Opinion: Michael Ian Black: If Trump’s Acquitted, He’ll Be an Unstoppable Terror

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Now that the first Donald Trump criminal trial is reaching its end, I find myself wondering what its conclusion will mean for the upcoming presidential election. There’s been a lot of conversation about what will happen in the event of a Trump conviction, but nothing about the other possible outcome: What if the jury returns a verdict of not guilty?

And that’s when I started to panic.

I hadn’t really considered the peril of a failed prosecution when Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg first announced charges against Trump related to the Stormy Daniels hush money scheme. Trump trials tend to pop up so often, and in so many different contexts, that they have the feel of a long-running soap opera recycling the same tired storylines.

America Deserves Every Bit of This Trump Trial Depravity

This trial, though, is the first time Trump has faced potential incarceration. What was once another episode of shabby daytime TV has been elevated to primetime. It’s the perfect venue for Trump’s daily post-court stemwinders in which he paws through his stack of favorable articles about himself, waves his hands, and raves about whatever subject crosses the sundowning sack of gray putty marinating above his shoulder pads.

What happens on the day he shambles out of that courthouse after an acquittal? Once Trump is relieved from his gag order, can we even imagine the foment and bloodlust? I’m not predicting violence against those who Trump will say wronged him, but if I’m Stormy Daniels or Michael Cohen, I might pack a bag.

Further, consider how the odds of a second Trump presidency skyrocket if 12 jurors in one of the most liberal pockets in America find, in essence, that Trump is—as he’s been saying from the start—the victim of a political persecution. With the election already looking like a jump ball, an exoneration might be the very thing he needs to secure a victory in November.

Consider how, after being forced to endure sitting in an overly air-conditioned courtroom listening to humiliating testimony, Trump’s campaign promise to be “your retribution” takes on an even harsher cast.

What does that retribution look like?

What happens to the Justice Department in a second Trump administration? He’s already promised to remove those not loyal to him. He’s already promised to tear down the firewall of independence between the attorney general and the White House.

Michael Ian Black: Biden, Get Your Ass Out There and Make Some Headlines

Should we expect a tit-for-tat array of charges brought against the Biden family? Does Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua home receive an unexpected visit from a platoon of FBI agents brandishing a battering ram and search warrant? Perhaps Liz Cheney finds herself frogmarched through a Wyoming courthouse?

Why not? They did it to him, his allies will reason, shouldn’t we return the favor?

What happens when an entire division of the federal government is aimed against half of the electorate? MAGA Republicans believe this is already the case. Once back in power, won’t they do everything in their power to justify—and weaponize—their paranoia? Maybe a shiny new House Committee on Unamerican Activities headed by Marjorie Taylor Greene?

Now combine that potential horror show with the goon squads he’s already promised to deploy on American streets to round up millions of immigrants. How hard would it be for Trump, given the flimsiest of excuses to invoke the Insurrection Act and train those soldiers, already in the cities, against “rioters” and “agitators”?

He’s already tried to do it once.

According to former Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s memoir, Sacred Oath, during the 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests in Washington, D.C., Trump asked Esper if he couldn’t just order the National Guard to shoot the protesters. “Can’t you just shoot them?” he asked Esper, “Just shoot them in the legs or something.”

With that context, what happens when an exonerated and emboldened Trump is re-elected and has conditioned personal loyalty to him as the most important job requirement? What happens when you combine personal animus with unlimited power, unchecked by any constraints?

I’ll tell you what happens, pal. You’ve got yourself the first stirrings of an American dictatorship.

Trump Says Some Americans Might Like a Dictator. He’s Right.

Do I really think it would go that far? I have no idea, but I no longer think such a scenario is unthinkable. A Trump acquittal would electrify his supporters without any of the concordant repulsion a conviction might provoke.

Imagine how he would use that exoneration to elevate himself from martyr to savior: Behold! Here is the man who slew the mighty Biden Justice Department!

I obviously don’t know if this trial will end up being electorally determinative. Maybe by the time November arrives, it will turn out to have been of no consequence at all. But I can’t help worrying about the moment the jury hands Judge Juan Merchan a slip of paper answering 34 felony counts and having him read, one after the other, “Not guilty.”

Maybe “worry” is the wrong way to describe my mental state following such an outcome. I think the word I’m looking for is fear.

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