Here comes the spiral: A criminally guilty Donald Trump is a dangerous Donald Trump

Donald Trump's criminal liability now becomes a liability for the nation

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 31, 2024 1:31PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks away after making remarks to the media during his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 29, 2024 in New York City. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks away after making remarks to the media during his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 29, 2024 in New York City. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the jury in Donald Trump’s New York hush-money trial issued their verdict: Guilty on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The former president's sentencing is scheduled for early July.

Donald Trump, is quite predictably, very upset and enraged. On Wednesday, as Trump was leaving the courthouse, he complained, wallowing in self-pity, that the trial was “very unfair” and “Mother Teresa could not beat those charges, but we’ll see. We’ll see how we do.” Trump spent the day on his Truth Social disinformation platform ranting and raging about the legal "witch hunt” against him. Of course, none of this is true. Donald Trump is finally being held somewhat responsible for his decades-long crime spree.

A group of Donald Trump’s political cultists have reportedly been crying and praying outside of the Manhattan courthouse. To have 12 everyday Americans find him guilty must be disconcerting for both Trump and his MAGA political cult members. On this, John Gallagher writes:

While much has been made of the magnitude of the moment – the first president ever to undergo a criminal trial – what emerged during the beginning of the trial was not how big the trial was but how small it made Trump look. The courtroom is tired and shabby, the antithesis of the garish surroundings that are so important to Trump. The room itself is cold, leaving Trump at the mercy of a malfunctioning HVAC system. For someone who insists on ostentatious displays of wealth and control, the setting itself is precisely the kind of place that Trump would never deign to set foot in, let alone spend weeks in.

Then there was the problem that Trump can’t rage at his enemies, real or perceived. He had to sit there and take it as would-be jurors variously described him as “selfish,” “negative,” and “self-serving.” Then there were the social media posts of jurors, which are sometimes read in court by Trump’s own lawyers. One particularly choice post said, “I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized.”…

For someone for whom that image is everything, the trial really shake Trump’s very being. He could not escape the courtroom without appearing diminished, less than he wants people to believe he is. If he’s convicted, he will be in an even worse place, as the thought of jail by many accounts frightens him.

Trump’s rage was an expression of his deep foreboding and knowledge that he was likely going to be convicted.

On Thursday, shortly after he was convicted, Trump sent out a fundraising email declaring that he is now a “political prisoner." Later in the day, Trump sent out another fundraising email — this one even more venomous and vile:

I was just convicted in a RIGGED TRIAL meant to interfere in our elections.

Their sick & twisted goal is simple: Pervert the justice system against me so much, that proud supporters like YOU will SPIT when you hear my name.


Today is a DARK DAY  in history, but your response right now will shine brighter than the 1,000 suns.

Only with your support can we STOP these people from DESTROYING our country.

But I know with you by my side, WE WILL WIN!

Again, Donald Trump is distorting the facts, outright lying, and attempting to get money from his MAGA political cultists while also encouraging their violence and insurrection.

It is already happening. On Thursday, NBC news reported that Judge Juan Merchan has been targeted with death threats from Trump’s MAGA people.

In a statement delivered outside the courthouse after his verdict, Trump told the world, “This was a disgrace….This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who's corrupt. It's a rigged trial, a disgrace. They wouldn't give us a venue change. We were at 5% or 6% in this district, in this area. This was a rigged, disgraceful trial. The real verdict is gonna be Nov. 5, by the people. And they know what happened here, and everybody knows what happened here . . . we didn't do a thing wrong. I'm a very innocent man. It's okay. I'm fighting for our country. I'm fighting for our Constitution. Our whole country is being rigged right now. This was done by the Biden administration, in order to wound or hurt a political opponent. And I think it's just a disgrace. And we'll keep fighting. We'll fight 'til the end, and we'll win."

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In all, Donald Trump’s hush-money trial is truly historic. It is the first time a former or current president has been put on trial for criminal offenses (felonies). As such, this is the first time a jury has found a former President of the United States criminally guilty. 

Whatever the outcome, the 2024 election will be historic in many other ways as well with Donald Trump being the first president to attempt a coup, a convicted felon, a sex assaulter as confirmed by a court of law, and now a person under court supervision. No law prevents a felon from running for office and being elected president. Moreover, however unlikely, Donald Trump could win the 2024 election while in prison. He could then orchestrate his release.

The verdict in Trump’s hush-money trial is not a triumph or something to celebrate. At the Atlantic, Charles Sykes writes: "For the moment, Trump’s fate is in the hands of a New York jury. But ultimately, his fate will be up to the voters, won’t it? Millions of voters seem disengaged from this year’s campaign. A New York Times analysis of recent polling found that Trump’s current lead rests with voters “who aren’t paying close attention to politics, who don’t follow traditional news and who don’t regularly vote.” Young voters seem especially dismayed about the election and cynical about the stakes. But Trump continues to tell us who he is and what he intends to do. We’ve been warned, and nobody—including that jury—is coming to save us before November."

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In all, the spectacle of Donald Trump’s criminal trial(s), like the Trumpocene more generally (and how we arrived at this societal crisis) is further evidence of how the American people are being targeted by what Henry Giroux describes as a “disimagination machine(s)”:

These tools of indoctrination relentlessly churn out manufactured ignorance and a shallow notion of self-interest, promoting a depoliticized notion of individualism. Additionally, these machineries of misinformation undermine the moral imagination’s power to empathize with the claims of others while undercutting the courage of individuals to see beyond the socially induced fog of a culture of immediacy. In this context, critical inquiry and thinking are divorced from the public imagination as sources of resistance. One consequence is that individuals and the larger public are thwarted from envisioning a future that advances democratic values of social and economic justice.

Ultimately, we should be very weary and suspicious of anyone with a public platform in the news media, punditry, and/or political class, who claims, with absolute certainty, to know what will happen to the country after Trump’s conviction in the hush-money trial. There are too many variables at play.

How will Donald Trump’s conviction and status as a felon will impact how the American people will vote in the 2024 election? Again, we do not know. But with Trump’s historic conviction, there is at least the reasonable hope that he will have a more difficult time of winning the 2024 election and becoming the country’s first dictator. That final decision will be made not in a courtroom by a jury and a judge, but in the voting booth by the American people.

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 Hush Money Trial Trump Crimes