As the Vise Tightens
The violent incitements by Trump are intensifying as his legal troubles mount. This cannot go on endlessly.
In a sane world, we wouldn’t be dealing with an ex-president facing 91 felony charges and four indictments. In a sane world, that criminal defendant would not still be mouthing off and inciting violence with increasing intensity. In a sane world, there would be no question such an individual does not belong anywhere near the levers of power ever again.
But here we are, looking down the barrel of rising political violence, urged on a daily basis by Donald J. Trump and supported by tens of millions of aggrieved Republicans, persuaded that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Never mind 60-plus court cases confirming no evidence of fraud. Never mind the visual evidence from Jan. 6, 2021, making clear what this lie can yield. Never mind the sentencing of the Proud Boys’ former leader Enrique Tarrio on Wednesday—22 years, the longest penalty to date—that may help stem large-scale, violent protests, but won’t stop more stochastic terrorism.
As the vise tightens—as the indictments in four different jurisdictions accelerate toward trials, the legal pressures mount and co-defendants begin flipping to avoid prison—we can further expect that the mob boss will continue to threaten judges, prosecutors, co-defendants and other witnesses. We can already see how this creates a climate of fear for prospective jurors.
Just this week, he told broadcaster Glenn Beck he would have “no choice” but to lock up political opponents “because they’re doing it to us.” This followed his comments in March when he swore to a Conservative Political Action Conference crowd that 2024 will be the “final battle” for America and “for those who feel wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.” Using his insidious practice of asking a question to make clear his answer, there was this post about how he would exploit a second term to indict and jail opponents: “Am I allowed to do such a horrible and unconstitutional thing if, and when, I win the Presidency? We are entering really dangerous territory.”
Of course, there was the usual, yet increasingly fevered mania this week directed at Special Counsel Jack Smith—in which Trump called the prosecutor “deranged” with “unchecked and insane aggression.” Previously, he decried U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan as “very biased and unfair,” adding in a post, “She obviously wants me behind bars.” All this despite the judge’s explicit warnings last month that the criminal defendant’s right of free speech is “not absolute” and that she would maintain “normal order.”
This escalation has motivated Smith and his team to file a motion Tuesday opposing Trump’s lawyers’ efforts to slow down the case by providing them two weeks to respond to the unsealing of any sensitive materials. “Such a requirement would grind litigation in this case to a halt,” they wrote, “which is particularly infeasible given the pressing matters before the Court—including the defendant's daily extrajudicial statements that threaten to prejudice the jury pool in this case.”
Yet, so far, despite Chutkan’s insistence that she would treat Trump like any other criminal defendant, we have no expedited trial date or gag order, and the defendant has not been taken into custody. Is there any doubt that this continued reluctance only intensifies Trump’s belief that the law does not apply to him and that he can continue to say whatever he wants, particularly rhetoric that incites violence? Is there any doubt, in lieu of a more serious judicial response, his behavior will become increasingly chaotic and extreme?
Add to the violent mix enablers like Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, Baptist minister and “Christian” broadcaster. On Wednesday, he said on his TBN show that if Trump loses in 2024 because of his legal battles, it would be the last election “decided by ballots rather than bullets.” Do we really need more examples of how far the Republicans have fallen in their determination to back their cult leader?
Any normal human would struggle to get out of bed on a day like Trump had on Wednesday. In the Mar-a-Lago documents case, one indicted witness who allegedly knows Trump sought to delete security camera footage made a deal to cooperate; Trump attorney Evan Corcoran’s voice memos make clear that his client knowingly hid documents in his Florida club. Trump’s attempt to delay the $250 million Oct. 2 fraud trial involving the Trump Organization was denied. And in the writer E. Jean Carroll’s second case, concerning her accusations of rape, Judge Lewis Kaplan held Trump liable again for defaming her—deciding that the January trial will only focus on how much Carroll is owed.
We are dealing with a man who has convinced himself that not only does winning the presidency provide him immunity, so does the act of running. He has convinced himself and conned his followers into believing the application of law is political persecution; at the same time, his successful fundraising off his mugshot and his focus on “unfair” prosecutions has too many Democrats worried about praising the indictments.
But here’s the thing. As I noted in March, Trump enablers and other chaos agents were banking on fear and outrage to strengthen their hand and scare Democrats over the political risks of holding candidate Trump accountable:
Either there’s rule of law or there’s not. Either we are defined by a system of justice that holds the guilty accountable or we aren’t. Either we have a democracy that limits the use of violence to define our public life and the rights of our citizens or we have a country devolving into authoritarianism in which a strongman leader can employ fear and intimidation to get and keep power.
A speedy trial is coming next month in Georgia for lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, two of Trump’s 18 co-defendants. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis insisted this week that she wants to try all the other defendants at the same time, noting that every trial would require testimony from some 150 witnesses and take four months.
Since this trial and any that follow will be televised, we can be sure that the RICO ringleader will be unable and unwilling to keep his mouth shut. Just like Judge Chutkan, there are signs that DA Willis is not about to ignore this, especially as the Russians have already employed their cyber skills to put her, members of her staff and 23 grand jurors in increasing danger by posting their private information online (aka “doxing”). On Wednesday, she asked Judge Scott McAfee to “restrict the dissemination of jurors’ identities by any Defendant, members of the press, or any other person during the pendency of this trial.”
In a sane world, neither the Russians nor a criminally charged ex-president of the United States would be in a position to endanger the lives of Americans performing this most fundamental task of citizenship. But, so far, no one has been willing to employ the power of the judicial system to stem the violent incitements and the danger they are to the process of justice and democracy.
That must change. Either there’s rule of law or there isn’t.
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