | Elizabeth Williams/AP

The Biden-Trump rematch is important to workers, and everyone else. That’s because Trump’s already vowed to be a dictator “on day one” if inaugurated—a limit that nobody else believes. It is widely believed that he will install in government legions of his fascist supporters.

An entire think tank

Trump has an entire think-tank of right-wing extremists drafting “Project 2025” to gut the civil service, use martial law to send troops into the streets against protesters of color, trash workers and their unions, and wreck everything from the Clean Air Act to Social Security. And that’s just for starters. During his prior term, Trump had the Pentagon draft plans for a war against Iran.

On the trial’s first day, April 22, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo lit into Trump in his opening statement. Trump, Colangelo said, “cooked the books” of his company to cover up the hush money payments.

The first witness the DA’s office called, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, testified about the Stormy Daniels payoff. That led Colangelo to deadpan declare evidence shows Trump “is a very frugal businessman. He believed in pinching pennies,” the Associated Press reported. But not when paying hush money to women via Cohen to prevent stories about his sexual exploitation from dominating the 2016 campaign.

Trump paid Cohen $420,000, more than double what the lawyer-fixer asked. “This might be the only time it ever happened” that Trump overpaid, Colangelo said. That’s how important the payoffs and hush money’s success was to Trump’s White House run, he added.

“Neither Trump nor the Trump Organization could just write a check to Cohen with a memo line that said ‘reimbursement for porn star pay-off,’” the prosecutor added. “So they agreed to cook the books and make it look like the payment was actually income, payment for services rendered.”

Then the Access Hollywood tape became public, and Pecker, Trump, and Cohen scrambled to contain the damage.

“At Trump’s direction, Cohen negotiated a deal to buy Ms. Daniels’ story to prevent American voters from hearing that story before Election Day,” said Colangelo. He called all that a “conspiracy” and “election fraud, pure and simple”—thus flipping Trump’s frequent lies about election fraud in 2020.

Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, later retorted that Trump was simply writing a check, which isn’t a crime, and trying to influence the election, which isn’t a crime, either. Blanche later switched gears, saying others made out the checks to Cohen; Trump only signed them.

“President Trump had nothing to do with any of the 34 pieces of paper, the 34 counts, except that he signed the checks, in the White House, while he was running the country,” Blanche said.

Blanche aimed at Cohen, the prosecution’s top witness. Cohen has already pled guilty and served time for his go-between role from Trump to the women and for lying to Congress about it. Trump himself, after court adjourned, called the whole trial “a case as to bookkeeping, which is a very minor thing.

“I’m the leading candidate,” Trump told reporters after the first day concluded. “This is what they’re trying to take me off the [campaign] trail for. Checks being paid to a lawyer.”

Colangelo disagreed in closing his first court statement. “The evidence will lead to one inescapable conclusion,” he declared. “Donald Trump is guilty.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.