It will take months, if not years, for America to fully digest the verdict handed down by 12 jurors in New York today. But former President Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 charges of falsifying business records carries the historic significance of the moon landing, the resignation of Richard M. Nixon and the invasion of Iraq.

For the first time, a former president of the United States is now a convicted felon, facing the possibility of prison when sentencing occurs on July 11.

The gravity of the matter was obvious in the quiet courtroom as the verdict on the first count was read, and Trump briefly closed his eyes and shook his head. Thirty-three more “guilty” counts would follow before the jurors were dismissed and the former president was free to leave.

Afterwards, devoid of his usual bluster, Trump stood outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse and proclaimed his innocence. Then, unexpectedly, he said something we can all agree upon.

“We don’t have the same country anymore,” Trump said, with muted anger. “We have a divided mess.”

That is more true today than in 2015 when the flamboyant businessman and TV star took the most famous escalator ride in history to announce he was running for president. It’s just four miles from Trump Tower to the Criminal Courthouse, but it feels like 400,000, considering all that has transpired in the years between the escalator and the courthouse steps. And this journey is nowhere near done.

What will follow is a contentious round of appeals that many legal experts, including George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley, say will likely overturn the convictions. For all the talk right now by Trump and his supporters about a corrupt and weaponized judicial system, this is a system that allows ample opportunity to right wrongs.

Additionally, there are the remaining criminal cases against the former president. And, of course, an enormously consequential election.

Trump is betting on his chances on Election Day, saying outside the courtroom, “The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people.” His optimism about that is not unwarranted. As far back as February, most voters had already made up their minds about whether they would vote for Trump or President Joe Biden, and in most polls Trump is ahead.

Moreover, throughout the trial ordinary Americans have shown a remarkable disinterest in proceedings that were front and center on talk shows and cable news. In one poll just 13% of respondents said they were following the trial closely, and nearly 70% said that it would not change their opinions about Trump, leading pollster James Johnson to write that the case against Trump would have “no tangible impact” on the electorate. Other polling supports Johnson’s view.

A toxic political climate gives rise to dangerous hyperbole, like those who proclaimed on cable news after the verdict that America is now the equivalent of a “banana republic,” and those on social media who posted photos of an upside-down American flag accompanied by the words “America RIP.”

But out in the real world, for most people, the afternoon proceeded normally. People finished up at work, figured out what they would have for dinner, bathed their kids, read them books and tucked them in bed, while social media continued to seethe and Trump went to a fundraiser.

This is not a banana republic, not anything near it.

Nor is it true that American democracy will end if Trump is elected again, a tiresome trope used by his opponents for years.

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As Yuval Levin, author of the forthcoming book “American Covenant,” has said, “People have a crazy view of the stakes of our politics. Everybody thinks the next election will determine the future of human civilization, and our political system at its best is built to help us reduce the stakes of our politics. The next election is just an election. There’s going to be another one after that. If we get it wrong, we’ll get another chance at this.”

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Comments

It’s not so much Donald Trump, Joe Biden or any other individual that Americans should fear, but our own collective mistrust in each other and in our institutions; it is this mistrust that is most damaging to the republic in the long term.

This is not to say that Trump’s legal travails are inconsequential. They are not. Today was a somber day for America, and anyone who is celebrating the convictions has some soul-searching to do. The case was sordid; its details and the testimony embarrassing, not just for Trump, but for the country. And arguments that the prosecution was politically driven cannot be easily dismissed, especially with the sentencing scheduled four days before the Republican National Convention.

Good people can disagree on whether a case involving money paid to an adult-film star to buy her silence about a sexual encounter should have been brought before a jury in solidly blue Manhattan, and whether the case amounts to election interference or is simply an unfortunate result of a series of bad choices, the sort of calamity that can befall any of us when we stop paying attention to our God-given moral compass. Good people can also disagree on whether Donald Trump is the best choice for America in November, or Joe Biden, or Robert F. Kennedy.

But right now, the verdict demands something of us: a moment of silence, and preferably much more — a time of reflection on how America got here, what comes next, and how we can keep this from happening again. Trump might be the first American president convicted of a felony. But if we all learn something from this distasteful morass, perhaps he might be the last.

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