Every day, Donald Trump becomes more his horrible true self. He commands the loyalty of tens of millions of people. He does not even pretend to be a statesman who loves America. He is a political cult leader, a sociopath and a model of antisocial and dangerous behavior. As psychologists and other public health experts have warned, Trump has "infected" many of his most loyal followers with the same mental pathologies.
Trump has an erotic attachment to violence, as do many of his followers. They are tied together by the Big Lie and other sadistic, and anti-human fictions. TrumpWorld is a malignant and vile alternate universe — one that longs to devour and consume the world as it actually exists.
Nearly every day we learn more evidence about Donald Trump and his cabal's attempted coup. In the face of the Justice Department's flaccid approach to those crimes (at least to this point), Trump and his agents continue to attack American democracy, the rule of law and the Constitution, now in plain sight.
Last Saturday at a rally in Conroe, Texas, Trump communicated his clear intent to cause mass mayhem and destruction in the United States — in essence, his willingness to burn it all down — should he ever face punishment for the crimes he committed as president.
Trump told his followers: "If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington. D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt."
He repeatedly described the prosecutors investigating him in New York, Washington and Atlanta as "racist." (All four are Black.) He also attacked them as being "mentally sick" and said they were committing "prosecutorial misconduct at the highest level."
Trump also told the crowd in Conroe that "in 2024, we are going to take back that beautiful, beautiful house that happens to be white, that is so magnificent and that we all love. We are going to take back the White House." All these remarks were read off a teleprompter, rather than improvised.
Trump is a master performer who knows his audience very well. In no way were they uncomfortable with his white supremacist invective and implicit invitations to violence. They applauded. This should not be surprising: Public opinion research has repeatedly shown that Trump's voters are motivated by a sense of white victimology and racial grievance politics, and by a belief that white people like them should remain dominant in our increasingly diverse country.
During his Conroe speech, Trump acted as a political crime boss and dictator in waiting, promising (preemptive) pardons for his followers who engage in political violence and other criminal or terrorist acts on his behalf.
"If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly," he said. "We will treat them fairly. … And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons. Because they are being treated so unfairly."
This fits into a larger pattern. At his rally in Arizona several weeks earlier, Trump made false claims about the pandemic and health care that were framed in explicitly racial terms:
The left is now rationing lifesaving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating — just, denigrating — white people to determine who lives and who dies. If you're white you don't get the vaccine, or if you're white you don't get therapeutics. It's unbelievable to think this. And nobody wants this. Black people don't want it, white people don't want it, nobody wants it. ... In New York state, if you're white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical health — think of it, if you're white you go right to the back of the line. ... This race-based medicine is not only anti-American, it's government tyranny in the truest sense of the word.
Trump's statements are more than stochastic terrorism or other implied threats. These are direct instructions to his followers about who their enemies are. Trump has recently focused his attention on Black people, even more than usual. At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch suggests that we should "drill down on arguably the most important and alarming word in Trump's statement: racist":
At first blush, it seems to come out of left field, in the sense of what could be racist about looking into a white man's role in an attempted coup or his cooked financial books? Except that it happens that three of the key prosecutors investigating Trump — the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and new Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg — as well as the chair of the House committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, are all Black.
Thus, it's both alarming and yet utterly predictable that Trump would toss the gasoline of racial allegations onto his flaming pile of grievances, knowing how that will play with the Confederate flag aficionados within the ex-president's cult. In tying skin color into his call for mobs in Atlanta or New York, Trump is seeking to start a race war — no different, really, from Dylann Roof. Roof used a .45-caliber Glock handgun, while Trump uses a podium and the services of fawning right-wing cable-TV networks. Sadly, the latter method could prove more effective.
Trump's threats against Willis and James carry particular resonance at this moment, given that President Biden has announced his historic intention to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Donald Trump is an entrepreneur of racial and ethnic violence. In that sense, he is not dissimilar to leaders in places like Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, who used fear, lies, stereotypes and other dehumanizing and eliminationist rhetoric and threats of violence to encourage ethnic genocide. Trump has made it clear that he wants a "race war", where black and brown people are targeted for widescale violence by white people. There may be thousands, or tens of thousands (or even more) of white people willing to follow his orders. The danger is extreme.
