It had been the selection of a jury that had taken so much time. Trying to find twelve jurors plus substitutes who did not have a strong opinion on the former President of the United States took months, because even those who claimed little interest in politics were found to have made some political comment on social media at one time or another. The Trump legal team, funded at huge expense by the Republican National Committee, had even objected to the idea of registered Democrats being on the jury, and the federal prosecutor was not enamored with registered Republicans serving either. The judge, on the point of desperation, proposed a compromise: Each side could submit 20 names, and he would pick, at random, 20 names from a hat. Both sides objected, but he ruled, and told them that if either side refused to submit their 20 names from the available jury pool he would pick names at random to fill that side’s quota. Both sides informed the judge that they would be appealing his decision, which he told them was their right, and set a date for the trial.
The trial itself was a huge media event. The government presented its case that he had broken the law with regard to the removal of classified documents from the White House in a court house in Washington DC, surrounded by DC police and Maryland National Guard. An FBI SWAT team provided security within the court room. Outside, two large crowds gathered: an armed group in paramilitary gear waving Trump flags, and an equally large anti-Trump group with a smaller number of armed individuals. Both groups shouted abuse at each other. The Trump supporters refused to talk to the “mainstream media” but told various right-wing platforms that they were willing to “take action” to ensure the former president’s freedom. They would not elaborate on camera what that meant.
On social media, the discourse was much more dramatic, with MAGA supporters promising armed resistance. The FBI warned of large debate online amongst white supremacist circles and planning for going to Washington. The professional media speculated as to the possibility of either an armed resurrection or even a civil war outbreak. In a number of deep red states governors were receiving demands to mobilise their National Guard units and send them to Washington to rescue the former president.
The Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate condemned the event as a Stalinist political show trial. In public. In private many of them were far more nuanced, with some hoping a conviction could rid the party of the former TV presenter.
The trial was surprisingly boring, which was a deliberate tactic of the DOJ veteran leading the prosecution. The case was made, the evidence was laid out, and it was only when the former president was called to trial did the ratings recover their lustre. The judge reminded President Trump that he was under oath, and that anything found to be untrue could be used against him in a perjury trial.
The former president who appeared before the cameras had obviously been well drilled by his staff and legal advisors that once under oath he was effectively creating new evidence, and so was calm, collected and respectful to the judge. He asked could he read a statement into the record of the court, as he wished to get the details on the record of the court, and the judge allowed it as part of his defence’s cross examining. The DOJ objected to the unusual setting aside of procedure, but it went ahead and he read a long, detailed and boring statement about the documents basically saying that as president he declassified them himself and so no crime was committed. After all, he said, it’s not like I was showing them to anyone else, nor was the government alleging that he did.
The definitive moment of the trial was when the prosecutor rose to question the president, and Trump declined to answer and pleaded the fifth. Repeatedly.
The tape of the former president just saying “Fifth!” after every question was the newsclip of the year, and featured in a number of pop songs later.
The trial ended surprisingly quickly, and the jury was escorted to a military base for their deliberations.
Social media was swamped with speculation. The jury members identities had been leaked, and the media, both professional and slanted fell upon their families and friends for insights into the possible deliberations. Alleged leaks came out of fights in the jury room, and rumours from both left and right that agents had been placed on the jury by everybody from Putin to Soros.
The jury came back faster than expected, and the crowds swelled outside the building, the chanting audible in the chamber.
The jury foreman, a young Asian man, stood and with a sheet of paper shaking in his hand announced that the jury found the former president guilty of the charges proffered.
Outside, the crowd erupted, one side booing, the others cheering “Put him in jail!”. Suddenly, a burst of gunfire from a semi-automatic rifle rang out, and a DC police officer fell with a shoulder wound. The police and army raised their rifles in the direction the shots had come from, and opened fire, killing the man who had fired and two equally armed men beside him. In the Trump crowd, shots were fired back at the law enforcement officers as the crowd scattered, and a National Guardsman was killed before wiser heads prevailed. It later emerged that the first shot had been accidental, the man in question having just purchased his AR15 in Idaho the previous day and travelled overnight in a Greyhound bus.
Despite the shooting, and the lockdown of the court, proceedings resumed an hour later and the judge announced, to protests from the Trump team, that he would rule on sentencing later that day, and gave both sides three hours to make submissions.
Later that evening, the judge, speaking live on TV to over a billion people worldwide, announced that he had considered submissions from both sides.
The crime is a serious one, he said.
