After the Republic, Redux

In the wake of Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 counts related to the effort to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign, the former president’s supporters lamented what they saw as “the end of the republic.” The United States, as we have always known, is over, they insisted. The formerly fairest and most envied justice system in the world has been irredeemably corrupted. What Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth” is “finished,” they said, likely never to recover. Tucker Carlson, the unofficial spokesman of the MAGA movement, took to Twitter/X to intone: “Import the Third World, become the Third World. That’s what we just saw…. Anyone who defends this verdict is a danger to you and your family.”

While one might sympathize with their frustration and concur with their infuriation at the political nature of Trump’s trial and the conviction, objectively, most of this lamentation is wildly misdirected. The trial and conviction of Donald Trump by an overzealous and partisan prosecutor is NOT the “watershed moment” in American history that many on social media claimed. It does NOT mark the end of the nation as we knew it. It does NOT signify that the American republic is over and done with.

ALL of that happened almost an entire decade ago.

Whether one likes Donald Trump or not, the truth of the matter is that he has been the target of the American “regime” ever since he first announced his candidacy for the presidency. Trump may be all of the nasty, horrible, and grotesque things his detractors say he is—or he may not be. I’m here neither to defend nor condemn him. I am here, rather, to point out that whatever one thinks of him, his treatment at the hands of institutions that were constructed specifically to prevent such treatment is both egregious and, disturbingly, precedent-setting.

In the run-up to the presidential election in 2016, the late, great (and sadly prescient) Angelo Codevilla penned an essay for The Claremont Review of Books, fittingly titled “After the Republic.” In it, he noted that “our ruling class’s changing preferences and habits have transformed public and private life in America” and that “the 2016 election is sealing the United States’ transition from that republic to some kind of empire.” In retrospect, he could not have been more right.

It is easy to forget, removed some eight years from their occurrences, but the events of the 2016 campaign were both remarkable and telling. Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist for The New York Times, spoke for his colleagues in the mainstream press when he declared that Trump was an “abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate” and must, therefore, be treated differently, requiring the media to abandon its (largely feigned) standards of objectivity in its coverage of him. In the heat of the campaign (and the heat of the summer), the Attorney General of the United States (Loretta Lynch), whose Justice Department was investigating candidate Hillary Clinton for her careless handling of classified documents when she was Secretary of State, met privately with the candidate’s husband, a former President of the United States in his own right, on the runway of the airport in Phoenix. Both meeting participants insisted that the whole thing was just an innocent chat—two old friends catching up and chatting about grandchildren—but that’s certainly not how it appeared.

Meanwhile, the candidate herself was at the center of a plan to pay an investigator to create a phony dossier on Trump, linking him to Russian intelligence and accusing him of colluding with the Russian government. Ultimately, this plan involved willing co-conspiration from the intelligence bureaucracy as well as manipulation of a credulous, if not entirely complicit, press.

All of this, unfortunately, was a mere prelude to the events of Donald Trump’s presidency and, as we’ve just seen, his post-presidency as well. The institutions that should be protecting the republic and insisting on its fair treatment of all men under the law have been absent at best and are often part of the problem.

In the conclusion to his September 2016 essay, Codevilla warned that what we were seeing during the campaign and would see after its conclusion were mere preludes to the horrors they foretold:

We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and it is futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insults, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity and are sure to empower politicians, likely making Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.

Many conservative but Trump-skeptical commentators and observers have greeted his conviction with melancholy resignation: we must respect the system, even if it failed us this time; while we are right to worry that the prosecution of political opponents is a mistake and sets a dangerous precedent, it is a less egregious precedent than allowing political opponents to break the law; etc.

This is hopelessly naïve.

The Democrats, in their zeal to “get” Trump by any means necessary, have inaugurated a cycle of political retribution that will not soon be stopped. For the foreseeable future, every president who is succeeded by a president from the other party will be at risk of prosecution. At the very least, Joe Biden will see his son, Hunter, prosecuted to the full extent of the law and undoubtedly sent to rot in prison. No president—from either party—will return to the standard that historically existed and Gerald Ford so clearly articulated that the potential damage done to the republic by the wanton prosecution of former presidents requires prudent consideration and recommends restraint over retribution. To do so would be to disarm unilaterally. And no one will do so willingly.

The proverbial Rubicon has indeed been crossed, as Trump’s supporters complained this week. But it was crossed a long time ago. What we are seeing today are the inevitable consequences of that crossing and the harbingers of much worse to come.


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About Stephen Soukup

Stephen R. Soukup is the Director of The Political Forum Institute and the author of The Dictatorship of Woke Capital (Encounter, 2021, 2023)

Photo: NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 31: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference at Trump Tower following the verdict in his hush-money trial at Trump Tower on May 31, 2024 in New York City. A New York jury found Trump guilty Thursday of all 34 charges of covering up a $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her story of their alleged affair from being published during the 2016 presidential election. Trump is the first former U.S. president to be convicted of crimes.

Notable Replies

  1. I must disagree with Mr. Soukup. The end of the Republic began with the installation (“election”) of an illegitimate (under Article II. of the U.S Constitution) candidate, Barak Hussein Obama, who was not, is not and will NEVER be a “natural born citizen” which Paul Ingrassia so well explained to the dunces among the electorate. Again, the Republican Party is to blame for the travesty of that man’s faux presidency just as it is to blame for the installation of President Meat Puppet. “Go Along to Get Along” (or in this case the unofficial motto of the Republican Party “Go Along to Get Filthy Rich”) was never promulgated by the Framers as a governing principle.

    Article II, not the 14th Amendment governs qualifications for the Office of the President. Obama’s father was never a U.S. citizen, therefore Obama never “natural born” within the meaning of Section 1. Had Obama’s installation been blocked by the Republican Party, none of this would be happening since Joe Biden would never have become Vice President and yet another ineligible candidate, Kamala Harris, become yet another ineligible office holder. It’s becoming more and more difficult to defer to “experts” who don’t know shit from legal shinola.

  2. I nominate the passage of the Patriot Act as our country’s Rubicon, although Alecto made excellent points about Obama’s presidency. Without the weakening of citizens’ legal protections from the intel community, I don’t think what happened under Obama’s administration or to Trump, as a candidate, president or former president, would have been possible.

  3. Although analysis of exactly when and how our nation has devolved from a functioning, relatively healthy, constitutional republic into something resembling historical default–autocracy, or worse–is beneficial for historians, I’m more concerned with the here and now of survival. More precisely, what Donald Trump’s conviction and almost certain incarceration based on utterly fabricated criminal charges means, is that this is only the beginning of decades of despotic tyranny. And it will surely get much, much worse.

    Conservative authors and pundits grouse and complain about the rise of an American Caesar, as if somehow we can put the proverbial genie of leftist despotism back in the bottle.

    We can’t, and it’s a fool who thinks otherwise.

    Therefore, if I must choose between an American Augustus–or Pinochet–or a Luciferian fascist from the Democrat party, then to paraphrase FDR’s quote about Nicaraguan strongman Anastasia Somoza, I’d rather the SOB leader be our SOB, than theirs.

  4. Osama bin Laden won.

  5. The usurper triumphed over the castrati.

Continue the discussion at community.amgreatness.com


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