Trump’s indictment over hush money to a porn star would be poetic justice

<span>Photograph: Brett Rojo/USA Today Sports</span>
Photograph: Brett Rojo/USA Today Sports

You have to hand it to Stormy Daniels.

After all of Donald Trump’s well-documented malfeasance over the decades – his fake university and failed casino, his Covid denialism, his consorting with dictators, his blatant lies about election fraud, his incitement of a deadly riot – it has taken a hush money payment to a porn actress to create the most imminent threat that he’ll face criminal charges

It may seem bizarre that such a small-time offense – a mere $130,000 to conceal a reported affair -- could be the thing to bring down this world-class con man.

But in the never-ending weirdness of Trump World, it would make a kind of inevitable sense.

The tawdriness of the Stormy Daniels situation, after all, is a perfect match for one of Trump’s enduring qualities.

Recall his bragging on the infamous Access Hollywood tape about sexual assault. Remember his cringeworthy hints about wishing he could date his own daughter. Don’t neglect his serving fast food to the Clemson football team when they visited the White House. Or his appalling paper-towel toss to Puerto Rican hurricane victims. Or his love for flashy décor which prompted the UK’s House and Garden magazine to counsel in a 2020 headline: “Why we should never forget the monstrosity that was Donald Trump’s gold apartment.”

What’s more, the facts of the case may not be nearly as minor as they look. Messing around with business records, potentially to obscure a violation of election law? That’s not tiddlywinks, and the implications are considerable.

“The Stormy Daniels incident is the origin story for Trump’s efforts to manipulate elections and to get away with it,” Joyce Vance, the University of Alabama law professor and former U.S. Attorney, noted recently, objecting to the notion that this is little but a “record-keeping error.”

The potentially criminal element goes back to just before the 2016 presidential election when the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, after many a failure to do so, was once again trying to publicize her story about a 2006 affair she credibly claims to have with Trump. (He has denied it.)

But she ultimately agreed to stay quiet about it and accept a payment after an agreement was negotiated.

You can’t make up the details.

“Ms. Daniels signed her copy,” the New York Times recounted, “on the trunk of a car near a porn set in Calabasas, California”

Of course, it would be a long way from a grand-jury indictment (even that is far from certain) to criminal conviction.

Such an outcome would probably depend on prosecutors being able to prove that Trump paid back his fixer, Michael Cohen, who made the payment, and falsified business records, possibly to conceal a violation of campaign-finance laws.

Meanwhile, and ever so predictably, Trump – crying “witch hunt,” as usual -- is using the threat of an indictment to raise money from his ever-loyal base of followers who believe he can do no wrong. In the three days after his initial claims that he’d be arrested, he reportedly raised $1.5 million, and that is just a start.

The never-ending grift is always the point.

After famously predicting that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters, Trump now has a revised vision for how his hero’s journey will continue.

Claiming that he’ll be forced to do a perp walk in midtown Manhattan, he sees such a spectacle – the beloved and beleaguered former president in handcuffs – as a way to bond with the MAGA base.

Trump even has told allies, according to the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell, that he did not care if someone shot him in the process.

That would only make him “a martyr,” which in turn would ensure that he would win back the presidency in 2024.

No one, of course, should wish for any element of that to happen. Many of us just wish he’d go away and let the damage control continue.

But it certainly would bring everything full circle -- the Trumpian version of poetic justice.

As for actual justice, that’s likely to be more elusive.

With Trump, the final curtain is always eagerly anticipated, but somehow the show goes on.

  • Margaret Sullivan is a Guardian US columnist writing on media, politics and culture