We’ve all watched in amazement over the years as the great political escape artist that is Donald Trump has somehow managed to wriggle his way out of every scandal and emerge not just unscathed but emboldened.
Amid the hullabaloo of helicopters, motorcades and fringe fanatics, the age of Trump’s impunity is over.
He has – for the very first time – been held legally to account. Former president Trump is now criminal defendant Trump with all the associated ignominy. And there’s nothing even he can do to change that.
It’s tempting to make grand statements. Nothing will ever be the same again! America is entering uncharted territory!
And while that is true – no former US president has ever been charged with a crime before – what really struck me this week, what towered above those skyscrapers like nothing else, was Donald Trump’s enduring ability to shrug it all off.
To take a crisis, and turn it into an opportunity.
For anyone else, being arrested for a Stormy-style sex scandal would blow up a presidential campaign overnight. For Donald Trump, it’s a ratings – and even funding – booster.
And the media (me included) goes along with it every time.
Witness the circus this week as every step of Trump’s journey, from the gates of Mar-a Lago in Florida to the door of the courthouse in Manhattan and back again – was painstakingly captured on breathless live TV.
“Donald Trump’s plane is traveling along the tarmac in Palm Beach, Florida on this momentous day as he travels back to Trump Tower in New York where his political journey began all those years ago.”
“We can just see the head of the former president now as he emerges – there he is! – from his motorcade to enter the courthouse here in Lower Manhattan where he will become the first….”
“We want to bring you this still photo, just in, that shows Donald Trump sitting inside the courthouse for the very first time. Take a moment to take this in. This is Donald Trump sitting inside a courthouse for the very first time. Did you hear what I just said, Jim?”
You get the picture.
It was excruciating. Almost as excruciating as it was trying to cover the actual story on the ground. Battling our way through the masses with cameras, tripods and lights to squeeze into the tiniest position, backs against the barricades, for a mere glimpse of Trump Tower in the background. There was no point trying to get inside the media pen – that had been full since dawn, perhaps even the night before. Ladders teetering with snappers, correspondents and cameramen all pointed, like dutiful sunflowers, at the golden skyscraper.
Then the police started bristling, looking round at each other the way they do when you know they know he is imminent. We tried to rush across the street to find a better vantage point, narrowly missing the oncoming traffic. “Ma’am, you need to get out of the road!” the police officer yelled at me.
Apparently he didn’t realise that risking your life to get a shot of Teflon Don arriving for arrest day was all part of the job spec.
And it was the same media maelstrom at the courthouse. So much so that we had to move from our coveted position minutes before we were due live on air because we couldn’t get a signal.
Let’s be honest. Had Trump chosen to divert his jumbo to the Arctic on the way home, we’d have all found a way to scramble there too.
As would his devoted band of followers: the only group more devout in their worship of Trump than the media. They show up wherever he goes, Maga flags and bejewelled USA caps at the ready. His grip on them as fascinating to behold as it is perplexing to comprehend.
Yes, Trump was glowering with quite the scowl inside the courtroom as the 34 charges were read aloud. There’s no doubting he was not a happy man.
But as soon as he was safely ensconced back inside Mar-a-Lago that evening, it was back to the usual belligerent banter. And fist bumps. So many fist bumps.
We had dutifully booked a flight from New York to follow in his footsteps but it didn’t land until the early hours, so we missed the party. But here’s the other fascinating thing about Trump.
The moment the news has passed, the masses pull the rip cord and disappear. Gone. Poof. They pack up the pick-ups, fold the flags and hit the road.
So too the media. We had the entire beach opposite his estate to ourselves, save for a couple of TV crews and a fisherman tucked under the bridge, blissfully unaware of the whirlwind that had just blown through town.
But like the aftermath of any storm, the air was still heavy.
For everything had changed and nothing had changed. Trump has now been criminally indicted. Is there worse to come? Maybe. But perversely, the drama has put him right where he wants to be. Centre-stage, in the spotlight, no doubt plotting his next rally and printing his Political Persecution merch.
The media – as if no time had passed at all – had jumped to attention. All Trump, all the time.
As we pulled away, something inside told me it wouldn’t be long before we’d be back again. The days of trying to ignore Donald Trump are over.
Wash, rinse, repeat, as my American colleagues would say.