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Manhattan Courtroom Destroys the Trump Mystique

Just as the Wizard of Oz tried desperately to distract Dorothy and her friends, Trump and his lawyers are trying hard to keep the public from looking at the man behind the curtain.

On opening night of the Republican National Convention in 2016, Donald Trump came out onstage like a pro wrestler, amid clouds from a smoke machine and dramatic shadows.

It was the kind of image he likes to project of himself: grandiose and imposing, like the floating head of the Great and Powerful Oz ordering Dorothy to bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch.

But eight years later, the real Trump has been revealed before the world in a courtroom in lower Manhattan. Whether he was sitting in the courtroom or standing outside of it amid bad fluorescent lighting, he looked small, diminished and the very opposite of presidential.

And just as the Wizard of Oz tried desperately to distract Dorothy and her friends when he was revealed, Trump and his lawyers are trying hard to keep the public from looking at the man behind the curtain.

“We will call him ‘President Trump’ out of respect for the office that he held from 2017 to 2021,” his lawyer Todd Blanche said during opening statements this week. “And as everybody knows, it’s the office he’s running for right now."


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Trump’s lawyers can use whatever title they want, but there is nothing presidential about what’s unfolding in that courtroom. Make no mistake, Trump’s current circumstances define him. The fact that he has spent every day court has been in session at the courthouse is the physical representation that Trump is not special. He is not above reproach and not above the law. His fate, like the fate of every other defendant in a jury trial, is in the hands of his fellow citizens.

The case, too, has diminished Trump. Focusing on his actions during the 2016 election, prosecutors have presented him as a small man, desperate to protect his reputation, colluding with the editors of a tabloid newspaper to spread smears about his opponents and pay off anyone who might share the truth about him.

The ex-president’s longtime friend, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, has already proved to be a star witness in this trial. In court testimony, Pecker detailed the steps he took to fabricate actual fake news against Trump’s political opponents and “catch and kill” damaging allegations against Trump during the 2016 election.

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The details have truly been stunning. I lived and worked through the 2016 presidential election, and even I learned new things when I read Pecker’s testimony.

I had to read it because — to the detriment of the American voters, there are no cameras or microphones to allow them to see and hear the testimony from inside the courtroom. That’s left the public relying on the exceptional journalists sitting inside to paint a picture of the ongoing revelations. That picture is far more damning than even the allegations that Trump cheated on his wife by having a one-night stand with an adult-film actor. (Trump has denied the affair and pleaded not guilty in the case.)

During opening statements, the Manhattan district attorney’s office argued that the case was actually about “election fraud, pure and simple.” The prosecution then described the case to the jury as an orchestrated criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election by paying people to stay silent about stories that might damage one of the two major candidates’ reputations.

It’s not the only case revolving around Trump’s disgraceful approach to democratic elections, either.

In the federal election interference case against Trump, special counsel Jack Smith similarly accused Trump of defrauding the country he once led. And in the Fulton County, Georgia, election interference case against Trump and his co-defendants, District Attorney Fani Willis described the sprawling RICO case as a plot to steal the 2020 election. (Trump has pleaded not guilty in both cases.)

The allegations in these cases spell out the brazen ways Trump has plotted to secure and hold on to power. They are not a coincidence, they are a pattern, and one that he will keep attempting in his third run for the White House this year.

Trump may try, just as the Wizard of Oz desperately pushed buttons and pulled levers, to maintain his failing facade before finally admitting that he was nothing more than a humbug.

Symone D. Sanders-Townsend is an author and a co-host of "The Weekend," which airs Saturdays and Sundays at 8 a.m. ET on MSNBC. She is a former deputy assistant to President Joe Biden and a former senior adviser to and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris.