Charge against U.S. Ex-President Raises Specter of Political Turmoil

A former U.S. president is facing criminal charges. It is an unprecedented situation. In the run-up to next year’s presidential election, it is concerning that this development will lead to political turmoil and conflict in the United States and will also have a negative impact on diplomacy.

A grand jury in New York State has decided to indict former U.S. President Donald Trump. A district attorney has been investigating a case of hush money paid to a woman who allegedly had an affair with Trump.

During the final stages of the 2016 presidential election campaign that Trump won, the former president’s legal advisor and then aide allegedly paid hush money to the woman. The advisor was later reimbursed by Trump’s company.

The reimbursement was logged as a “retainer” in the company’s books, which could constitute illegal falsification of business records.

Trump is expected to appear in court soon for his arraignment. The allegations should be tried in a court of law and settled through fair proceedings, leaving political intentions aside.

The problem is campaigning for the next presidential election will be underway as the controversy surrounding the merits of the indictment heats up.

Under Japan’s Public Offices Election Law, Diet members who are convicted of such charges as bribery are banned from standing in elections for a period of time. However, there is no exactly corresponding provision in the U.S. Constitution. Trump is expected to be able to run for president even while being indicted.

Trump has claimed the indictment is a “witch hunt” and told his supporters “this is political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

Trump has posted messages on social media to possibly incite disorder before. In a recent post, he said “potential death and destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic to our country.”

Trump’s refusal to admit defeat in the last presidential election and the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters are still fresh in the memory. The former president boasts an enthusiastic support base and leads approval ratings among the Republican Party’s top politicians.

Politicians vying for the Republican presidential nomination might have become more “inward-looking” and radical in their campaigning to attract Trump’s rock-solid supporters.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is considered to be a rival of Trump, has called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute” and expressed opposition to U.S. military assistance. But a view that regards Ukraine as part of Russia is extremely ill-advised.

It is undesirable that political turmoil will weaken the efforts of U.S. leadership in maintaining the international order. Politicians vying for the U.S. presidency must recognize the weight of the position and their words.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 1, 2023)