Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Donald Trump, who has shattered nearly every political precedent, is now the first ex-president to be indicted.
The charges, which are thought to be focused on an alleged hush-money payment to an adult-film actress, aren't expected until early next week. Just as the jury must judge the facts of the case, so too should the American people.
Unfortunately, the legal and political speculation and posturing didn't wait. Republican politicians and like-minded media outlets rushed to discredit the investigation and exonerate the former president. At the same time, Democrats and other pundits called it a critical step forward for the nation.
Indeed, there are more "unknowns" than "knowns" about this case. But many truths — including ones that go back to the nation's founding — are known.
One is that in America, defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and deserves that presumption of innocence unless or until he's found guilty. The jury and the American people should put aside partisan views of the former president.
Trump deserves a fair shake in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. So does Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney overseeing the case.
Yes, Bragg should be certain that his course of action is proportional to the stakes the nation faces from such a consequential prosecution. But Bragg didn't indict Trump — a grand jury did.
That hasn't stopped online and on-air attacks on Bragg's character and credibility. Those reflexively defending Trump, including Republican officeholders, have attached the now-common "[George] Soros-backed" prefix before his name — a thinly veiled anti-Semitic trope Trump has also used. The former president has also called Bragg, a Black man, an "animal" and posted a photo composite of Bragg's head next to Trump holding a baseball bat.
Upon taking office, all these lawmakers and Trump took oaths to defend the Constitution. Nothing in this country's defining document suggests anyone — especially those entrusted to preserve the law — is above it. Those considering the indictment a political act should realize that not charging Trump because he served as president would be a more significant mistake. The U.S. is a country of laws. It should uphold them, even if potential defendants are ex-presidents, presidential candidates or, as in Trump's case, both.
The Manhattan case may not be the last legal challenge for Trump, and what's coming next could be more critical for our democracy. Trump faces more legal peril in Georgia over his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and from a federal probe over the election and the retention of classified documents. Other civil cases await, too.
This country is dangerously divided, perhaps at levels not seen since the Civil War. The Trump indictment and ongoing investigations into other allegations of wrongdoing by him risk an even wider split. Americans now know that violence can erupt, or be summoned, as on Jan. 6, 2021.
This could also be a moment when Americans pull themselves, and the country, back from the brink by respecting the process and the institutions that make this country, however flawed, forever filled with promise.
Restraint, not recklessness, is in order, and citizens should not hesitate to tell their elected representatives that's what they expect from them, too.