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New York Rules

· The Lede

In an historic verdict, a New York jury convicted former president Donald J. Trump of 34 felony counts today. Could this be the turning point we've been waiting for?

When Trump was elected in 2016, the media was caught flat-footed. Nobody - nobody, that is, except Roger and Me director and self-appointed voice of the worker Michael Moore - had believed Trump would win. In the next few years, our lives were turned upside down, by the Trump presidency, and by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amid the mayhem there were a lot of words. A lot of words and a lot of video, the proverbial sound and fury, as journalists struggled to figure out what had happened. We didn't have a language for this, not our staid journalistic establishment.

Oddly, it was only recently that the discussion changed. In The New York Times, Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster no less, published a guest essay on May 23 titled "The Trump-Oprah Voter" about the power of power of celebrity to shape public opinion. "Policy considerations, ideological positioning and partisan cues all warp around the gravitational pull of megastardom in America," she wrote.

On May 30, the very day that Trump was convicted, Bill Pruitt, a TV producer who helped craft Trump's image on The Apprentice violated his non-disclosure agreement to give readers a behind the scenes look at just how manufactured Trump's persona was in a blockbuster story in Slate: "The Donald Trump I Saw on The Apprentice." Among other non-surprises, Trump used the n word and tells the producers that the black man can't win the competition. What's most telling is the yawning abyss between the staged Trump and the actual man - down to his crappy office.

New York City is the perfect—though expensive—backdrop. Trump’s actual offices are, however, less than telegenic. They are cramped, and a lot of the wood furniture is chipped or peeling. None of it is suitable to appear on camera. We need what grifters call the Big Store: a fake but authentic-looking establishment in which the con goes down. Trump Tower, at the time, is mostly condos and some offices situated in the high-rise. The mezzanine comprises vacant and overpriced retail space, all of it unfinished. Trump offers the space to the production—at a premium, naturally—and it is inside this location that we create our own “reception area” with doors leading to a fake, dimly lit, and appropriately ominous-feeling “boardroom."

Pruitt spends quite a bit of time in his article analyzing how a con man deceives people, drawing on an acquaintance who specializes in this. "I reached out to Apollo, the Vegas perceptions expert, to discuss all of this. He reminded me how if a person wants to manipulate the signal, they simply turn up the noise. 'In a world that is so uncertain,' he said, 'a confidence man comes along and fills in the blanks. The more confident they are, the more we’re inclined to go along with what they suggest.'”

The noise level made it hard for regular citizens as well as the media to pick out the most important aspects of Trump's popularity - and his presidency. Tomorrow night, Sarah Chayes, whose book Corruption in America, should be required reading for every voter, will be talking to John Passacatando about just this timely subject: Corruption.

Corruption, in the end, is the takeaway from the Trump presidency. Tutored by his father, and later by Roy Cohn, who cut his teeth as legal counsel to anti-Communist bully Sen. Joseph McCarthy and later became a mob lawyer, Donald Trump lives and breathes corruption.

The bigotry is awful, of course. But the overarching threat to American democracy is Donald Trump's raison d'etre: corruption. Corruption - the nod and the wink, the special treatment for "friends," the way money changes everything - that's New York to the core, starting in the nineteenth century with the Tammany Hall political machine and persisting to the present day, albeit in less virulent form.

But New York has many faces. New Yorkers are savvy. They dress well. They even read. They can follow a logical argument, even if it lasts for more than four hours.

And so it was with the jury in The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump.

In her Times piece, Kristen Soltis Anderson questioned whether a guilty verdict would change people's minds. I guess we'll see. But for now, justice was served.

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Susan Zakin is editor of Journal of the Plague Years.

Register to hear the interview with Sarah Chayes, a Journal contributor, here. What you hear may surprise you.

Brian's Guilty Verdict Playlist

GUILTY :: Randy Newman

JUDGEMENT :: Swanee Quintet

SIGN OF THE JUDGMENT :: Cassandra Wilson

HERE COMES THE JUDGE :: Pigmeat Markham

GUILTY :: Zazou Bikaye

DAY OF JUDGMENT :: Hugh Mundell

JUDGEMENT :: The Wild Reeds


GUILT :: Marianne Faithfull