The trials of the century?


Former president Donald Trump has been charged with 91 felonies in four distinct jurisdictions. He remains the leading candidate in the Republican primaries for the 2024 presidential election. The first Republican primary debate is this Wednesday.

Former federal appeals court judge and influential conservative Republican J. Michael Luttig despairingly said this past week that “There is no Republican party,” calling the party leaders “spineless” and saying that “American democracy is in grave peril.”

Geoff Duncan, former Georgia Republican lieutenant governor and legislator said that Donald Trump was “running the Republican party into a ditch.”

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans — 63 percent — now say they want the former president to run again, according to new polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Despite the indictments, Donald Trump’s support among Republicans continues to outdistance primary opponents by significant numbers. A recent national poll had the primary preferences this way: Trump 43%, DeSantis 9%, Christie 9%, Haley 7%, Scott 5%, Ramaswamy 5%,Burgum 4%, Pence 3%.

So the question is pretty obvious: If all Donald Trump’s seven opponents’ percentages of support don’t collectively add up to his 43 percent, does the Republican Party still exist or does it validate Judge Luttig’s declaration that the Republican Party has ceased to exist, that it has in fact morphed into The Party of Trump?

Despite these amazing numbers for Mr. Trump, it’s hard to imagine him winning in 2024 with independents and swing voters leaning away from him and the growing weight of the indictments making his baggage heavier and heavier. So much can happen politically and legally in the next 15 months, but were Trump to win the nomination, and lose the election, his die-hard supporters might well cripple what’s left of the Republican Party out of spite for a loss they will likely blame on those Republicans who had abandoned him, ironically referred to as RINOs (Republicans in name only).

The tragedy of this increasingly likely scenario is that this country needs two strong, cohesive political parties to balance the policy approach to our considerable challenges as a nation in an increasingly competitive and surly international environment. I don’t look forward to a possible political future of who is going to impeach whom, who is more patriotic than whom, or who can dig up the most dirt on whom. I’d rather foretell a future where serious policy development emanates from traditional party values on both sides of the aisle. I know conservative leaning Democrats and I know liberal leaning Republicans.

Personally, I believe we are living in a political moment of incredible polarization, but like other historical moments of national tension, for example: the pro-war-anti-Vietnam war period; the civil rights action; the McCarthy Period and Army-McCarthy hearings; or the prolonged Cold War period — these moments do pass.

In this highly polarized and legally intense moment however, we have to reflect on our real values as individuals, as members of a party, as citizens of our nation, what we stand for, and what we are willing to tolerate in terms of political behaviors. We have to ask ourselves, how will history judge us as individuals and as a nation? As I used to tell my history students, history will be the ultimate judge of the decisions we make as individuals, and of the things we ultimately do as a nation. That’s why history is such an important teacher. The lessons are all there and if we fail to read and heed those lessons we have to accept the consequences.

I would be foolish to try to predict the outcome of all of Donald Trump’s indictments and felony charges, of the final candidates in the upcoming 2024 presidential election and the outcome of those elections.

The highly respected conservative appellate judge and legal mind J. Michael Luttig cautioned Americans recently on PBS, saying he felt “a profound obligation” to speak up about the circumstances surrounding former president Trump, calling Mr. Trump “a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

He went on to say that “For almost 250 years, there was all but a consensus among the American public on the fundamental values and principles on which America was founded and then all of a sudden we don’t agree on anything at all. We have not talked to each other as friends, fellow citizens, Americans, who share the same destiny and share the same hopes and dreams for America for six or eight years now. Our officials and our elected leaders have talked to the nation and talked to us Americans as if we were enemies of each other and we have never been enemies of each other.” He concludes that our leaders have failed us.

All that being said, and the wisdom of judge Luttig notwithstanding, we as a nation will inevitably face a series of criminal trials of a former American president, and these trials will indeed form what history is likely to refer to collectively as the trials of the century.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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