Trump and his sons say his indictment makes the US like a 'third world' country, but plenty of other democracies have prosecuted ex-leaders
- Trump and his sons are decrying his indictment as a sign the US is now a "third world" country.
- Trump is the first ex-president to be charged with a crime.
Former President Donald Trump denounced his indictment as a sign that the US is now a "THIRD WORLD NATION."
"THIS IS AN ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE," Trump said on his social media network, Truth Social. "IT IS LIKEWISE A CONTINUING ATTACK ON OUR ONCE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. THE USA IS NOW A THIRD WORLD NATION, A NATION IN SERIOUS DECLINE. SO SAD!"
Trump's sons offered similar takes, portraying the charges against the former president as a political attack orchestrated by his opponents.
"The ruling party is trying to jail the opposition leader like a third world dictatorship! It's happening before your very eyes," Trump Jr. said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Eric Trump condemned the indictment as "third world prosecutorial misconduct" and "the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year," alluding to the fact his father is running for president again in 2024.
Trump is the first former US president to be criminally charged, and his indictment comes amid a period of historic political polarization. Along these lines, there are already many questions as to how Trump's indictment will impact the 2024 election.
Though Trump's allies are portraying the indictment as the type of thing that only happens in countries with weak institutions that are led by dictators or authoritarians, other democracies across the world — including close US allies like South Korea, Italy, France, and Israel — have prosecuted, convicted, and even jailed former leaders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump's when he was still in the White House, is entangled in an ongoing corruption trial that has become particularly controversial as his far-right government pushes for judicial reforms that recently prompted mass protests in Israel.
Two of France's recent presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, were found guilty of corruption. Sarkozy in 2021 was sentenced to jail; he appealed the ruling.
South Korea has tried, convicted, and imprisoned more than one ex-president. The most recent example is that of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who was convicted of abuse of power and coercion in 2018 after being impeached. Park was initially sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was later reduced to 20. She was later pardoned by then-President Moon Jae-in.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been involved in 35 criminal court cases, per Reuters. In 2013, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to one year of community service and banned from political office until 2018. The former Italian prime minister was acquitted in February of bribing witnesses in an underage prostitution case.
While it's true that countries with autocratic leaders and weak democratic institutions have a habit of imprisoning prominent opposition figures, including ex-leaders, it's also the case that countries with strong democracies do their best to follow the principle that no one is above the law — whether they're former world leaders or not.
Research from political scientists at the University of Washington found that "both sweeping immunity and overzealous prosecutions can undermine democracy" in terms of the prosecutions of ex-leaders.
"But such prosecutions pose different risks for mature democracies," the researchers went on to say, adding, "Strong democracies are usually competent enough – and the judicial system independent enough – to go after politicians who misbehave, including top leaders."
The researchers said that in "mature democracies, prosecutions can hold leaders accountable and solidify the rule of law."
That said, the researchers also underscored that prosecuting ex-leaders can be a mixed bag for democracies. "There are consequences to prosecutions of these officials — not just for them, but for their countries. Presidents and prime ministers aren't just anyone. They are chosen by a nation's citizens or their parties to lead. They are often popular, sometimes revered. So judicial proceedings against them are inevitably perceived as political and become divisive," the researchers said.
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