A 79-year-old advice columnist — along with a handful of other brave women who testified in her case – has done what legal and political institutions have not yet managed: held the former president Donald Trump accountable in law for his actions, and for his lies.

In finding that he sexually abused E Jean Carroll in the 1990s, and subsequently defamed her, albeit not finding him liable for rape, the jury in her civil suit laid down an important marker.

Though it awarded $5m (£4m) to Ms. Carroll, money cannot erase the initial attack, the intrusive memories she has endured or her continued avoidance of romantic or sexual relationships. Mr. Trump compounded the damage when he attacked her as a “wack job” pursuing a “hoax” after she described what had happened.

It required courage to take on a man who was one of the most powerful people in the world, who may be so again, and who attracts and encourages irrational and aggressive support. She has received death threats, and the judge advised jurors to remain anonymous “for a long time”. Asked if she regretted bringing the case, Ms. Carroll replied: “About five times a day.”

It is too easy to write off this hard-earned victory by focusing solely on the fact that its impact on voters is likely to be limited. No one imagines it will sink Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. His ability to float past or even capitalize upon his worst acts, transmuting them into fundraising and campaigning capital, is both remarkable and depressing. His support has proved resilient through impeachment, indictment and general disgrace. But this verdict stands on its own merits, in curtailing the impunity he has enjoyed for too long.

It would be wrong to imagine that any case could fix a broken political system, or, indeed, root out entrenched misogyny. It is a sign of just how bad things are that it is entirely likely that the Republicans will go into the 2024 presidential election with a candidate found by a court to be a sexual abuser – and that, if they do, he may well win.

Mr. Trump was elected in 2016 even after the emergence of the Access Hollywood tape in which he boasted that “When you’re a star, they let you do it … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” At that point, Republicans attacked him over his words. On Tuesday, most were silent about his deeds.

Though the tally of women accusing him of assault has risen to at least 26, his share of the female vote actually rose in 2020, with an outright majority of white women backing him. Nonetheless, he did not want this trial, still less this outcome, and has said he will appeal, claiming the case to be part of “the greatest witch-hunt of all time.”

This was a victory for Ms. Carroll and, as she has said, for other women. It reflects the legacy of the #MeToo movement, sometimes written off as a blip due to the backlash against it. The journalist herself credited the flood of allegations about powerful, predatory men with persuading her to speak out. It also led to the New York law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on such allegations, making her case possible.

Change does not always come in immediate, dramatic and decisive fashion. It may be slow, halting, partial and unsatisfactory, yet nonetheless real and significant. Mr. Trump now faces mounting jeopardy on multiple legal fronts. Whatever the outcome of other cases, this one still counts.

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