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Donald Trump will take America through yet another grave and unprecedented national drama this week when he becomes the first ex-president to appear in court charged with a crime.

The 45th president is expected to turn himself in on Tuesday in Manhattan, the stage where he built his legend as a brash popular culture figure and real estate magnate but which could now, in the case of “The People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump,” engineer his downfall.

In what will be extraordinary scenes, Trump will return to New York after a grand jury voted to indict him last week in a case involving a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. His appearance, accompanied by Secret Service agents, will come as he fires up his 2024 campaign for the White House. Trump plans to make a make a speech when he gets back to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night in which he will seek to leverage political advantage out of a perilous, personal legal crisis.

For many Americans who disdain Trump and his riotous single term, the case could be a sign that, finally, he is being called to account for his rule-crushing behavior and that everyone – even former presidents – are equal under the law. But Trump, using his bond with his most loyal supporters, is claiming the prosecution is a case of naked political persecution from District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, that’s designed to thwart the possibility of a presidential comeback. According to fundraising numbers that his campaign is touting, Trump is getting a political boost from the attention.

Yet a criminal indictment takes Trump into unique political territory. And however the case turns out, his return to the spotlight in these circumstances is another twist in an exhausting saga featuring a double impeachment, false claims of a stolen election, and a mob attack on the US Congress during an unruly four-year presidency that pushed the nation to the point of exhaustion and deepened its polarization.

Some legal experts, without having seen the still-sealed indictment, have questioned whether a case that appears to revolve around infringements of accounting practices and possible campaign finance violations is sufficiently serious to merit the historical step of indicting an ex-president who is already running again.

At the same time, it is ultimately Trump’s norm-busting behavior that pushed the country to this somber moment. He’s also being investigated over efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia, and by a special counsel probing his hoarding of classified documents and conduct in the run up to January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. In several of these cases, Trump could face even more serious legal problems than in the Stormy Daniels matter, but that case is the only one so far that has yielded an indictment.

Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases. But once more, America’s political and legal systems, under a near-constant stress test since he came down the escalator in Trump Tower to launch his campaign in 2015, will be put under enormous pressure that is likely to only deepen the country’s internal estrangement.

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