A few hours later, he posted another message, which began, “IT’S TIME!!!” and asserted that White House officials are “EVIL” people who “HATE” the United States, and “WE JUST CAN’T ALLOW THIS ANYMORE. THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
It is easy to dismiss all of this as just more Trump bombast, but I urge you not to. These messages mark the real start of Trump’s presidential campaign. They hold the key to his campaign strategy. And they provide an ominous echo of his tweets urging protests in the lead-up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney and fixer who was sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations, noted that Trump could have used the adjective “peaceful” when urging his supporters to protest, “but he doesn’t want a peaceful protest.”
On Saturday afternoon, Trump supporters gathered at his Mar-a-Lago home and country club in Florida to show their support. Trump later boarded a private jet to fly from Palm Beach to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to attend a college wrestling tournament, where he held up a defiant fist and received a standing ovation.
I am not going to get into the merits of any of the three pending criminal cases against Trump, because the merits aren’t relevant to Trump’s strategy. He will use them, as he will use everything else, to help whip his supporters into a frenzy.
Most Americans believe that no one should be above the law, not even former presidents. But most Americans also believe that former presidents should not be prosecuted for their political beliefs.
So the underlying issue here is the same as it’s been since Trump lurched into American politics with his lies about Obama’s birth, and then continued to lie his way through the four scorching years of his presidency, culminating in his Big Lie and the attack on the Capitol: How much trust is left in the system? And how far can Trump get in exploiting the distrust?
Republican leaders are aware that the party’s base is fueled by distrust, so the GOP is already pouring oil on the fire. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, in a tweet, called the potential indictment “an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance,” and ordered the House to “immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions.”
Trump’s campaign will be little more than vicious, conspiratorial paranoia. A campaign that sees everyone, including judges, as out to get him and all those who support him. A campaign that divides America according to adoration or detestation of Trump.
Trump wants white working-class Americans (plus just enough of other groups to give him an Electoral College majority) to see him as being persecuted by the same forces that he wants the white working class to believe are persecuting them — Democrats, Biden, “Marxists,” “coastal elites,” the “deep state,” Muslims, immigrants, the FBI, and people of color. He presents no policies, no ideas, no goals other than to triumph over his (and therefore the white working class’s) enemies.
The genius of the American system of government has always been that citizens don’t have to agree on issues. We only have to agree to be bound by decisions that emerge from our system of government. But to accept such decisions, we must regard the views and interests of those with whom we disagree as equally worthy of consideration as our own and believe that the system is basically trustworthy.
In other words, for the system to work, there must be an adequate storehouse of social trust.
Trump’s third campaign for president is exploiting the same void that empowered his first two — America’s dwindling social trust. He has done everything possible to further deplete that storehouse. He will now do whatever he can to reduce social trust still further — to the point where he wins (or takes) the presidency of a nation literally coming apart.
We must not let him.