Charges Point to Grave Acts That Rock Foundations of Democracy

It would be inexcusable if the president of the United States, who should be a leader of the world, unlawfully attempted to overturn the results of an election, the cornerstone of democracy. The responsibility for putting democracy in jeopardy would be incalculable.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been indicted for inciting the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 as he allegedly conspired to overturn his loss in the presidential election in November of the previous year.

This is the third time that Trump has been indicted, following a case in which he was charged for illegally falsifying business records over hush money payments to a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair, and another over his unlawful retention of classified government documents after he left office. The latest case is grave because his action could have led to a denial of the democratic process.

According to the indictment, Trump was “determined to remain in power” even though he lost the presidential election, and he “spread lies” about election fraud despite knowing that this was false. These claims convinced his supporters, fueling their assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to the indictment.

A peaceful transition of power through an election is the very foundation of democracy. If what the indictment alleges is true, Trump must be held responsible.

Trump faces four counts, including obstructing Congress’ proceedings to certify the election results. Trump pledged not guilty when he appeared in Washington’s federal courthouse on Thursday. “This is a persecution of a political opponent,” he said to reporters.

Trump, who has announced his intention to run in next year’s presidential election, appears to be taking advantage of the indictments to solidify his support, positioning himself as a victim of “persecution” by the administration of his successor Joe Biden.

It is clear that such political tactics helped to incite division and trigger the Capitol siege, which has left a blemish on U.S. history.

Trump has been leading Republican primary opinion polls. As his support did not fall after past indictments, it is believed that the impact of the latest charges will be limited.

That other Republican candidates have been reluctant to criticize Trump, fearing a backlash from his enthusiastic supporters, is also a concern.

The trials for Trump’s cases will begin next spring. Under the U.S. Constitution, “No Person except a natural born Citizen … shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” It is widely believed that indictments and convictions would not bar a person from running for president.

With the trials and the presidential campaign likely to be underway at the same time, the United States could face an unusual situation in which the focus of the election is whether a candidate is fit for the presidency, rather than their policies.

The deterioration of U.S. democracy benefits both China and Russia, as they are seeking to alter the international order led by the United States and Europe. The United States needs to make efforts to eliminate confrontations between the Republicans and the Democrats and regain faith in democracy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 5, 2023)