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The Donald in the Dock

donald trump
There’s no point in pretending that any Trump hush-money verdict is going to be a silver bullet. Photo: Peter Foley/POOL/AFP
John Heilemann
May 19, 2024

Ever since The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump got underway on April 15 in Lower Manhattan, you just knew that at some point this first-ever criminal trial of an American ex-president—which started out as a sober legal proceeding but grew increasingly lurid with each passing day—would be overrun by the operatic, often squalid brand of political performance art that has been a hallmark of the Trump era. So I watched and waited and waited and watched until this past Thursday afternoon, when, et voila, the sign we’d arrived at that fateful juncture suddenly appeared: a squadron of pink, penis-shaped balloons festooned with the faces of Trump’s legal foes (Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, Special Counsel Jack Smith, etcetera) swirling above the courthouse.

This airborne pro-Trump agitprop—entitled “Dicks of Hazard” by its creator—wasn’t the first time phallic imagery or intimations loomed over the hush-money case. There was the sublime accident of fate that the surname of the trial’s first key witness happened to be Pecker. There was the prosecution’s assurance that Stormy Daniels’s testimony would abjure “any details of genitalia,” a veiled reference to her famous description of Trump’s member as resembling “the mushroom character in Mario Kart.” (Here I’ll admit my disappointment at being denied a reenactment of the toadstool police lineup that Jimmy Kimmel once conducted with her.) There was Daniels’ attestation that Trump failed to don a prophylactic when they did their thing.