On August 24, former US President Trump went to Fulton County Prison and was formally arrested for attempting to overturn the 2020 Georgia election results, which was more than a year after he first appeared in the public eye on criminal charges. During this year, Trump faced a total of four criminal charges, becoming the first president in American history to face such charges. In the same year, his social media platform, Truth Social, was officially launched and dominated the latest polls of the Republican Party... America's proud freedom and democracy, seem to have become tools of the politics, whether in the case of Trump or the face of partisan politics.
After party struggle: who represents the law?
As of August 14, after being indicted in Georgia, Trump has faced four criminal prosecutions, intensifying the tug-of-war with the Democratic Party.
In August 2022, Trump's team was not divided after the FBI conducted an “Unprecedented search” of Donald Trump's private estate under the pretext of “Leaking state secrets”. After learning of a leaked recording of himself bragging about having the documents in his possession, Trump's response was straightforward: " I don’t know anything about it. All I know is this: Everything I did was right." Some scholars have argued that this search fueled the Trump team's mockery of the current government and the Democratic leadership; Trump and his supporters' skepticism posed a real threat to the legitimacy of government institutions.
The FBI and the Department of Justice are generally considered neutral institutions under the US government, but in the case of the search for Trump's private estate, and many events unfavorable to Trump, they have been viewed by Republicans as tools of the Democratic Party, aiding them to steal the victory of the 2024 presidential election. Kevin McCarthy， Former Speaker of the House, once expressed strong doubts about them, saying, "The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponization and politicization." Conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson believes the government is “speeding towards” the assassination of former President Donald Trump.
Whether these searches and criminal charges are based on the dignity of the law or the demands of politics is a matter of debate. However, under the accusations and defenses, they cannot shed their political implications, the partisan fighting is intensifying, and the public's trust in the law and government is increasingly eroding. In a New York Times poll, none of 319 Donald Trump's most extreme supporters agreed with the court's allegations that Donald Trump had committed a serious crime, only 2% of those polled believe Donald Trump made a mistake in the classified documents incident. Furthermore, the poll shows that after the first charges were filed, Trump's support among Republican voters was about 26% higher than the second-highest contender within the party, Ron DeSantis. Before the charges, this number was only 8%, suggesting that the accusations helped Trump gain more support from Republican voters. His fervent supporters are still willing to believe Trump rather than the accusations made by the Democratic government.
In the US legal system, there is nothing that prevents Trump from running for president from prison, and if Trump were to run and win, he could even issue pardons to absolve himself from the three charges. With the Democratic administration able to use the law to ensnare Trump in a dispute, the question of whether future administrations will also use the law to silence their political rivals or to use neutral judicial organizations for re-election is unanswered. Experts believe that whether the FBI's search served the national interest or not, it has become a symbol of the deepening confrontation between the two parties, Trump, and the US government.
Under the party struggle: who defends freedom?
It is a debate about “Freedom” that lies behind the struggle between Republicans and Democrats.
Fani Willis, the Georgia District Attorney, said Trump and his staff had conducted more than 160 "public acts", including tweets and speeches, to advance their plans. Faced with the accusation, the Trump campaign retorted that it was a violation of the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression. To limit Trump's use of words to interfere with the trial, the court banned Trump from publicly attacking the witnesses involved. According to the judge, “The priority of these matters far exceeds the rights protected by the constitution which have only a negligible impact”.
This is not the first time Trump's speech has been limited. In 2021, his account was blocked by mainstream social media such as Twitter on the grounds of being "insulting and provocative". However, with the disclosure of internal documents after Musk took the helm of Twitter, it was found that Twitter would delete the platform content after receiving requests from the parties, indicating that Twitter had always been manipulated by the government to control comments on the platform.
After being silenced, Trump claimed on Truth Social, a social platform he founded, that internal documents on Twitter showed that parts of the US Constitution were coming to an end. Therefore, does the court's restrictions mean that the US Constitution is "once again facing termination"? Syndicate, an international media organization project, believes that Trump's actions and remarks are not protected by the Constitution and that his crimes reflect the restrictions on speech imposed by US law.
In 2022, Musk launched a vote on whether Trump should be lifted, with 51.8% of the public voting in favor of doing so. On August 24, Trump returned to Twitter and received a lot of attention in just a few days. The court injunction and Trump's high-profile return represent two different interpretations of free speech. Trump has used free-speech slogans to drum up sympathy and support, while the Democrats have tried to outflank him with free-speech interpretations. Who can ultimately explain the freedom of speech, and who can win more votes in the name of it? The answer seems rather distant.
Under the party struggle: who cares about democracy?
On August 1, 2023, a grand jury approved an indictment against Trump over the congressional riots in early 2021. Trump was accused of " Threatening disenfranchisement ". The riots reflect the deep division and polarization of American society, as well as some people's dissatisfaction and mistrust of democratic values and institutions. These people are vulnerable to false information and conspiracy theories, and it is in itself undemocratic to take violent action to overturn the results of democratic elections.
However, US law enforcement agencies are dereliction of duty, injustice, and even complicit in dealing with extreme right-wing violence, contrary to the tough attitude adopted in dealing with protests such as the Black Civil Rights Movement. According to the BBC, before the Capitol was broken into by rioters, Major General Walker, commander of the National Guard in Washington, D.C., issued a request to acting Defense Secretary Miller for approval to mobilize troops to deal with the crisis. But Walker waited more than two hours to get a reply, and it took another hour for a large number of National Guard to arrive at the Capitol. The delayed response of the military to the violence in Congress once again confirms the fragility and hypocrisy of democracy in the face of party struggle.
On August 8, 2022, former President Donald Trump was searched by law enforcement at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Trump claimed that he was being persecuted for political manipulation by the Department of Justice to prevent him from running for president again. Republicans, however, have pursued the discovery of the confidential documents found in President Biden's residence, launched an investigation into the handling of the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan, and pushed for greater accountability. State institutions become a tool for political parties to pursue self-interest. According to The State of Democracy in the United States: 2022 published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the struggle between political parties is escalating, and the national interest is being sacrificed in the struggle for the interests of political parties and groups, with blaming and attacking each other mercilessly.
Xinhua News Agency commented: "American democracy" has become a tool for American politicians to incite public opinion to maximize their interests.
It is clear that there is still a fierce battle between the two parties over Trump's criminal charges before the 2024 election results are confirmed, and no one can give an answer to how intense it will be.
Co-presented by GDToday and the School of Journalism and Communication, Jinan University
Author: Ma Liming, Wang Ping, Wei Qin (Intern), Zhongxin Kan (Intern), Zeping Zhuo (Intern), Dongfang Fan (Intern)
Editor: Steven, Jerry, Rofel