US Democracy Hangs in Balance as Trump Faces 2020 Election Subversion Indictment

Interview with Sasha Abramsky, Nation magazine contributor, conducted by Scott Harris

Disgraced former President Donald Trump was indicted by Special Counsel Jack Smith on new federal criminal charges on Aug. 1, based on his alleged role leading a multi-pronged attempt to stay in power after losing the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden. The alleged scheme included a conspiracy to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to stop the Electoral College vote count confirming the election result, enlisting fake Republican party electors in seven states, and exploiting the violent Jan. 6 coup attempt that killed five people and injured hundreds of Capitol police officers.

Trump was indicted on four criminal counts: a conspiracy to violate civil rights, a conspiracy to defraud the government, the corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding and a conspiracy to carry out such obstruction. Trump has now been indicted three times in just four months, including the adult film star hush money case and the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case that will go to trial next year. It’s expected that Trump will soon be indicted on additional charges in Fulton County, Georgia related to his alleged criminal interference in the state of Georgia’s 2020 election vote count.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Sasha Abramsky, author and regular contributor to The Nation magazine, who explains why he believes U.S. democracy itself hangs in the balance as Donald Trump faces the most serious federal criminal charges leveled against him thus far.

SASHA ABRAMSKY: I mean, if you look at what happened between the summer of 2020 when the polls turned against Trump and it was pretty clear that he was going to lose the election and Jan. 6, 2021, when he stood at the podium in Washington, D.C. and basically egged a mob to go down to the Capitol and in a sense try and overturn the election with as much violence as possible.

If you look at that six-month period, day in and day out, Trump and his acolytes — the crazy lawyers that were surrounding him, the crazy political consultants that was rounding him, the evermore extreme members of paramilitary groups and all these other organizations that came out of the woodwork to support Trump – all of these groups put together a conspiracy, essentially, to keep Trump in office, even if the public voted him out of office.

This is extraordinary. I mean, Trump did many, many extraordinary things as president. Many, many rule-breaking norm-shattering things. But the idea that a president of the United States would essentially put his own personal ego before the durability of the republic, this is unheard of. And we saw what happened. We saw that people lost their lives. We saw that the Capitol building was violated.

We saw the most extreme levels of intimidation and coercion being used against elections officials from Brad Raffensperger in Georgia through to the secretary of state in Arizona and so on. And ultimately, we saw a mob rampaging through the Capitol trying to hang the vice president of the United States. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And Trump has avoided justice for years and years and years, both on this charge and then all the other illegalities and sordid behaviors that characterized his adult life.

And it’s now finally catching up with him. And you talked about all the indictments in the introduction to the program. You talked about all the indictments he’s now facing. These are serious charges. This isn’t sort of some Mickey Mouse game where he’s going to get a slap on the wrist if he’s convicted. This is a precedent for an ex-president in the United States who faces the very, very real prospect of significant time in prison because of rampant illegality.

And I think it’s a long, long time coming. This process now has to play itself out. But, when Trump says that this is a political witch hunt, don’t buy this for a moment. He was arraigned by a grand jury. He’s going to face a trial by jury of his peers. He’s going to have all of the opportunities to mount a credible defense.

There’s no witch trial involved here. This is just a long overdue comeuppance. This is a long overdue process of justice playing out for Donald Trump.

SCOTT HARRIS: Sasha, from the perspective of someone originally from the UK, what does this spectacle look like? The support for Trump and America’s deeply flawed democracy, where an Electoral College, instead of direct popular vote is what determines who sits in the White House? And then, of course, we have all the mechanisms Republicans have employed to suppress the vote, including partisan gerrymandering designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans, primarily communities of color.

You grew up in another system, the parliamentary system in Great Britain. But I know you talk to people from around the world. What does the spectacle look like?

SASHA ABRAMSKY: When I go around the world and I talk to people — and I do travel a lot and I talk to a lot of people, both in the world of politics and then just more generally, people I meet in different areas of the world. There is a sense of bemusement that someone like Donald Trump could be a viable candidate.

There was a sense of bemusement about it in 2016. There was a deep fear of his re-election in 2020 because it was clear by then that, you know, he was no Silvio Berlusconi type. He was way more dangerous. He wasn’t just this clown with a lot of money who’d bought his way into office. He was a clown with a lot of money who was extremely powerful as a demagogue.

And I think, you know, fast forward to today and to the upcoming election. There is just a horror out there that this man is even remotely competitive because he’s shown how dangerous he is and he’s shown what damage he can do to the American democratic fabric and people overseas realize that.

You know, sometimes it’s healthy to take a step back. And, when you’re in the sort of chaos of America from the inside, you know, we see the chaos, but we maybe don’t see the full implications of it. But when you step out and you look at America from a distance and you see this great — you mentioned it’s flawed, it is flawed, but it’s also a great democracy — and when you see this great democracy floundering and you see the way in which millions and millions of people are buying into a personality cult around Donald Trump, well, that’s horrifying because America has such extraordinary clout on the world stage.

It is so dominant, is so important militarily, economically, diplomatically, you name it. America is important. And if America goes off the rails, if it has a sort of collective nervous breakdown around Donald Trump, well, that makes life in America messier, but it also makes life globally messier.

And I think that’s something that we don’t always think about, that the choices we make in this country by virtue of how powerful this country is, those choices matter to 8 billion people around the world. And the idea that Trump could end up again as the most powerful human being on earth on a vengeance mission, then that’s horrifying.

That’s got to be horrifying for people of all political ideologies all around the world at this point.

Read Sasha Abramsky’s The Nation article, “The Latest Trump Indictment Is the One That Really Counts,” Aug. 2, 2023. For more information, visit Sasha Abramsky’s website at

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Sasha Abramsky (25:54) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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