Televising Trump's trials will hurt — that's why it must happen

It's the only way to justice

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 11, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Last week, Donald Trump was finally indicted by the Department of Justice for his attempted Jan. 6 coup and larger plot to end American democracy by nullifying the 2020 Election. On Thursday, special counsel Jack Smith announced his preferred timeline for a trial, beginning early January 2024. 

The media are already ballyhooing about how Trump's indictment for the crimes of Jan. 6 is truly "historic" and "unprecedented" in American history and that the "walls have closed in" on the reprobate ex-president. As a basic factual matter, the observation that Trump's Jan. 6 indictment and upcoming criminal trial are "historic" is correct. No president of the United States has ever attempted a coup against his own government and the country's democracy. But how "historic" are these indictments really when almost all the horrible things Donald Trump has done during his presidency and beyond, including seeking to take back the White House as a de facto fascist dictator, are unprecedented in American history?

Donald Trump with his dark charisma is a human predator; too many people continue to deny that fact because it is too frightening; their fear does nothing to change that fact or to save them.

How is this third indictment, which follows two previous "unprecedented" and "historic" indictments for federal crimes (now totaling 78 individual felony charges) – and an imminent fourth criminal indictment in Georgia – more "historic" than the ones prior? It too often feels like "historic" and "unprecedented," as applied to Donald Trump, have lost their power and weight; one of the defining features of societies that are succumbing to fascism and other anti-democracy forces is a sense of disorientation and confusion where nothing really matters anymore.

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When Trump was indicted and arrested in Washington D.C. last Thursday, I decided that I would not watch the "breaking news" or any other live commentary and politics as sporting event play-by-play coverage. I would just read about it later that night or the next day. I am already too familiar with Trump's evil. I do not need to watch him in real-time to understand it. Despite my best efforts, however, I could not escape his presence.

While I walked around my neighborhood that Thursday, I happened to look through the window of a local deli. There he was, Donald Trump, on the screen of a huge television, talking to reporters after his arraignment and arrest in Washington D.C. Trump played the victim, of course. He complained that D.C. is filthy and horrible because of "the Democrats" (by which he means Black and brown people). He vowed to return to the White House and clean up the mess.

I surrendered. I walked inside the deli to watch more. As the ex-president spoke, I felt my hands turn into fists inside of the big pockets of my army utility pants. I then felt the urge to yell at the TV and to take my hands out of my pockets and point and gesticulate at that horrible man who has caused so much harm to America and the world. In my mind, I listed Donald Trump's crimes and other evils:

  1. Democide which killed at least 1 million people due to willful negligence in response to the COVID pandemic
  2. Jan. 6 coup attempt and attack on the Capitol
  3. Mass shootings and other widespread violence: Charlottesville, the Tree of Life Synagogue, Buffalo, El Paso
  4. Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria
  5. Widespread corruption and criminality
  6. Treason
  7. Even more white supremacy and neofascism 
  8. Concentration camps and family separation of migrants and refugees
  9. MAGA, the cult 

I eventually calmed myself down, inhaling and exhaling deeply, and began to walk quickly towards the door of the deli. But I paused and looked at the dozen or so people eating in that deli. They were stuffing their maws with food like pigs at a trough. Most of the people didn't look at the TV, the food in front of them was more important. I made eye contact with an older Black woman who was watching Trump as she scratched off her lottery tickets. We both shook our heads in a shared moment of dread and disgust.

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Like my mother, and so many other Black and brown folks of a certain age and life experience, we know that so many white Americans just want to be done with Donald Trump and for the whole ugly mess to be over, wished away without lots of hard work and struggle. Unfortunately, the real world does not work that way. Trump, and his Republican fascists and MAGA followers are not even close to being done yet. (In a development that should not be at all surprising, one of Trump's followers who was threatening to assassinate President Biden, Vice President Harris, and law enforcement officials who were involved in investigating the ex-president's alleged crimes was killed early Wednesday morning by the FBI during a raid in Salt Lake City, Utah.)

I so desperately wanted to yell at the people eating in the deli. To tell them that it stinks like sh*t in here, the smell of food mixed with sewage from the broken toilet in the back, and they are disgusting human beings for eating in a place that is full of such stink. I decided that would be mean to them and the nice couple who own the deli.

Donald Trump with his dark charisma is a human predator; too many people continue to deny that fact because it is too frightening; their fear does nothing to change that fact or to save them. Trumpism, like other forms of fascism, is a form of collective emotional, physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual trauma and harm. Such a claim and observation are not matters of metaphysics; we know this empirically from public health researchers and other experts.

