OPN Donald Trump
Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends UFC 302 at Prudential Center on June 01, 2024 in Newark, New Jersey. Image Credit: AFP

Donald Trump’s criminal conviction in the US marks historic firsts as he becomes the first former or serving US president and the first major-party nominee to be convicted of a crime. His sentencing for the hush-money case is set for July 11.

Politically, this unprecedented event’s fallout is uncertain, as it could influence voter behaviour in the upcoming presidential election. Some voters have expressed reluctance to support a convicted felon. On the other hand, the verdict might energise his core supporters and lead Republicans to rally together.

In fact there are immediate signs that the guilty verdict may be unifying the Republican Party’s various factions. GOP officials from across the political spectrum — for instance — rallied behind their embattled presumptive presidential nominee, and his campaign reported a spike of fund-raising dollars within hours of the verdict.

After Trump is sentenced, he can appeal his conviction in an appellate court and potentially take his case to the state’s highest court, but despite uncertainty over its electoral outcome, the conviction of Donald Trump holds significant importance for the accountability of elected leaders. 

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Accountability and justice

It underscores the principle that no individual, regardless of their position, is above the law. By holding a former American president accountable for his actions, the US justice system reinforces the foundational values of democracy, emphasising transparency, integrity, and the rule of law.

This conviction also serves as a deterrent, encouraging American political leaders to uphold ethical standards and operate within the confines of the law. Furthermore, it reassures the public that the judicial system can and will act impartially, regardless of political power or influence, thereby maintaining public trust in democratic institutions.

The US has long been seen as a beacon of democracy. By demonstrating that its legal system can hold a powerful former president — and a contender for White House in 2024 — accountable, it sets a positive example around the world. This reinforces the global standard that democracy thrives on accountability and justice.

The conviction underscores that legal accountability transcends political status. It demonstrates that even leaders of the most powerful country on earth can face legal consequences for their actions, which is crucial for maintaining the integrity of democratic institutions.

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Not immune to legal consequences

By holding the powerful accountable, the US justice system inspires citizens and leaders in other countries to demand greater transparency and accountability from their own officials, promoting a culture of responsibility. When people see that justice is served regardless of an individual’s power or influence, trust in the system is automatically reinforced.

Trump’s conviction may also hold a mirror to far right populist leaders globally by demonstrating that even the most powerful individuals are not immune to legal consequences.

Seeing Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, face legal consequences can deter other populist leaders from Europe and Asia engaging in similar conduct.

The fear of losing power and facing legal penalties may encourage these politicians to adhere more closely to legal and ethical standards.

Populist leaders often position themselves as above the law or untouchable. Trump’s conviction disrupts this narrative, showing that legal systems can hold even the most defiant leaders accountable.

Energising political opposition

The global attention on Trump’s conviction can lead to increased scrutiny of other right-wing populist leaders. Citizens and international communities may be emboldened to demand accountability and justice, creating pressure that these leaders cannot easily ignore. The conviction can energise political opposition and civil society groups within countries governed by right-wing populists.

Supporters of right-wing populist leaders worldwide might reconsider their allegiance if they see their leader’s actions could lead to criminal charges and convictions. This erosion of support can weaken these ‘strongman’ leaders’ positions and make it more difficult for them to maintain control. It can lead to a more assertive judiciary willing to take action against illegal activities by autocratic leaders.

As one reflects on Trump’s conviction, it is clear that this event marks a significant turning point in the fight for justice. For the US, it represents a moment of profound legal and moral clarity, underscoring the nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

This conviction serves as a reminder that democratic principles are upheld not by rhetoric alone but by tangible actions that reinforce justice and integrity.