“That happens on TV … not in real trials”

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If you’ve followed other criminal trials in years past, then you’ll likely agree that for all the advance hype and unique circumstances, Donald Trump’s criminal trial is thus far going largely like you’d expect.

The jury selection process was a mere matter of narrowing down the field. Opening statements were the usual drill of the prosecution laying out the case it intends to make, and the defense insisting there’s no case. And the judge has spent most of his time making procedural rulings on which specific kinds of things can or can’t be brought up.

Everything in this trial has had a bit of additional dramatic flair to it because Trump himself is such a cartoon. But on the whole, this is all merely a slightly exaggerated version of what a normal criminal trial would be like. If the stakes weren’t so high, and the cast of characters so high profile, one might dare say that this trial is clinical. Methodical. Even boring, if that’s possible. Put another way: if this trial didn’t involve people like Donald Trump and Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, would any of us be paying attention to it?

So it was an important moment yesterday when the judge overseeing the trial pointed out to the jury that the trial is not going to be entertaining and is not meant to be. The judge specifically said this to the jury about the prospect of the trial providing entertainment value: “That happens on TV, in the movies, not in real trials.”

The judge is absolutely right. The courtroom doors are not going to be flung open on the final day of the trial by a surprise witness who just now learned the real story behind the scandal. And even though everyone from porn stars to pundits will be testifying, their testimony will all simply be in the name of proving that business records were criminally falsified in an effort to alter the outcome of an election.

It’s all a big deal, of course. It’s a huge deal. This is the trial of the century. The ramifications are profound. But the guidepost for how it’s been playing out, and how it’s likely to continue playing out, is the fact that criminal trials don’t allow for nonsense. Even when Trump tried to add a dramatic flair by suggesting he’ll testify in his own defense, this merely prompted a procedural hearing in which Trump was informed of what will be specifically introduced against him if he does testify. There really are no antics to be had here. There’s a procedure for everything. That’s how real trials work.

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