BYU students, alumni react to Trump conviction

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Former President Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court during jury deliberations in his criminal hush money trial in New York, Thursday, May 30, 2024. BYU students and alumni shared their thoughts on the conviction and what it means for the upcoming presidential election. (AP Photo)

Readers of The Daily Universe shared their thoughts on former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction and how it has shaped their approach to the upcoming presidential election.

On May 30, Trump became the first ever former president to be convicted of felony crimes. Trump was found guilty of falsifying business records illegally influencing the 2016 election through hush money payments. Jurors convicted him on all 34 counts.

Hayley Anderson, a recent BYU graduate from Minnesota, said she was shocked by the conviction.

“I’d hoped for a conviction but I was expecting him to somehow get out of it,” Anderson said. “The most surprising thing for me was that he was found guilty on all 34 counts. I’d expected at least some of them to fall off, but the fact that the jury convicted him of all 34 is concerning.”

Others felt unsurprised with how the trial turned out, like recent graduate from Massachusetts Bennett Graff.

“It’s nice to see that conclusion made by a jury of his peers, as opposed just something being reported in the news because it’s ridiculous to constantly have to deal with him and his base constantly acting like everything he does wrong is just a matter of opinion or that his political opponents are out to get him,” Graff said. “I just want to see him held accountable.”

BYU alumna Sharon Christman Hodges shared she believes the trial’s judge and district attorney had a political agenda.

“Judge donated to Biden. Judge’s daughter has made lots of money off her father’s trial. And the D.A. ran his election on finding charges to indict Trump,” Hodges said. “Political warfare.”

Utah law prohibits convicted felons from running for office. However, the U.S. Constitution does not have a similar provision for candidates for the presidency. The partisan declaration of candidacy for the office of president requires individuals only to meet the listed requirements.

Mary Singer, a political science student from Connecticut, expressed her dislike for these regulations.

“I really hate that convicted felons are able to run for president. Felons aren’t able to vote in a lot of states (including Trump’s home state of Florida) and felons also can’t visit a pretty significant number of countries, including some major U.S. allies. I personally don’t support disenfranchising convicted felons, but I also think they should not be allowed to be president or hold public office,” Singer said.

According to other students, the Constitution itself is not a problem, but the current state of U.S. politics is.

“The fact that the Constitution doesn’t bar felons from running for President doesn’t bother me,” Ph.D. student Zacory Shakespear said. “The founders believed the people wouldn’t vote for a felon and so didn’t feel it was necessary to create a rule forbidding it. The fact they were wrong 200 some odd years after the fact, I think speaks to how strange our current political situation is and not a failure on the part of the founders.”

Anderson explained she thinks the law presents a difficult situation.

“I’m inclined to believe that being a felon shouldn’t automatically disqualify you from running for office,” Anderson said. “If the felony indicates that the candidate would behave poorly in office, then they should be barred from running. … Trump’s actions reflect poorly on his priorities in office, his respect for the laws of this country and his ability to run the United States.”

Hodges also believes the Constitution should not be changed, but for other reasons.

“The Founding Fathers were very wise and wrote the Constitution with divine providence,” Hodges said. “Maybe they didn’t put that in about having a convicted felon run for president because one day there might be fraud and the weaponization of the Justice Department.”

Speaking about how this conviction will change voting preferences in the upcoming presidential election this fall, individuals expressed that their opinions have mostly remained the same.

“I didn’t vote for Trump in 2020 and I don’t intend to in November. I consider him a threat to the rule of law,” Shakespear said. “I don’t like Biden either, but I think democracy is safer with an octogenarian who has a significant chance of dying while in office than with a man who has repeatedly proved how much he despises democracy.”

Graff echoed a similar sentiment, sharing his dislike for both candidates.

“Honestly I think both Biden and Trump are horribly morally bankrupt leaders, and if it weren’t for the immediate threat Trump poses to reproductive rights and a number of other highly exigent issues that we face, I’d vote third party,” Graff said.

Singer said she hopes the conviction will influence independent voters who are not committed to one candidate, but still fears for the future of American democracy.

“I worry about the precedent it sets to elect a convicted felon, especially with how he and his supporters have handled the conviction — ignoring rule of law and talking about this as a violation of justice, losing support for the institutions of democracy,” Singer said.

However, for citizens like Hodges, this trial has given more reason to vote for Trump in the 2024 election.

“It makes more people like me want to vote for him because we see the political injustices he is being put through,” Hodges said of the trial. “So he has my vote for November 2024.”

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