“The failure to secure confidential material is something which President Trump himself highlighted repeatedly during his own campaign in 2016 as something very serious. It is equally serious that someone who has held the highest office in the republic must be held to the highest standard. But it most also be noted that the documents were nominally secure in Mar-a-lago and that the government has not suggested that there was any attempt by the defendant to misuse the documents in anyway. Therefore it is the opinion of the court that a light custodial sentence must be applied in this case given the seriousness of the charges and the requirement that in this republic no one is above the law. I therefore sentence President Donald John Trump to a period of incarceration of six months.”
Outside the court the Trump supporters howled in protest, and rushed towards the courtroom. The police and National Guard, in riot gear, held the line amidst the scuffles. On social media the right united that this was a travesty and that Trump was a political prisoner, with the far right calling for armed forces to free the former president. The governor of Montana announced his intention to send a battalion of guardsmen to liberate the former president provided the states they would have to pass through gave them permission. Liberal commentators pointed out that as the prison most likely to hold Trump was the Pelican Bay Maximum Security Penitentiary in California, it was very unlikely the Democratic governor would give permission and the governor of Montana knew that, just striking poses for the MAGA crowd.
It became very apparent that it was going to be impossible to get Trump out of the building as crowds of MAGA supporters turned up, many armed, and the police debated what to do. Then Trump, who had sat impassively during the sentencing, asked the US Marshals if he could address the crowd through the TV. He assured them he only wanted to calm the situation. They agreed, and, he stood in front of a bevy of cameras, and once again showed his exceptional political skills.
“This is a very bad ruling, and a bad judge. Very bad judge. Not a good jury either, in fact, a very bad jury. I know juries, and this is a bad jury. But I don’t want people to get hurt. The fight isn’t over, we have a lot of friends and a lot of options and I want to thank so many good people, very fine people, who turned up today to witness the worst political trial since Mandela. But I want everyone to stay calm and don’t start fighting and I’m going to go along with these US Marshals, great guys, give them a round of applause they’re only doing their jobs and I know they’re with me but they have orders but I’m going to go with them and we’ll see what happens next.”
The marshals escorted him to the waiting car (but not in handcuffs) and he waved at the crowd and pointed at a few signs and the cavalcade pulled away, taking him to Andrews Air Force Base and a flight to California. His calming remarks were praised and saw a spike in his approval ratings.
The far-right mediasphere want ballistic over the outcome, and fundraising for the Republicans shot through the roof as Trump’s incarceration electrified the right. Possible candidates for the GOP nomination in 2024 fell over themselves to support him, reaching a pinnacle when one US senator promised that if he was elected president he would guarantee that Joe Biden, Merrick Garland and Kamala Harris would die in prison, “whether by old age or Epstein, they ain’t coming out.”
It became quickly apparent in liberal circles that the expected violent outbreaks not occurring should not be taken as the closing of the Trump chapter in US history. Commentators pointed out that his jailing had actually increased his support in the country, and that his calming of the crowd outside the court had sharply increased his appeal to independents. Liberal voices moved from giddy delirium to despondency as they were challenged over the central supposition: did this really mean he could not run for president again? Even if he served his full sentence, he’d still be out with plenty of time. If he announced he was running the Republican nomination would be kept open for him. Off-colour jokes from liberal comics about what might happen to him in prison actually helped him in the country.
When a secret clip emerged of him inside the prison, the only white face in a sea of orange, regaling prisoners with stories of celebrities and his sexual exploits, to laughter and cheers from his fellow inmates, liberals shifted uncomfortably. Prisoners released from the facility told the media that he was called “Mr President” by his inmates, and prisoners took it in turns to be a “secret service detail” protecting him in the prison. He’d even brokered a peace deal between competing gangs. It also emerged that he had regular meetings with his lawyer where he passed on instructions for various prisoners families to be helped out in various ways. When Melania visited him in the prison it was to a chorus of wolf whistles and cheers to which she did a cheeky twirl.
With his sentence to end easily before the 2024 primary season, and GOP leaders falling over themselves to paint him as a political prisoner, it was taken as read that he would be the Republican nominee. Governor DeSantis of Florida quickly ruled out running, hoping for the vice presidential slot, and no serious candidate ran against him, locking down the nomination quickly despite the fact that he was still actually behind bars. The RNC decided to capitalize on the political prisoner angle by moving the convention date to just after his release.
On the day of his release, at the suggestion of Jared Kushner, Trump walked from the gates of the prison to the welcome cheers of Republican congressmen, senators and governors, walking Mandela-style away from the prison at the head of the party literally.
A helicopter took him direct to the convention centre in Detroit, and after a few hours to rest, recuperate and prepare, the former president took to the stage surrounded by a number of black former inmates in sharp suits, all, like Trump, wearing orange ties of the same colour as the inmate jumpsuits they had all worn. The crowd went wild.
