“The Trump Trials,” a multi-act drama of intrigue, deception, ego and struggle for power, is scheduled to debut off Broadway in March, opening what will likely experience a longer run than “Phantom of the Opera.”
It will go on the road during 2024 with engagements in Washington, D.C., Florida and probably Georgia, where it will play to packed audiences in courthouse venues.
Its lead actor, former president Donald Trump, will head a cast of dozens of household names from the political, legal and academic worlds as federal and state government prosecutors strive to win guilty verdicts on a staggering array of charges arising from Trump’s actions in the aftermath of his 2020 loss to President Biden.
With Trump enjoying a commanding lead in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, the impending trials create an unprecedented and surreal circumstance for prosecutors – placing on trial a candidate for president and potentially a president-elect.
It must be asked, though, whether the patience of the American people will grow thin and their interest dissipate over courtroom dramas playing out in the midst of the most significant exercise of national participatory democracy – the popular selection of a president.
That the wheels of justice will grind slowly on for years is certain as Trump confronts two federal indictments, one in New York and likely one in Georgia.
The New York charge of business fraud for allegedly disguising hush money payments as legal expenses to conceal an extramarital affair is by far the least consequential, dismissed by some as the equivalent of overdue library books. The potential for salacious testimony, though, holds some appeal.
Far more serious are the federal indictments charging Trump with illegally retaining classified government documents and obstructing efforts to retrieve them from his Florida home and the allegations that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election by spreading claims he knew to be false.
The indictment anticipated in Georgia is based on Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn its election outcome and declare him the victor.
The sheer volume of motions, hearings, arguments and appeals – many of which will be disputes over arcane points of law – could well create a boredom that will test the theory that the only thing shorter than the public’s memory is the public’s attention span, particularly with the distraction of a presidential campaign.
Trump’s legal team will use time to its advantage, convinced their client will benefit from a trial and the carnival-like atmosphere it will produce.
It is a given the process will drag on for years and – in the event of convictions – eventually reach the Supreme Court.
While guilty verdicts are certainly a possibility, it will likely be years before final adjudication by which Trump will have reached his early 80s.
The odds of any judge imposing jail time on an 80-plus-year-old man are exceedingly slim. Rather, significant monetary penalties along with non-incarceration punishments are likely if convicted.
At the same time, acquittals will deal incalculable damage to the Department of Justice, validating accusations by Trump and his supporters of a government witch hunt and abuse of power to destroy a political opponent.
No matter the outcome, it will accomplish little to heal the deep divisions and polarization gripping the country. A finding of guilty or innocent will not sway either faction.
Public interest is certain to diminish over the many months of trials and years of appeals and once the presidential election concludes will fade even further.
It is, however, intriguing to envision a scenario in which Trump is the Republican nominee and — despite the odds – defeats Biden in November, leaving prosecutors in an uncharted no man’s land in search of their next step.
Do they continue the process of pursuing a sitting and duly elected president or simply withdraw the cases believing that the occupant of the office is immune from criminal prosecution?
In seven months, the curtain will go up on opening night of “The Trump Trials.” Long lines at the box office are anticipated and curtain calls are certain.
Look out “Phantom.”
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.