The fallout from Trump's conviction: Who pays for his guilt?

Like many other Americans, I am exhilarated and scared by Trump’s conviction and what may come next

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 1, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media after being found guilty on all 34 counts in his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 30, 2024 in New York City. (Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media after being found guilty on all 34 counts in his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 30, 2024 in New York City. (Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)

Early Thursday morning I was woken up by the screams of a neighbor who is mentally and emotionally unstable. This happens to her every so many months. She then dutifully apologizes. I eventually composed myself and quickly fell back asleep. Suddenly I was snapped out of a horrible dream in which I was stuck in Alex Garland’s new “Civil War” movie. I was jolted awake again – this time by some bad 1980s pop music hit that the maintenance worker was blaring on his radio as he painted the apartment next door. The song was by some forgettable female singer and was about love lost, yearning and the pain of heartbreak. I remembered that song from when it was first released. I was in elementary school. I didn’t like the song then. I most certainly do not like it now.

Based on how my day started, I reasoned it likely portended a really bad day ahead. One of my spiritual practices is taking long walks to meditate. So I decided to walk the bad morning away and sit by the lake to reset before coming back home to write. It was beautiful outside. A perfectly clear sky, clean air, and crisp — but warm in the sun. The birds were singing loudly because they were so happy. The day evoked a memory of another perfectly beautiful day, that morning in New York on September 11. We have still not recovered as a nation from where that bad day led.

“The jury has reached a verdict," a friend called to tell me as I was listening to Elvis Presley’s “If I Can Dream."

I sat on a nearby bench and tuned into coverage of the verdict in real-time. The people near me did the same thing. Two of them sat uncomfortably close to me, consciously or subconsciously seeking some community. The three of us held our collective breath. Several people who were jogging stopped and then ran in place while they listened to or watched the verdict on their phones. A man walked by and heard the announcement, a slightly discordant chorus of sorts from the different phones all tuned into the same thing being “sung” by different voices.

Trump was guilty on the first count and then down the list to number 34. The man near me was visibly disgusted and angry at the verdict. He must be a MAGA person. 

Donald Trump, a twice-impeached former president of the United States, coup plotter, sexual assaulter as confirmed by a court of law, and aspiring dictator is now a convicted felon. He may not be able to vote or own a gun anymore. But he can become president again. He remains tied with President Joe Biden in the polls. He is winning in the battleground states. He could potentially win the 2024 election while on parole or under house arrest.

I am happy. I am also sad.

Donald Trump is a human stain on the presidency who never should have been elevated to such a position of great power and authority. That Trump has more than a realistic chance – if not likelihood depending on the pollsters and analysts – of becoming the next president is also an indictment of the country’s moral character. However, that Donald Trump, a former president of the United States – and a very rich white man and one of the most powerful people in the country – could be convicted by a jury of 12 everyday people in New York is a sign that there is still much life in the American experiment and the rule of law upon which it depends.

I also laugh to keep from crying. That is one of the survival skills I developed in my more than eight years of chronicling the Age of Trump. The skill of laughing to keep from crying is also an earned birthright for those of us who are products of the Black Freedom Struggle and as Blues people.

To that point, the following made me laugh very hard.

“Queens man convicted," read the headline at the Queens Daily Eagle. Editor Jacob Caye wrote:

Former Jamaica Estates resident Donald Trump was convicted by a Manhattan jury on Thursday of 34 counts of falsifying business records in an effort to cover up a sex scandal he feared would ruin his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

The jury’s verdict, which came after only two days of deliberations, makes Trump the first president from Queens – or anywhere in the United States, for that matter – to become a felon.

I smiled and laughed.

Caye ends his news story with:

Despite the conviction, Trump was released on his own recognizance Thursday, being spared a trip to Rikers Island, the home of the city’s notorious jail complex which happens to be part of the same borough the former president was raised in.

I smiled and laughed even harder.

