For the republic to survive, Trump must be tried for his crimes

Trump hasn’t created a dual state, but he has laid the groundwork for it, not only in his rhetorical provocations but also as a kind of legal manifesto. In a series of letters, Trump’s lawyers have argued that he enjoys almost complete immunity from investigation by law enforcement or Congress. “The President not only has unfettered statutory and Constitutional authority to terminate the FBI Director, he also has Constitutional authority to direct the Justice Department to open or close an investigation, and, of course, the power to pardon any person before, during, or after an investigation and/or conviction,” they wrote in 2017. Last year, the president and his lawyers described impeachment as “illegal,” “unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,” and “no more legitimate than the Executive Branch charging members of Congress with crimes for the lawful exercise of legislative power.” One of his lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, wrote that Trump could not be impeached even if he handed over Alaska to Russia.

Trump’s incredible claim to be both the sole arbiter of the law and beyond its reach was on vivid display at his nominating convention, a festival of televised lawbreaking. The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits using government property to promote any candidate for office. It has been observed continuously, often in exacting detail. Political scientist Matt Glassman recalled working as a staffer at the lowly Congressional Research Service, where he had to remove old political memorabilia, like a 1960 Kennedy poster and an 1884 Blaine-Logan handkerchief, lest those items be mistaken by passersby as endorsements for a living candidate.

Trump has smashed the Hatch Act to bits, to the point where he turned the White House into a stage for his party convention. It isn’t that he was simply willing to pay the price of breaking the law in order to get the best backdrop. Trump’s aides told the New York Times he “enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics-law violations,” and “relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him.” Unashamed legal impunity was itself the message.