What does Donald Trump’s indictment say about US democracy?

Jan-Werner Müller

Trump sycophants like Elise Stefanik and Andy Biggs complain that the country is becoming authoritarian and like “the third world”. Never mind the underlying racism of such pronouncements – the absence of spectacle proves that they are wrong, as does that fact that countries who fare far better on global democracy rankings than the US have not hesitated to go after former leaders for wrongdoing.

Former German president Christian Wulff was indicted on corruption charges – and cleared. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was indicted for bribing a judge and for campaign finance violations; he was convicted and sentenced to prison (his appeals are pending). Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a kind of Trump before Trump, was sentenced to four years in prison. In France, it would have once been unthinkable that a president – who, on one reading of the original, rather royalist conception of the Fifth Republic, embodies the country as a whole – could be treated like an ordinary criminal. But that is the point: the law cannot allow for exceptions; in both democracy and according to the rule of law, we are meant to be equals….