If the facts are against you, the old legal adage says, hammer the law. If the law is against you, hammer the facts. If the facts and the law are against you, hammer opposing counsel.
To that timeless judicial wisdom Donald Trump has added this codicil: If the facts are against you and so is the law and your opposing counsel survives all your doubletalk, start calling your prosecution something out of a “third world nation.” That’s precisely what the former president posted to his Truth Social account Thursday evening when news of his indictment was confirmed by the Manhattan district attorney. “The USA is now a third world nation, a nation in serious decline. So sad!” Trump wrote in all caps.
Other members of the Trump family seconded their paterfamilias’ charge. “This is third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year,” tweeted son Eric. “The ruling party is trying to jail the opposition leader like a third world dictatorship!” repeated son Don Jr. Defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake joined in, issuing a supporting statement: “Jailing your political opponents based on frivolous politically-motivated accusations is something that you’d expect to see out of third-world dictatorships or banana republicans.” Trump’s super PAC chief Taylor Budowich was only slightly off message, calling the grand jury vote the “indictment of a failed nation.”
Stating simply that he was innocent might have been the more prudent — and accurate — alternative. But prudence and accuracy have never been in Trump’s toolkit, nor has respect for the court. Ever since he appeared on the political horizon — hell, ever since he grew out of short pants — Trump has scorned and degraded practically every democratic institution that has limited or challenged him.
When elections go against him, he bashed the election as corrupt. When the courts defied him, he torched the judges as “so-called” or having “an agenda” or making political judgments rather than judicial ones or of “disgracing the judiciary.” In 2020, he demanded, with little rationale, that Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg recuse themselves from any case involving him. In Trump’s hermetically sealed world, the only evidence needed to declare corruption or banana republichood was that a ruling had gone against him.
Other presidents have clashed with the judiciary, the intelligence community, federal law enforcement and the civil service, but never to the Trumpian extreme of challenging the institutions’ legitimacy. If there is anything remotely “third world” about the United States, the malicious odor of Donald Trump cannot be distant from the stink. The unfounded slurs Trump flings at the courts and the election processes are the sort of acts that “third-world dictators” commit. Trump isn’t the victim of third-worldism, he’s the cause.
In fact, that Trump now faces potential accountability for his actions proves the United States is not a failed state after all.
Trump proved his absolute allegiance to third-worldism and his desire for dictatorial powers in December 2022 when he famously took to Truth Social to call for the “termination” of the U.S. Constitution to undo what he called the “massive & widespread fraud & deception” of the 2020 election. No matter what the country’s faults — and they are many — the Constitution has prevented a Mussolini or worse from taking absolute power. This demand for the termination of the Constitution and his egging on and tolerance of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters only proves his ambition to wreck the nation if it will save his hide.
In his 2016 inaugural address, Trump exhibited his demagogic mindset by describing our nation as engulfed in “carnage” to further his personal political gain. In 2018, he ran down Haiti and the nations of Africa as “shithole” countries while discussing his opposition to immigration.
Today, with prosecutions unfolding in Manhattan and perhaps soon to come in Georgia and beyond, he’s playing a similar word game in hopes of discrediting the courts for his personal gain. In Trump’s view, America is a ruined and backward country — “third world,” as he and his clan put it — not because it resembles any such country in the world but solely because the wheels of justice have rolled up to his address. In Trump’s mind, everything has always been about him. You can’t get more “third world” than a president who instigates a riot to stall the orderly transition of power.
In a democracy, nobody is above the rule of law, not even former presidents. We see through all of his rationalizations, including his latest, which holds that if the justice system prosecutes him, America is just another shithole.
“Johnny’s playroom/ Is a bunker filled with sand/ He’s become a third world man.” Please listen to Steely Dan’s “Third World Man.” Send your favorite Dan tracks to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. My Twitter feed grew up in Indonesia, the one-time capital of the Third World. My Mastodon account has a vacation home in Mali. My Post account is currently seasteading. My RSS feed belongs to the yet-to-be-explored Fourth World.