Jolting, jarring and very unsettling. How else can you describe the mugshot of America’s 45th president?
Plenty will say Donald Trump had it coming. Others will say inmate number P01135809 is being unfairly persecuted.
That is not the point. We know that no other former president has ever been charged with a crime, we know these are unprecedented events, and this image is the proof. It might have been worse. Many mugshots are taken at a side angle, with the prisoner wearing a red or orange jail jumpsuit.
Trump is wearing a suit and tie. His face is narrowed and frowning, a look he often gives. What makes this so striking is the sheriff’s department logo, embossed above his face.
Trump is now the first US president with a mugshot. A picture does not lie.
Taken in its entirety, for such a comparably shocking and significant image summing up the legal and political travails of a one-time commander-in-chief, where might one turn?
Perhaps the morning of 9 August 1974 when Richard Nixon left the White House as president for the final time, having delivered a resignation speech the night before.
But even in those images, Nixon retains the dignified trappings of the presidency. He waves to a cheering crowd, is flown away in his Marine One helicopter, and is escorted across the White House’s South Lawn by his vice president, Gerald Ford, who will later issue him a pardon.
Trump received motorcycle outsiders, a 12-vehicle convoy and the protection of a number of Secret Service agents when he flew into Georgia on Thursday evening.
But he received few other dignities at Atlanta’s Fulton Jail, where was booked on 13 charges including racketeering, brought by a local prosecutor over his alleged efforts to pressure Georgia officials to lie about the outcome of the 2020 election. Later he was released on $200,000 bond.
And given these were local charges and not federal, neither Trump – or another potential Republican president – could issue the kind of pardon Nixon received. In theory he could spend many years in jail.
Over the years, America has witnessed plenty of shocking images – the April 1975 image of a helicopter leaving the US Embassy in what was then called Saigon, the attacks of 9/11, the storming of the US Capitol on Jan 6 2021 over which Trump is also being investigated.
But those were attacks on symbols of American power, or its institutions, not an individual. The images of the 1963 assassination of John K Kennedy, and the attempted murder of Ronald Reagan, in 1981, are no doubt more shocking. But those were physical assaults on the president.And the fact we have to reach back 60 years for comparison, underscores how unusual all of this.
Others countries have arrested former heads of the executive branch of government. Jacques Chirac, of France was charged over alleged corruption, as was Imran Khan of Pakistan. In 2001, Serbia handed over former president Slobodan Milošević, to face war crimes charges in The Hague.
Like, Milošević, Trump was also head of state, which is why when he visited London, he went not only to Downing St but to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth. It is difficult to imagine seeing a mug shot of Britain’s head of state.
Many Americans, regardless of party, will feel saddened by Thursday’s events, and feel it reflects badly on their country.
It is naive to think Joe Biden did not sign off on Department of the Justice’s probe into Trump. Yet it’s very possible he would have preferred to have avoided Trump being charged at at.
Indeed, had Trump dropped out of politics, or even admitted he had lost the 2020 election, rather than repeating the false claims it was rigged, he could have earned a version of the Nixon treatment.
Instead, he has continued to show utter disdain for the rule of law and seeks to usher in a new authoritarian government if he wins a second term in the White House.
On Wednesday night, while his rivals for the Republican nomination were debating, Trump gave an interview to Tucker Carlson in which was asked if his arrest could lead to violence. He said he did not know.
Yet added: “There’s a level of passion that I’ve never seen, there’s a level of hatred that I’ve never seen, and that’s probably a bad combination.”
Several of Trump’s co-accused, including Rudy Giuliani, have already been booked and had their picture taken. The image of Giuliani shows him staring sternly.
While this is Trump’s fourth indictment, the previous three bookings called for him to be finger-printed, but not to have his picture taken. Proceedings inside the court were not televised.
In the case in New York, officials were concerned about such an image being leaked, or sold, and finding its way onto a T-shirt.
That is now surely going to happen in this case. He may very well use to it to his advantage, putting it on all sorts of Trump merchandise and selling it to raise money for his reelection campaign and extensive legal fees. Indeed, it seems that while Democrats will try to use the image to help Biden’s reelection bid, supporters of Trump will do the same for their man.
Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump has already predicted as much.
“It’s going to be on posters and people’s dorm rooms,” she told the conservative Newsmax channel. “It’s going to be on t-shirts. It is going to be a flag flown by people who love this country because they’re backing Donald Trump.”
Before he boarded the plane to leave Atlanta, Trump spoke to reporters: “This is a very sad day for America. This has never happened. If you challenge an election, you should be able to challenge an election. I thought the election was rigged election, a stolen election. And I should have every right to do that.”
What we do know is this Trump will try and use Thursday’s events to his advantage, in whatever manner he can.
We may all be shocked by this. It’s not so clear about him.