Trump’s supporters heeded his call. New Yorkers did not. Peter McKenzie reports from New York on the day of the former president’s arraignment.
“Who’s going to the circus?” asked my professor as he broke up class early. He wanted to make sure we had time to get to the courthouse where Donald Trump would become the first American president to be charged with a crime. Unsurprisingly, given it was a journalism class, many students wanted to go. Two friends, a Chilean and a Finn, were covering the event for their outlets at home. Another, a Russian, felt compelled to photograph history. A third, a liberal Texan, just wanted to glory in a long-awaited moment.
When they emerged in lower Manhattan, the circus embraced them. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fascist conspiracist disguised as a living American Girl doll, had summoned Trump supporters to Collect Pond Park to defend their leader. “Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus! Jesus was arrested and murdered,” she said. Mandela and Jesus, of course, were also arrested for falsifying business records in order to commit tax fraud and cover-up affairs with pornstars.
Fearing violence, New York police had divided the park using metal bike racks. On either side, pro- and anti-Trump activists screamed at each other. A man in an ill-fitting Trump mask clasped the bars of the bike rack as if he too had been imprisoned. Another man in a renaissance-era overcoat and a goatee theatrically faced off with Trump supporters. A third waved a giant flag reading “TRUMP OR DEATH”. A fourth posed for photos dressed in nothing but skimpy American flag overalls and a “Make America Great Again” cap. The event had attracted New York’s weirdest. A random hodgepodge of conspiracies and chants shot through the crowd: pro-arrest, anti-Biden, pro-pornstar, anti-trans.
Greene arrived, spent several minutes speaking indistinctly through a megaphone, then left under police escort, having already won the news cycle. At another point, Representative George Santos of Long Island, a first-term Republican who achieved fame for fabricating his entire history, cut through the crowd with a smirk and sunglasses pulled straight from The Matrix. He, too, soon left, after telling reporters asking whether he would travel to visit Trump in Florida, “Guys, I don’t have a plane.”
Trump, meanwhile, cruised through the streets in a black limousine emblazoned with the seal of the presidency. Dressed in his standard black suit, red hat, and permanent pout, he waved to onlookers while stopped at a traffic light outside a McDonald’s and a Subway. In surprisingly demure fashion, he slipped into the courthouse unnoticed by the vast majority of people clamouring for or against him.
Inside, the legal team of Alvin Bragg revealed the case against Trump: 34 counts of bookkeeping fraud for reimbursing his long-time fixer Michael Cohen for paying $130,000 in to pornstar Stormy Daniels as hush money over her claims of an extramarital affair. Bragg says the concealed payment violated state and federal election laws, and breached laws against deceiving tax authorities. Trump has previously called Bragg a “racist” and an “animal”, and posted doctored pictures depicting him swinging a baseball bat at Bragg’s head. At around the same time Trump was in court, one of his sons posted pictures on social media of the daughter of the judge hearing the case against Trump. After hearing the charges and pleading not guilty, Trump disappeared into his limousine again to catch a flight back to Florida for a celebration that failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate and Trump crony Kari Lake called an “arraignment party”.
Outside the courthouse, my friends were disappointed. “That was hugely underwhelming,” said one. “If this is chaos, then this is the most orderly chaos imaginable.” Most attendees at the park were journalists, not activists or protestors. In a city of eight million people, only a few hundred had felt compelled to join the insanity, despite Trump’s earlier demand that his supporters “SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST”. The clanging of spoons and angry chants did not travel far, drowned out by the churn of traffic and walled off from the rest of the city by soaring cliffs of concrete and glass.
Elsewhere in New York, spring began. On the steps of my university, I sat in the sun with a handful of friends eating gingernuts and discussing the Swedish economy. Later, I shut off my notifications and walked through my local park, where daffodils coloured like butter and cream were starting to flower and cherry trees of white and violet were blossoming. On vast expanses of grass in Central Park, city dwellers snoozed, or read, or played hacky-sack. Bare-chested men ran around the Onassis Reservoir. Tourists arranged artful selfies against the skyline. The circus had come to town. New York didn’t care.