Is U.S. so depraved it would elect a felon president?

Before we ponder the big unanswerable question – is this country so sick that it’ll put a convicted felon in the White House? – we should expel a brief sigh of satisfaction.

What we witnessed recently was a historic triumph for law. Twelve citizens did what the gutless Senate Republicans twice refused to do. And, if I may wax patriotic for a moment, I’ll simply note the verdict in the New York trial could never have happened in any of the autocratic nations – Russia, Hungary, Turkey – that the convicted felon reveres.

Thomas Jefferson said it best in 1788: “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

If Judge Juan Merchan doesn’t sentence the felon to jail, I’d suggest community service. That’s the minimal punishment one should meet for someone who committed crimes to steal a presidential election.

What we don’t know, however, is whether ex-President Trump’s criminal status will repel a sufficient share of voters and consign him to permanent exile. Serious question: Is convicted felon a fatal stigma in contemporary politics? I can’t believe I even need to ask that – I’m old enough to remember when the “law and order” Republican party would never nominate a criminal. But, hey, anything is possible in this benighted nation, given how he and his MAGA puppets have so thoroughly debased American civic life and warred against fact-based truth.

Some smart observers insist he’s toast. Richard Painter, who served as the ethics lawyer in former President George W. Bush’s administration, says with confidence: “Americans will not elect a convicted felon to the White House.” Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who followed the election interference trial closely, said, “there is a segment of the Trump-doubting but not Trump-hating public that will be turned off by the notion of electing a felon to be president of the United States.”

If the polls are right (big caveat), Trump may indeed have a problem. An ABC News survey says 20% of the felon’s supporters said that, if he were convicted, they’d either reconsider their fealty or dump him forthwith. An NPR-Marist poll says 17% of all voters would be less likely to cast a MAGA ballot if the leader was a felon.

But there’s plenty of time left for wavering MAGAts to convince themselves that even though he’s a criminal, he’s their criminal. The felon’s puppets on Capitol Hill are already busy with their anti-American nonsense, hailing the felon as a martyr and tearing down our judicial system.

That messaging will win unless it’s relentlessly counter-programmed. The Biden campaign and the Democratic party have been handed a golden opportunity if they’re not too characteristically timid to seize it. Just imagine if Hillary or Obama or Biden had been criminally convicted of 34 charges in the midst of a presidential campaign. Republicans would be pounding away at that every waking moment until election day. The Dems should do no less.

Every Republican candidate should be confronted daily: “How can you support a convicted felon?” “The felon committed crimes to steal the 2016 election, then he put three people on the Supreme Court who made it possible to steal women’s bodily autonomy.” “Joe Biden has put billions into fighting the horrific effects of climate change, which the felon has dismissed as a ‘hoax.’”

Bottom line: The presence of a convicted criminal is a malignant affront to everything this country purports to stand for. This historic free election will be the ultimate stress test. It will tell us whether we the people are still as decent as we’d like to believe, or as fatally depraved as we may fear.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at