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Please do not be confused or mistaken as you patriotically hoist too high the flag of American Exceptionalism and America’s inherent greatness in response to Trump’s conviction in the hush-money case and new status as a convicted felon.

Indeed, Donald Trump would not have been allowed a free and fair trial in the countries ruled by the tyrants, demagogues, and autocrats that he and his MAGA movement and the other neofascists admire abroad. But if America and is democracy and democratic culture were truly exceptional in the ways that so many Americans would like to believe and have convinced themselves, then Donald Trump would never have been elected president or be so close to taking over the White House again.

Like many other Americans, I am exhilarated and scared by Trump’s conviction and what may come next.

We must not ignore in our celebrations and relief how Donald Trump is a very violent man who leads a violent neo-fascist authoritarian political movement. Donald Trump and his propagandists know how to trigger the MAGA followers for maximum effect.

And what of That Man specifically? How did Donald Trump respond, a man who has shown himself to be an egomaniac and extreme narcissist who believes himself to be a god who is outside and above the law, to being convicted and hearing the verdict of “guilty” read 34 times? Trump did not sound like some roaring fascist lion or immortal strongman. He sounded very sad and beaten. He said he is "very innocent." I wondered: Does Trump even believe what he is saying right now as he is finally being confronted with real consequences for his bad behavior for the first time in his life?

Donald Trump is not complicated or a cipher. He is utterly predictable. On this, in a new essay at MSNBC, Molly Jong-Fast writes:

So what happens now? Now that we have a verdict in the case, there’s a good chance Trump will play it as being what he expected, and even wanted. We should expect him to go scorched-earth, because he so often does. We know he will try to weaponize this verdict and craft it into an assault on the rule of law, on the judge and the jury and on New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

No matter what the outcome, Trump was always going to try to use candidate Trump to help defendant Trump. And any verdict was destined to be molded into his branded narrative of persecution, witch hunts and a fight against the political system. Of that we can be certain.

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Beyond Donald Trump, I am worried about the 12 jurors (and 6 alternates) who made the brave and honorable decision to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion and decide that the corrupt ex-president is guilty of his crimes in the hush-money case. Their lives will never be the same again. They may never know peace for many years. If Trump wins the 2024 election, these jurors should be terrified of what will likely happen to them. They already know this. 

I am also worried about Judge Juan Merchan. NBC News is reporting that Trump’s MAGA people are already threatening to assassinate him.

As Rachel Maddow pleaded on MSNBC, protecting the jurors, judges, and other members of law enforcement who are protecting American democracy by following through on their responsibilities and obligations as citizens and professionals is of paramount importance. They are under siege from Donald Trump and the American neofascist movement.

But I am most worried about “We the Americans” and what comes next. As I wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) shortly after Trump’s guilty verdict was announced in New York:

Trump is just a man not a god. But be careful what you wish for as there is always action and reaction. Will he get his revenge? Or will he be broken by the weight of this? Be mindful of how evil people draw great power from that darkness and endure long past those who are good.

Donald Trump’s felony conviction in the hush-money trial is truly a historic event in what will be a historic time when the future of the country’s democracy and freedom will be decided. In such historic times when the ground is moving beneath our feet, sometimes slowly and almost imperceptibly, and at other times with great crashes where we feel like we are going to fall down, there are going to be great surprises ahead – both good and bad – that in hindsight will look utterly predictable.

In the end, the Age of Trump and this democracy crisis need to be repudiated in the voting booth on Election Day. Trump’s hush-money trial and conviction – and his three other criminal trials – will not do that work. Donald Trump and his MAGA people and other followers are now hellbent on revenge. He and they must be kept away from the presidency if American democracy is to endure. The American people are the only ones who can accomplish that goal. The long moral arc of the universe does not bend inexorably toward justice on its own. It is bent and shaped by us.

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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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Fascism Hush-money Trial Maga Trump Trial Verdict