The thousands of Trump's followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, represent a deeper and broader group in American society who are becoming more radicalized and less restrained. While some of Trump's attack force may face incarceration, many have not been deterred in the least, and are only becoming more resolute and determined.
Fascist intimidation and threats of violence are being normalized across American society. Right-wing paramilitaries and street thugs are attempting to claim public space through marches, "protests" and other actions designed to signal their growing power and influence — and, most importantly, to intimidate those Americans who believe in pluralism and democracy.
Trump's fantasies of race war are only one part of a larger strategy aimed at turning America into a 21st-century apartheid state. Republicans intend to make it almost impossible for a Democratic candidate to win the presidential election — and many state and local elections as well. They are using the moral panic around "critical race theory" and other culture-war issues to impose an Orwellian reshaping of America's schools, where it will be illegal to tell the truth about American history or to discuss subject matter deemed to be "unpatriotic" or somehow "uncomfortable" for white people.
In Florida and other states, Republicans are using state authority and resources to silence dissent and protest. This includes laws that encourage right-wing vigilante violence, and the creation of "election police" intended to intimidate and harass Black and brown people as well as liberals, progressives and other "enemies" of "real America".
What should the American people do? Who is going to save democracy? Not the Department of Justice. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has limited powers to hold Trump and his cabal responsible. The Democratic Party has repeatedly shown that it lacks even a basic understanding of how to explain or address the existential dangers posed by Trump and the Republican fascists.
The mainstream media has continued to fail in its primary task as guardians of democracy. Instead of clearly, consistently and forcefully telling the truth about Donald Trump and the neofascist movement, the news media remains addicted to horserace journalism, "both-sides-ism" and other forms of false equivalency.
Writing at Media Matters, Eric Kleefeld summarized these failures:
Mainstream media outlets should be treating all of this as a five-alarm fire for American democracy and the U.S. Constitution. But instead, Politico's Playbook on Sunday pondered how Trump's declarations might affect Republican messaging and prospects for the midterm election….
The New York Times positioned Trump's comments in terms of supposed Republican infighting and messaging: "The statement signifies an increase in the intensity of the former president's push to litigate the 2020 election and comes days after Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, issued a public warning to Republican candidates to 'respect the results of our democratic process' during an interview with CNN." (The alleged conflict among Republicans is also exaggerated by mainstream media outlets.)
The Washington Post ran a piece Sunday evening, titled "Trump's Texas trip illustrates his upsides and downsides for Republicans and their midterm hopes." Immediately after the paragraph detailing Trump's offer of pardons to January 6 rioters, along with his incitement of new demonstrations against district attorneys, the article proceeded to discuss what this might mean for Republican candidates in primary and general elections ...
And in a separate but also consequential example of missing the real message, The Associated Press said that Trump's "offer represents an attempt by Trump to further minimize the most significant attack on the seat of government since the War of 1812."
Trump didn't just "minimize" what happened, he is actively trying to seed more of it.
Pro-democracy Americans will need to organize across society with the goal of pressuring the Democratic Party, major corporations and other elites into pushing back forcefully against the Republican fascist movement's attacks on American democracy and freedom. Pro-democracy Americans will also need to organize on the local level to resist, survive and defeat the rising fascist tide.
In the end, it will be the American people, through direct action and mass mobilization — strikes, boycotts, direct action and other types of corporeal politics — who must save American democracy.
On his eponymous TV show, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Fred Rogers told children (and the many adults who were watching as well) that if they were in trouble they should "look for the helpers." America needs Fred Rogers' wisdom now. The helpers are our neighbors and other members of the community who are willing to struggle and suffer to protect America's multiracial democracy and to create a more humane society. The helpers are those who have been sounding the alarm, sometimes at great personal risk, about the dangers of Trump's regime. But in the end we are adults, not children. The most essential helpers are looking back at us in the mirror.