NEW YORK – The surrender of former US President Donald Trump on criminal charges on Tuesday was marked by fights between supporters and opponents outside a downtown Manhattan courtroom, as well as a now-familiar pattern of name-calling and fury from politicians and Trump himself.

However, many Americans who say they are watching this case and other Trump investigations unfold aren’t searching for political points – they are hoping that the US democracy will bring justice.

“It’s what the system is for,” said Carla Sambula, who drove an hour from her Rockland County, New York, home to stand in line outside a Manhattan courthouse to see Trump’s indictment firsthand. “It’s difficult to predict whether they’ll get it right, especially as a woman of color,” said Sambula, who is Black, adding that she has not voted since voting for President Barack Obama in 2016.

According to Gallup polls, Americans’ trust in institutions such as Congress, television news, and the presidency plummeted to the lowest average level in more than 40 years last year. Only 14% say they have “a lot” or “quite a lot” faith in the criminal justice system, which is half the level a decade ago.

The prosecution brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is the first of several involving Trump as the country prepares for a presidential election in 2024 in which Trump is the top Republican candidate. Trump entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of cynicism on the far right and far left,” said Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer and University of Minnesota law professor. Both parties have agreed that “the law is not about the law; it is only about politics and power.”

Trump has long complained that law enforcement is targeting him for political reasons, and his rhetoric has heightened since the New York case became public.
On Wednesday, Trump urged his Republican colleagues in Congress to cut funding for the US Justice Department and the FBI. A number of Republicans have voiced fear that the case will be used to determine if the government can be used to target disfavored politicians.

According to a new Reuters/Ispos poll, about half of Americans believe the investigations into Republican Trump are politically motivated by Democrats, including 36% of Democrats. Meanwhile, half of Americans, including 30 percent of Republicans, believe Trump and some members of the Republican Party are seeking to delegitimize law enforcement in order to avoid charges against Trump.
Americans, on the other hand, demand accountability – over 70% oppose the idea of US presidents being immune from all but the most serious criminal accusations, according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey. Even more people believe that no one in America should be “above the law.”
As numerous track investigations continue, the US justice system will be under severe scrutiny in the coming months.
The Manhattan case, involving hush money paid to a porn star, might stretch a year or more. An investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia might lead to an indictment this spring, and the Justice Department is looking into a related transfer-of-power issue as well as Trump’s preservation of confidential information. A civil trial over Dominion’s defamation accusations against Fox News in the 2020 election could begin this month.

“Holding elected leaders accountable is one of the pillars of democracy.” “We usually think of that in terms of politics, but it also applies legally when crimes are committed,” said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal and advocacy organization.
The rush of legal cases filed against Trump “could herald a new era in which presidential actions are subject to legal accountability,” Warren said.

The MacArthur Justice Center’s executive director, Amir Ali, cited the disproportionate incarceration of minorities and low-income people in the United States, claiming that the system “has routinely given people in power a free pass.”
“It’s obvious the criminal justice system can punch down — it’s been proven, and oppressively so,” Ali remarked.
Yusef Salaam, one of five Black teens unfairly convicted in a 1989 rape case, authored a full-page newspaper advertisement mimicking one Trump paid for decades earlier, calling for the death penalty for Salaam and others nicknamed the “Central Park Five.”

“Even though you effectively called for my death and the deaths of four other innocent children thirty-four years ago, I wish you no harm,” Salaam, now a Democratic candidate for New York City Council, stated in his ad. “Rather, I am putting my trust in the legal system to find the truth.”
The issues to be addressed in the upcoming Trump-related cases “reflect the fragility of any democracy,” according to Adav Noti, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government watchdog. “People may try to stay in power in an illegal manner,” he remarked.

At least two continuing investigations investigating Trump concern whether he attempted to obstruct the constitutional transition of power to his successor, Democrat Joe Biden. Trump maintains incorrectly that the 2020 election was stolen from him due to extensive voter fraud.
According to Noti, the only method to prevent future election interference is for “high-level people to serve prison time for attempting to overturn the 2020 election.”
“There’s a good reason,” he says, for Americans’ pessimism. However, “it does not have to be this way.”



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