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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Mounting Legal Problems Turning Trump Into Government Stress Test

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We have four big TVs in the WFAE newsroom. One is tuned to local news, and the other three are on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. All week long, those last three TVs – and sometimes the other one, too – featured the same images over and over again: Someone who used to work for President Trump, being led into or out of a courthouse.

The main player in the loop recently has been Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, who was sentenced to three years in prison even though he cooperated with federal prosecutors making a case against the president. The key point, it appears for now, was that Cohen arranged to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal – two women who say they had affairs with Trump.

On the face of it, maybe that doesn’t sound like that big a deal. The reason it matters is that federal prosecutors consider the payments illegal campaign contributions, because the point of the payoffs was to hide scandals that might have cost the election. Knowing what we know now, Trump needn’t have worried – it seems like every sleazy thing he was accused of only made him more attractive to some voters. There’s always going to be someone drawn to the bad boy.

The problem is, he didn’t know that for sure when he was running for president. And if he did in fact pay off those women to help his campaign, that’s a felony. It’s enough to make a reasonable person think he’s unfit to hold office.

You might have noticed that we have yet to mention all the other reasons our current president might be unfit to hold office. There’s a whole other branch of the investigation connected to whether Trump’s connections to the Russian government, and whether the Russians tried to rig the election in his favor. Beyond that, there’s the daily drip of lies and rudeness and ego-stroking that, in real life, makes him the kind of guy most of us would go to the other end of the bar to avoid.

In some ways he is a stress test for this government the Founding Fathers created. I know a lot of people who think his election alone is a sign that the system is broken. I’m more of an optimist. I think this last couple of years is a sign that the system is built to hold up.

Voters went to the polls in the midterms and turned the U.S. House over to the Democrats, who will make it hard for Trump to follow through on a lot of his campaign promises. The court system is moving in its slow and steady way toward blowing away all of the smoke and revealing the truth. The president is still powerful, of course, and still infuriating, but most of all he seems … pathetic. Whatever grand plans he might have had, they’re not working. And every time he looks over his shoulder, his pursuers are closer.

There are going to be a lot more people coming in and out of the courthouse before all this is over. But it’s worth pondering, in the moment, if what has already happened might be enough. Al Capone was the biggest mobster in America. But tax evasion is what put him away. It’s strange to think, with all the rumors about the Russians, if what really led to the president’s demise was trying to hide his affairs.

Then again, a lot of the other stuff is just crime. Thou shalt not commit adultery … well, that’s a commandment.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column airs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.