I know that I am not alone in what I felt as I watched Donald Trump last Thursday and so many other times during these last seven years and longer. I asked Dr. Mark Goulston, a leading psychiatrist and author whose advice has been of great help to me personally throughout these last seven years, to help me better process my (and our) negative emotions and feelings:

There is a phenomenon I have named the "Outrage Enrage Bifurcate". Most civil people have trouble becoming enraged and verbally violent when someone abuses and outrages them verbally. That's because becoming violent and enraged is so against their core identity that after they have become outraged, they smile to bifurcate away from becoming enraged and cover up their murderous rage. Trump uses this frequently to cause his targets to use most of their energy to suppress their impulse to come back verbally violent at Trump, because doing so would cause them to feel out of control. Trump pushes people to the edge of a cliff and he never falls off it, but causes others to feel so off balance that they "neuter" themselves.

Privately you wanted to eviscerate him and then some. You could do this in the privacy of your home but not in public because Trump has the ability to further infuriate you which might push you even more out of control and that is something you wouldn't want the public to see or even know that you have in you.

Dr. Goulston continued:

In my book, "Just Listen," I introduced an intuitively correct, empirically but not evidence-based concept called the Mirror Neuron Gap (MNG). Mirror Neurons were discovered in macaque monkeys and first called "monkey see, monkey do mirrors" and were later discovered in human beings and are associated with imitation, learning and empathy.

The MNG occurs when how you feel and communicate in a caring manner towards others is not reciprocated. Empathy, compassion, being non-judgmental and caring close the MNG. Sarcasm, ridicule, criticism and verbal abuse widen the MNG. The wider the MNG, the more stress, the more stress the higher your cortisol (stress hormone) level. The higher the cortisol the more likely to triggers something called an Amygdala Hijack, which the "emotional point guard" in our brain and when overstimulated will shunt blood flow away from our prefrontal cortex and thinking brain into our lower "fight or flight or freeze" non-thinking, survival brain.

Verbal abusers get the best of us by widening the MNG, raising cortisol and then triggering an Amygdala Hijack.

The best way to deal with abusive relationships is to recognize them early and avoid or leave them. On the other hand, many abusive people are not bad. They just can't control themselves. In such cases, such people may not be teachable, but they may be trainable. What that means is when they start acting up, simply say, "I'll talk about this when you're calmer," and then pick up and leave, allowing them to have the last word. The training comes from doing a "rinse and repeat" and quickly moving towards just picking up and walking away without saying anything.

After meditating on Dr. Goulston's insights, I looked at my copy of Bessel A. van der Kolk's book "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma", and reread some of the chapters and passages that I have bookmarked and highlighted:

"We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think."

"Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past."

"The greatest sources of our suffering are the lies we tell ourselves."

Donald Trump, his followers, enablers, allies, sycophants, and defenders have been and continue to abuse and traumatize the American people. The above advice and wisdom apply not just to traumatized individuals but to the American people as a whole in the Age of Trump and beyond.

To begin to heal and find some justice and healthy normalcy, Donald Trump needs to be defeated both in court and at the ballot box. One of those outcomes alone is insufficient and will only give more life to American neofascism and Trump's successors and pretenders. Part of that healing and finding justice also demands that Donald Trump's upcoming criminal trials, especially for the crimes of Jan. 6, are televised.

On this, Jim Braude writes as the Boston Globe:

Televising the proceedings may be one thing that both Americas can agree upon. The anti-Trumpers, with dreams of orange jumpsuits dancing through their heads, don't want Trump to be able to walk out of the courtroom each day and lie about what happened without themselves knowing what really happened in order to combat his lies.

The pro-Trumpers, with dreams of a second inauguration dancing through theirs, will find a live broadcast hard to resist, even if they need to change the station from the only cable network they watch. They can hope that Trump's lawyers will rip the loyalists-now-turncoats limb by limb. Some may even watch for the chance to see courtroom Trump show the same contempt for this Black woman judge that he's shown for two Black prosecutors in New York and one in Atlanta, all of whom he's called racist.

Then maybe, just maybe, some of those Fox News-only viewers, a mere 5 percent of whom told The New York Times they believe Trump committed serious federal crimes, will let a few real facts replace the alternative ones.

Even if that's the stuff of pipe dreams, there's a far more unassailable argument for letting the public in: It's the United States v. Donald J. Trump — a former president is being prosecuted in our name. We have a right to be there.

Donald Trump and his regime caused great harm to hundreds of millions of Americans and the nation as a whole. Trump's victims will not be able to confront him individually in court. But they can vote to keep him out of office again and have a moment of collective therapy, collective witnessing, and some degree of closure – or terror if he is somehow found "not guilty" – by watching his criminal trial(s).

We "the Americans" demand and deserve at least that much as we try to finally escape Donald Trump and the Trumpocene.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Fascism Jan. 6 Mark Goulston Psychology Ptsd Trauma