Trump Agonistes
COMMENTARY

June 11, 2024by John R. Vile, Dean, University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University
Trump Agonistes
FILE - Former President Donald Trump leaves the courtroom at Manhattan criminal court, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in New York. Republicans who believe former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction was politically motivated have been increasingly echoing his calls for retribution against political enemies should he win again. Candidates, officeholders and even members of the president’s family are calling for criminal prosecutions of those on the left. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool, File)

One of the intriguing stories in the Bible about the power of vengeance is that of the death of Samson, which is described in Judges 16. 

The strong-man judge of Israel and scourge of the uncircumcised Philistines had finally been betrayed by Delilah and captured by his enemies after she had shorn the locks that were his secret source of strength. The Philistines had gouged out his eyes and paraded him to jeers at a sacrifice to their god Dagon. After a boy had led him to the twin pillars that held up a roof with 3,000 party goers, Samson, dislodged the pillars in a kamikaze action that literally brought down the house both on himself and his enemies, killing more in his death than he had during his life. 

Today’s potential Samson is former President Donald J. Trump. This larger-than-life figure who has long taunted and harassed his political enemies (recall his calls to “Lock her up” when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016) is intent on regaining the presidency and avenging his 2020 presidential loss, which he was unable to overturn in the courts or in Congress. 

In the meantime, 12 men and women have decided after six weeks of testimony that he was guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with authorizing a payoff to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to conceal an alleged sexual affair. Long before the jury handed down its guilty verdict, which, in a substantial credit to our legal system, no one knew in advance, Trump had publicly spoken as though the deck was stacked against him and that he anticipated a guilty verdict. 

Gagged from criticizing witnesses, families of the prosecutorial or judicial staff, or individual jurors in the New York hush money case, Trump pushed against other pillars of the rule of law. Trump and his sycophants have alleged that the judge is biased (in part because he was born in the nation of Columbia), and that the trial is a “disaster for our country,” and a “scam,” directed by President Joe Biden and the Justice Department, never mind that neither are involved in this state case. Indeed, if Biden exercises this much control, one wonders how his son became the subject of a suit for lying on an application to purchase a handgun.

Trump’s trial has been conducted as part of a system, established by American founders and supported by multiple provisions in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. It requires indictment by a grand jury and permits both sides to participate in the selection of jurors. It allows both to be represented by counsel, introduce and cross examine witnesses, and object to improper evidence. Because this is a criminal trial, the law requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and allows a defendant to remain silent in criminal trials as Trump chose to do. Now that Trump has been convicted, he still has the right to appeal his verdict to higher courts, which will almost surely delay its implementation.

After being found guilty, Trump continues to undermine the criminal justice system, just as he did when he lost his civil trials in New York involving business fraud, and sexual abuse and defamation of E. Jean Carroll. Like a player or coach who blames a referee for a loss, or a student who blames his teachers for bad grades, Trump has shown a proclivity to discredit anyone or any institution that gets in his way. 

Although he accepted the result when the Electoral College awarded him the election in 2016 even though Hillary Clinton had more popular votes (a fact Trump continues to deny), when he lost in 2020 without winning either the popular or the electoral vote, he continued to undermine public confidence in the results by claiming that the election had been rigged and seeking to overturn it. Trials in the District of Columbia and in Georgia for election interference and racketeering and in Florida for possession and concealment of government documents and obstruction are currently on hold. In the meantime, Trump has taken advantage of practically every opportunity for delay and for fulminations against the unfairness of the criminal justice system and those who are prosecuting him. 

In 2026, we will be celebrating 250 years of hard-fought independence. That independence rests to a large degree on the pillars our Constitution has established to promote justice.

This system is far from flawless, but it is based on the rule of law and due process rather than on popularity.

If Trump succeeds in destroying its legal pillars, unlike Samson, he may personally escape, but the house will come down not on America’s enemies but on the American people who rely upon these pillars for their own protection. 


Dr. John R. Vile is a professor of political science and dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He has authored and edited numerous books on the U.S. Constitution, on religion and politics, and on related issues. He can be reached by email.

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June 11, 2024
by Trump Agonistes
Trump Agonistes

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