A federal jury found former president Donald Trump guilty of defamation Tuesday in a case related to the multiple sexual abuse allegations that have haunted him for years. Trump — who intends to return to the White House in 2024 — has thus becomes the first candidate for president (still only self-declared, he must first win the Republican presidential primary) who has been sentenced in court. In April, Trump also became the first sitting or former president to be indicted, when he was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records over his involvement in hush money paid to a porn star so that she would keep quiet about an alleged affair. What’s more, Trump is the first president to have faced two impeachment votes in the House of Representatives. And he is now under investigation for tax offenses, for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, and for his role in the self-coup attempt that was the January 6 assault on the Capitol.
The case in question arose in 2019, when the writer E. Jean Carroll claimed that 25 years earlier, the then-television presenter and real estate magnate raped her in the fitting rooms of a New York department store. Trump responded by saying the allegations were made up. “She’s not my type” was his argument. The dispute led to a civil trial (the statute of limitations had passed for a criminal case), in which the jury ruled that Carroll’s account was credible and that Trump was guilty of defaming her by accusing her of fabrication. The conviction sets a valuable precedent. Up to 16 women have accused Trump of sexual abuse. Carroll was the second to accuse him of rape. His first wife, Ivana Trump — who passed away last year — also accused him of raping her during their marriage, although she later retracted the allegation. On March 30 — when it was announced that Trump would be indicted for hush money paid during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence Stormy Daniels — the aura of impunity surrounding the former president finally broke. This second legal blow is going to cost Trump $5 million in damages to Carroll.
The sordidness of the two cases that have reached the courts so far is just one example of the corrosive impact that Trump’s entry into politics has had on U.S. institutions. But Tuesday’s verdict was more about restoring the dignity of the women whom he has publicly humiliated, rather than addressing the true nature of the institutional damage. The collective victim of Trump’s actions is U.S. democracy, and it is still awaiting justice. For that to happen, Trump’s collaborators — the leaders of the Republican Party — must decide to work with U.S. institutions to bury the toxic legacy of Trumpism and put an end to it once and for all. Republicans now have an umpteenth opportunity to react, before voters from the party’s anti-establishment minority faction once again choose a convicted man as their leader.
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