The speech was both bullshit and brilliant, painting himself as a victim but also, pointing to his former inmate colleagues, he pledged that he now knew the suffering of the black man in America and he was going to do something about it, a statement that caused simultaneous spit-takes in both the NAACP and the white supremacists. Polls showed a sharp rise in support for him among younger black males.
It was then he announced his big surprise, his candidate for vice president. Loyalty, he said, is everything. Loyalty matters. Not everybody is loyal, no matter how much they pretend. All TV cameras cut to the stony-faced former vice president.
His team had put a lot of thought into who his VP should be, with them speculating that given his age it was not impossible, they said delicately, that the vice president may be called to step up, even temporarily. Trump dismissed their concerns. Loyalty, is everything, and therefore, he informed the convention, I nominate Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene of Georgia as my candidate for vice president.
The enthusiasm on the convention floor was the direct opposite of the response on the faces of senior Republicans including the Senate minority leader who was seen to mutter a “Jesus Fucking Christ!” in the noise.
The Trump/Taylor-Greene ticket came out of the convention 3 points ahead of the Biden/Harris team, the gains in the black vote putting a number of states into serious contention.
The DNC tried to mobilize their traditional black vote operation but Trump was now receiving almost daily endorsements from rappers and other younger black celebrities who attacked the Democratic party response. One rapper commented that “Old man Biden may have met Frederick Douglass or whatever but the Donald’s tax cuts are going put a sweet ride under my ass.”
With six weeks to election day, the DNC campaign was in meltdown. Large crowds of young black men were cheering Trump at various campaign stops and more to the point, he was loving it, abandoning traditional Trump voters to meet and greet them.
In DNC headquarters, a secret meeting considered explosive numbers from the latest polls; Trump was going to win narrowly, carried into office on young black men. But that was not the explosive data.
The pollster insisted that the room was swept electronically to ensure there were no recording devices.
The polls, he said, are showing that our fall in the young black male vote is going to cost us the election. However, our polling is also showing us that Trump’s hardcore working class MAGA male base is really uncomfortable with his new popularity with young black males. The head of campaigning ran a new ad, showing Trump in prison, surrounded by black faces, then at rallies, delighting in pressing the proverbial flesh with young black men.
The voiceover was clearly that of a young black man.
“Donald Trump gets it. He’s been inside himself. He’s seen the suffering young black men unfairly suffer in prison, many placed there unjustly. This term, President Trump is going to do something about the number of black men in prison. This time, black men are voting for our man, President Trump.”
A very senior party donor frowned as the ad ended.
“This is the new Trump ad?”
The campaign manager shook his head.
“No, we made this.”
“I don’t get it. Isn’t this encouraging young African-American men to vote for Trump?”
The campaign manager smirked and looked at the pollster, and nodded his head to explain.
“This ad is not aimed at young black voters. In fact, thanks to the internet, we can make sure hardly any young black men will see it. This ad is actually aimed at older white non-college educated males in swing states. The purpose of this ad is to make them think this ad is from the Trump campaign trying to get black voters onboard.”
“This is basically a racist dogwhistle? But they’ll never switch to Joe.”
“Probably not: we don’t expect them too. We just want to discourage them from voting. Make them think Trumpolini is just too pally with the blacks for their liking.”
“That’s despicable!” the donor said.
“Yup. So was carpet-bombing German cities. Ended the Third Reich though.”
“Does Joe and Kamala know about this?”
“Nope. That’s why they hire us.”
It all proved academic in the end, of course. Ten days from polling, on a campaign stop, Donald J. Trump was shot in the chest and killed instantly by a young white supremacist from Indiana convinced he was selling out the white race. In the chaos later and the surreal responses of Rep. Taylor-Greene the RNC decided to invoke a never used rule to nominate a GOP candidate directly, appointing Governor DeSantis as the GOP nominee. This caused an immediate collapse in the black GOP vote as Taylor-Greene resigned from the ticket in disgust, and was replaced by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. The FBI carried out armed raids across the country against white supremacist cells causing a serious public division in the Republican response, with some GOP candidates condemning the FBI and calling for its disbandment.
The polls narrowed as the Democratic vote recovered, and as the boxes opened it was going to be one of the closest elections in US history. By 4am the day after election day it looked like Michigan was going to delivered a wafer-thin electoral college victory to President Biden (although he had a 2.5m lead in the popular vote, down from 7m in 2020) when the Trumpist Michigan Secretary of State announced that he believed the election in Michigan had been rigged, refused to certify the state result, and called on the Republican-controlled state legislature to set aside the actual vote tally and send a pro-Trump slate of electors to the electoral college, giving DeSantis the election.
Both campaigns headed to the Supreme Court.