As president, Trump normalized racism. Now U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has been assigned to his felony case tied to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
*Originally published Wednesday, August, 2, 2023 by the Los Angeles Times.
On Tuesday, a few hours before the latest indictment of former President Trump became public, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Florida, addressing a room full of mostly Black women.
“Through your faith, you have helped to make real the promise of our founding principles, not just for some, but for all,” she said at the 20th Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Quadrennial Convention in Orlando. “And I’m here then to say, our nation needs your leadership once again.”
Then, her voice dropping with seriousness, Harris added: “In this moment, across our country, hard-fought, hard-won freedoms are under full-on attack.”
The vice president’s words now seem prescient. For those few hours later, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan — a woman who also has identified as being of Black and Asian ancestry — was randomly assigned to preside over Trump’s case, all but assuring a racist backlash.
I’ve already seen the tweets — or is it xeets? — about her being a supposed “diversity hire.”
The former president is facing multiple charges related to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after his electoral loss to Joe Biden, among them obstruction of an official proceeding, that being the peaceful transfer of power, and conspiracies to defraud the United States, obstruct an official proceeding and deny voting rights.
He has been ordered to appear Thursday before Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya in Washington and after that, the case will be handled by Chutkan.
I must admit, I’m amused by the poetic justice of it all.
While in the White House, Trump was a man who unleashed and normalized a new wave of hate against many communities, but particularly against Black Americans.
It’s because of him that we now have state legislatures full of newly emboldened MAGA Republicans who are passing laws to whitewash history lessons on slavery in public schools, who are targeting diversity and equity initiatives, and who are banning books with even the slightest mention of race or racism.
Indeed, it’s because of the far-right extremism of the Trump administration that we now — well, again — have a sitting member of Congress willing to refer to Black people as “colored” on the floor of the House of Representatives. And a U.S. senator who is reluctant to admit that a “white nationalist” is racist.
So it’s gratifying to think of a man who sees himself as Teflon Don having to recognize the authority of a Black person.
And it’s not just Chutkan either.
There’s New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James, who is pursuing a civil fraud case against Trump over his business dealings.Also,Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg, who charged Trump with falsifying business records over hush money payments made to adult-film actor Stormy Daniels.
And, in Georgia, Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis has been investigating attempts to overturn the former president’s loss in the crucial swing state in 2020. She is expected to announce charges later this month.
As Harris pointed out in Orlando on Tuesday, having this many Black people in positions of authority is possible only because of civil rights activists, including those with the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s only because of their hard work over many decades that enough barriers of systemic racism have been broken down — despite attempts by MAGA Republicans to put them back up — to allow Black people to become judges or vice presidents.
“Since coming into office,” Harris said to applause, “President Joe Biden and I — very proud to report this — have appointed more Black women to be federal judges than any administration in history, including the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in our land, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.”
No doubt, Trump will cast all of this as unfair.
Already, the former president has tried to discredit James, Bragg and Willis by repeatedly accusing them of being “racist.” As if they are out to get him specifically because they are Black, and not because they are qualified professionals doing a job.
Naturally, death threats have followed.
“I’m very much concerned that individuals, lone wolves, will obviously resort to violence,” James told Politico in June.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump starts accusing Chutkan of being “racist” next.
Appointed to the bench in 2014 by President Obama, Chutkan was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States to attend George Washington University before going to law school at the University of Pennsylvania. She then worked as a public defender for more than a decade.
More recently, she has presided over dozens of cases involving people who entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection — and hasn’t been shy about handing down tough sentences, sending many to prison.
Clear-eyed, Chutkan also has been quick to dismiss any partisan attempts to downplay what happened, describing it as “a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government.”
In 2021, she ruled against Trump specifically, ordering his administration to give congressional investigators hundreds of pages of records related to the insurrection. “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” Chutkan wrote in her ruling.
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign issued a statement, nonsensically fuming about “un-American witch hunts” and insisting that “the lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes.”
What all of this is really about is power. Who should have it and who should have the ability to wield it over others — particularly white men like Trump, who’ve grown accustomed to both and have zero interest in sharing either.
Indeed, the former president is deeply invested in maintaining the status quo of the patriarchy. And with his whining about witch hunts and his baseless accusations about being a victim of racism, Trump is implying that Black people shouldn’t have such power, such authority.
Meanwhile, Black women, in particular, are among the most dedicated to this country, leading movements to make it more fair and equitable, and voting in presidential elections at higher rates than almost any other demographic group. This is why we are so often called the “backbone” of U.S. democracy.
As Harris told the hundreds of Black women in Orlando, “this work is guided by our faith in America…. We love our country. And we believe, we truly believe in the principles upon which our country was founded.”
Special counsel Jack Smith, speaking at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, reminded the public that the indictment against the former president “is only an allegation and that the defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”
In a courtroom run by Chutkan, I have no doubt that’s exactly what will happen. Trump will get a fair trial. Perhaps that’s why he’s so angry and why I’m so amused.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Featured image: Former President Trump, seeking to win back the office in 2024, arrives for a campaign rally Saturday in Erie, Penn. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)