This sound, this fury – may signify nothing

April 5, 2023 10:32 am(Updated 10:33 am)

Screaming his name in block capitals, the Trump plane is back on the tarmac. And I am having uncanny flashbacks to 2016 – all the times I’ve watched that plane land, or take off, waiting and waiting for the man himself to appear, filling “On Air” with hot air when there was nothing to say, dashing from campaign stop to campaign stop wondering what city or state I am in.

Except this time it’s different. This time there is something to say.

Because this is not a fundraiser in Iowa or a rally in Ohio. This time, once again, Trump is making history. Dubious history, of the kind he’d prefer not to be making. But history none the less.

He has just been arrested: the first US president to appear in court on criminal charges. President Trump has just become Defendant Trump.

And with that new title comes a subtle but devastating shift to everything he has known. As he appears in the corridor of the 15th floor of the Manhattan Criminal Courtroom a door is left to slam back in his face. It is a tiny gesture, that somehow speaks volumes. Trump has to push open the door himself.

He looks directly at the camera in the hallway, a mixture of defiance and annoyance – perhaps it’s the same emotion. And says nothing. It is the absence of words that shouts a story. Trump does not control this journey. For these 15 minutes of infamy he is in the hands of lawyers and law enforcement.

And then he enters the courtroom, flanked by his legal team, including his newest recruit Tod Blanche from New Yorks oldest and most elite law firm, Cadwalader. And over the course of the next few minutes the former president will plead not guilty to the 34 charges laid before him.

The presumption of innocent and respect for the rule of law are sewn into the very fabric of the US constitution. But this time, America appears to have made up its mind. Senior republicans from the party of law and order no longer seem to believe in the rule of law or order.

Large numbers of Democrats are ready to believe he’s guilty before charged. Which is why you’d want to be anyone but Alvin Bragg right now, the New York district attorney, taking his reputation in his hands as he brings the first ever indictment of a US president and prays his case is legally watertight.

Trump’s legal team meanwhile will be praying for two things.

That the charges brought by Bragg wont stack up. And that Trump will control himself long enough not call the judge a “dirty democrat traitor” who’s trying to start a war.

And then there’s Trump himself. Will he trust his legal team to fight this with their legal expertise, or will he override everything they say with a soulful scream to his supporters about his political victimhood – play the campaign not the court – and incite his supporters to question the very edifice of the US constitution. A move unlikely to curry favour with the judge.

And then what? Home to Mar a Lago, his palm tree-shadowed safe space, where supporters await to see if his appearance in Manhattan lower court has dampened his spirits or sharpened his edge. Many will tell you this is the fillip and the fundraising his 2024 campaign so desperately needed. After the first impeachment (and indeed the second) he spoke like a man emboldened – talking of the Democrats “committing political suicide”. At the time, many commentators were convinced. But remember this: he hasn’t won an election since 2016. Or the popular vote ever.

This sound, this fury – may signify nothing.

Emily Maitlis is a journalist, broadcaster and host of the podcast The News Agents

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