August 16, 2022
Trump cultists’ rabid reaction to the FBI search warrant is revealing. They don’t just see him under threat; they see themselves under threat. Columnist Paul Waldman quotes a tweet by House Judiciary Committee Republicans:
“The IRS is coming for you. The DOJ is coming for you. The FBI is coming for you. No one is safe from political punishment in Joe Biden’s America.”
But if this scares them,”They glory in it,” writes Waldman. Fancying themselves “sympathetic victims, the encircled defenders of justice, oppressed but unbowed. This fantasy of persecution is so powerful because it turns [their Trump fixation] into something dramatic, even heroic . . . You’re a freedom fighter waging war against forces of darkness to secure liberty’s future.” And every rotten thing Trump did, he did for you.
How did we get here? Waldman details how, for example, Trump promised relief for coal country’s economic collapse, but never delivered (natch). Yet still the victims latched onto him as speaking for them like no one ever had. And mainly against those Americans viewed as disdaining them, and despised by them. These feelings of cultural alienation and grievance propelled Trumpism into becoming essential to their sense of identity — to the point where he’s a Jesus-like personal savior.
They fetishize the word “freedom.” The right to own guns become a central totem of this religion. And the nonsense that Biden and Democrats are installing a Marxist tyranny, “destroying America and its liberty.”* Of course what’s really central to American freedom is democracy — which it’s Magadom that truly threatens. Yet they hallucinate that an attempted coup based on lies and fraud (like fake electors), to overthrow a legitimate election, with a violent assault on the Capitol, was somehow a defense of liberty.
The FBI’s own past was not unblemished; but it (and the DOJ) surely knew what intense blowback the search would trigger, and would not have proceeded absent very firm grounds. Trump has lied that he declassified the documents at issue; that Obama committed the same crime; and even that the FBI planted evidence. The fury-fit unleashed against the FBI feeds right-wing paranoia seeing our basic societal institutions as one big nefarious conspiracy. Trump, who’s corrupted everything he’s ever touched, has systematically blown up trust in those institutions: the news media, the intelligence services, the Supreme Court, our election systems. And now law enforcement. All just terrible for America.
Any whiff of criminality would be terrible for a candidate, in normal sane politics. Yet David Brooks thinks the FBI search may boost Trump’s 2024 chances. Whereas there’d been signs of GOP readiness to move on, now the party’s rallied around him. He is, The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist writes, “the black hole at the center of [our] politics” — indeed, his “power to warp reality is so great that enforcing the law against him may actually help wreck the republic.”
Given the firestorm at the mere evidence search, imagine if Trump, while running for president or already nominated, is actually charged with crimes and put on trial. Even without that element, his losing in 2024 would send millions of his backers into deranged fury. Can American democracy, and rule of law, survive it?
* Remember, I’m an old Goldwater conservative saying it’s nonsense.