THE year ahead in American politics will be like few ever seen before in modern times. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the future of US democracy is arguably at stake.

Why? Well, put quite simply, the numerous criminal trials facing Donald Trump alongside a presidential election in 2024 in which he remains the favourite to be the Republican party nominee, makes for the perfect storm that will place the American political system under unprecedented pressure.

The terrible irony in all of this of course is that Trump’s indictment on Tuesday for his alleged role in efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat will likely fuel his march toward that Republican presidential nomination.

It will matter little to the former president and his die-hard supporters that what America witnessed in 2020 was one of the most murky, malicious and damaging conspiracies in the history of American politics.

That much was obvious when just minutes before Tuesday’s indictment was announced, Trump in predictable form called it “fake” on his Truth Social media platform.

You can bet too that even though the events of 2020 revealed the extent to which Trump is a threat to American political freedom, those fears will be cast aside by the blinkered devotees for whom the former president can do no wrong.

As Nate Cohen, chief political analyst at The New York Times wrote early this week: “The MAGA – Make America Great Again – base doesn’t support Trump in spite of his flaws. It supports him because it doesn’t seem to believe he has flaws.”

For most thinking people the very fact that Trump is facing a deluge of charges is almost evidence enough of his misconduct and deceit. For his supporters however, those myriad cases and the timing of them being brought to the courts slap bang in the middle of an election is just more confirmation that the “deep state” is out to stitch up their American “saviour”.

The 2020 election fraud, hush money sex scandal case in Manhattan; the election fraud case in Georgia; the classified documents case in Florida; none of these have dented Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination.

In fact, recent opinion polls show Republican support for Trump surging, making him far and away the front runner, leading second-place Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, by close to 30 percentage points. And so just as the indictments and court dates pile up, so too it seems does Trump’s ratings in the polls.

That said, if there is one consolation right now it’s that Trump’s ability to capitalise on them may be more restricted in next year’s full presidential election, when he will have to win over more sceptical moderate Republicans and independents.

Nevertheless the dilemma here for those seeking to prosecute Trump is obvious. Bringing him to trial is to run the risk of inflaming the view of Trump’s allies that what is happening here is nothing more than cynical moves by a politically “weaponised” US Justice Department. This too before that other risk of also creating further bitterness among an already arguably dangerously divided American electorate.

On the other hand however, to ignore Trump’s misconduct and alleged criminal activity is to send out a message to future American presidents unwilling to relinquish power. In short it signals, “sure, go ahead, hold the country to ransom and instigate, if required, insurrection in the very bastions of democracy”.

It’s worth remembering in all of this that back in 2020 it was in plain sight that the American people and the world witnessed Trump telling an angry mob at a rally that they must “fight like hell” or they “won’t have a country anymore”, then directing them to go the Capitol and “stop the steal”.

In the latest indictment against Trump, the 45-page document not only sets out the four charges, but its introduction could not be clearer and more succinct in terms of what happened in 2020 and Trump’s role in it.

“Despite having lost, the defendant was determined to remain in power,” the first few lines read, which is a pretty unequivocal condemnation in itself.

And speaking of things unequivocal, if there is one other consolation to be had from the latest indictment for those that want to see Trump politically neutered once and for all, it’s the chief American prosecutor leading the task of bringing the former president to account.

Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel, is just the man to take the legal battle to Trump. Not only has Smith a formidable record as a federal prosecutor in the US but has used his expertise as an international war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

In other words here is a man no stranger in dealing with the sorts of autocrats and despots tried or indicted at The Hague alongside which Trump would sit nicely were he given carte blanche as a world leader.

Think Slobodan Milosevic, Omar al-Bashir, Muammar Gaddafi and others of their ilk and you will see where I’m coming from. In short, these types are Jack Smith’s stock in trade.

With the first televised GOP presidential debate marking the start of the 2024 campaign proper only weeks away, it’s hard not to see how America can avoid the volatile political landscape that lies ahead.

As Chris Christie, one of Trump’s rivals in the Republican presidential primary, remarked on CNN’s State of the Union recently: “It is most likely that, by the time we get on the debate stage on August 23, the front-runner will be out on bail in four different jurisdictions – Florida, Washington, Georgia, and New York.”

For two and half years now those Americans who see Trump for the danger that he is have waited for him to be held accountable for what they identify as his misdeeds and offences.

As for Trump himself, the pressure building over all that time and the fresh demands of simultaneously fighting an election and so many separate court cases may well take their toll on a man who is now 77 years old.

If he battles through and slips the legal net we may yet find him again the Republican nomination for the race to the White House. Everything then would depend on how the US electorate responds. Would they really be prepared to overlook a conspiracy to undermine democratic rule and return the chief conspirator to power?

Only time, the courts and the American people hold the answer to that question.

But few can doubt that the country’s democracy is about to face one of its severest tests ever.