Joseph Heller once wrote a novel called Something Happened. The title is an existential joke, because the book is a work of unrelieved nihilism in which, in fact, nothing happened and nothing happens.

Donald Trump, who is himself something of a nihilist, wanted the world to believe that nothing happened between him and E. Jean Carroll in a Bergdorf Goodman’s dressing room in the mid-1990s.

He didn’t know her, he said. He never saw her before, he said. And she wasn’t his type anyway, he said. That was before he mistook Carroll for his second wife in a photo he was shown during a deposition—his second wife, with whom he was notoriously said to have had “the best sex.” We know his second wife thought this because Trump was the one who told Jill Brooke of the New York Post that she had said it, and it went right to the front page.

So Carroll was his type. And a jury of nine people in the civil case brought by E. Jean Carroll against Donald Trump decided that, yes, something had happened. It wasn’t just Carroll saying something had happened back in the mid-1990s. There was corroborative sworn testimony during the trial from two of her friends. They recalled, under threat of perjury, that Carroll had told them something had happened between her and Trump at the time—with one of them, Lisa Birnbach, saying she had heard from Carroll almost immediately afterward and had told her to go to the police because she had been raped.

That was a bridge too far for the jury, which found there was not enough evidence to say that a rape had occurred. But there was enough, based on the contemporaneous testimony, to reject Trump’s claim that nothing had happened. Since the jury found he had done something, they also found that he had defamed Carroll by calling her case “a complete con job,” not to mention “a Hoax and a lie.”

The jury’s verdict itself is actually a model of judicial probity, given the facts in evidence—and the fact that Trump himself did not testify, put up no witnesses to defend himself, and did not even appear in court. His lawyer challenged the veracity of Carroll and her witnesses, and if this had been a criminal proceeding, perhaps that would have worked on the grounds that he is guilty until proven innocent. But the standard for liability in a civil case is a preponderance of evidence—51 percent to 49 percent at a minimum, in other words. And the speed with which the jury came back suggests the preponderance was a good deal higher, in their minds, than 51 percent.

Trump offered no case in his own defense, and he doesn’t get to make a case now that he lost this one. He can only appeal the verdict on the grounds that the judge mishandled the trial or the evidence. That might happen. Don’t bet on it. Something happened here, and it will not be so easily reversed.

Heller’s novel was a failure. So was Trump’s strategy in the New York courtroom. Henceforth, for the rest of recorded history, Trump will be known as the only president in the first 240 years of this country’s existence who committed an act of sexual battery and then defamed the woman he battered.

I think the first impeachment of Trump was a farce. I think Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump is a disgrace. This is another matter entirely. Something happened. Not words. Not tweets. And every citizen of the United States, facing Trump’s continued presence in our public and electoral life, is morally obliged to consider that horrifying fact with the utmost seriousness.

Photo: AP Photo

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