Donald Trump is a “wrecking ball” aimed at constitutional governance, Rep. Jake AuchinclossEarlier this week, a Massachusetts Democrat, stated that he was responding to revelations that the losing presidential candidate had been revealed. Trump urged national security and military agencies to seize voting machines in 2020.
This week has demonstrated the danger Trump poses to the survival and growth of American democracy. The January 6th attempted coup revealed that Trump and his close friends were prepared to do almost anything to retain their power. Trump himself has, this week, shown just how politically depraved he is: In a statement that he released online, he berated former Vice President Mike Pence for having not “overturned the election.” And at a pep rally in Texas, Trump all but promised that he would pardon those who participated in the January 6 storming of the Capitol.
Trump also urged his followers, many of whom have come to protests armed in recent years, to flood the streets of U.S. cities should prosecutors in Atlanta, Georgia, or in New York City indict Trump on criminal charges — some relating to his business practices and tax filings, some relating to his efforts to intimidate election officials — as is quite possible over the coming months. This clear attempt to derail the judicial system has led to the following: Fulton County district attorney in Georgia asked the FBI to conduct a threat assessmentTo identify vulnerabilities in the courthouse that could be exploited by the MAGA mob.
This is just the beginning of the lawless, fascist and paramilitary rabbithole that even Senate Minority Leader can’t see. Mitch McConnell, who has spent the past six years enabling Trump’s every attack on democracy, mildly pushed back, saying that he was “not in favor” of pardons being issued for the January 6 coup-plotters. Sen. Lindsey Graham, perhaps Trump’s most odious and opportunistic of cheerleaders, also chimed in, saying that the ex-president’s promise was “inappropriate.”
These are merely milquetoast critiques. It’s like trying to put out five-alarm fires with teacups filled with tepid water. These criticisms are rare. House Minority Leaders have been in office for the past one year. Kevin McCarthyDespite the fact that he was not the president, he has met with him at Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida several times to discuss strategies for retaking the House in 2022. McCarthy initially held Trump responsible for the coup attempt of January 6. After Trump’s latest outrageous comments, there was nary a peep of discontent or discomfort from McCarthy.
There are tools that can stop Trump from running for public office again, as he is an instigator of attempts to provoke an insurrection. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, passed in the wake of the Civil War, which specifically bars insurrectionists from office, is tailor-made for the Trump situation; yet the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress, including Senators McConnell and Graham, wouldn’t in a million years dream of alienating their base by using this mechanism against Trump.
It is yet another stunning example of political cowardice when faced with this concerted, growing effort to destroy U.S. democratic norms.
As correspondent John Nichols, my colleague at The Nation, has pointed out, Trump’s promise to pardon those who take up arms on his behalf is redolent of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s behavior in the run-up to his seizing absolute power and declaring the Italian Fascist Party to be above, and outside of, the law. It is also reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s behavior — both in the 1920s when he helped instigate a putsch attempt against the Weimar Republic, and in the 1930s when, as chancellor, he used the pretext of the Reichstag Fire to destroy the remnants of democratic governance in Germany and to replace it with explicit dictatorship, the rule of the Führer.
Paramilitarism is when powerful, charismatic leaders, whose words, gestures, and words sway tens to millions of people, embrace paramilitarism. They then tell their followers who grab guns and throw bombs for them that they are misunderstood heroes. This sets the stage for historical disaster.
A growing number of democracy scholars, both at home and abroad, believe that. the U.S. is currently so polarizedThere is a real risk that civil unrest or even conflict will erupt around the 2024 elections because of its democratic binding principles so frayed. Trump is actively encouraging this risk. He appears to have calculated that his personal needs are best served by escalating the rage machine by pandering and encouraging his personal storm troopers. This is a dangerous and diabolical calculation in a country as armed as the U.S.
Trump isn’t just looking in the rearview mirror. He’s not simply chewing the cud about what happened in the dying days of 2020 and the opening weeks of 2021. Instead, he shows every sign of looking ahead. In his endorsements of conspiracist candidates, Trump is seeding the ground for “Stop-the-Steal” true believers to take control of state elections apparatuses in 2022, and for increasingly extreme, and anti-democratic GOP candidates to be elected to Congress and the Senate. He is laying the foundation for a 2024 presidential campaign, which he hopes will be supported by the Stop-the-Steal gang, through his accumulation of a large financial war chest. Trump is clearly signaling that he will support paramilitary groups and condone violence directed at his opponents. He is also encouraging those who have no moral and political limits to aiding his return to power.
Yes, Senator Graham, I’d say all of that is indeed “inappropriate.” But I’d also say it’s fascistic, both in the means it uses and in the ends that it seeks to secure. I’d say it’s treasonous — a personal power grab obscenely wrapped in the fluttering flags of a strongman’s deluded followers. And I’d say it’s blood-thirsty — a gambit that knowingly puts lives at risk by encouraging militias and paramilitary groups to go after those who stand in the way of their vision and their political priorities.
There can’t be a middle ground of compromise with a man like Trump. He is, now, quite explicitly waging war on the country’s constitutional system. It’s long past time to trigger Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and to banish, forever, this vicious gargoyle from public office.