June 4, 2024 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

A vengeful man doesn’t care about solving our problems

On Trump’s post-conviction interview on “Fox & Friends.”

Courtesy of Fox, via screenshot.
Courtesy of Fox, via screenshot.

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Fox & Friends” is a soft television news program for American rightwingers or, more generally, for anyone who stands against universal democratic equality. It used to be dedicated to the assertion that liberals and Democrats are treasonous criminals. Recently, however, it shifted its focus. It’s now dedicated to the task of giving rightwingers “reasons” to overlook the fact that the Republican Party’s nominee is a treasonous criminal.

The nominee in question was on the show last weekend. Here are some highlights of Donald Trump’s remarks that are worth commenting on.

Leader of a ‘confederacy’

“They don’t want to be indicted by these scoundrels, who are much more evil than people … I’m telling you, China and Russia, they’re not the problem. We have a problem from within that’s really bad.”

“They” are Trump followers who might react violently and otherwise criminally, as they did during the J6 insurrection, if Trump were jailed after being convicted on 34 counts of business fraud in a conspiracy to illegally influence the outcome of the 2016 election. “These scoundrels” are evidently Democrats and other covert members of “the deep state,” who are allegedly weaponizing law enforcement and the rule of law against him to prevent him from returning to the White House. 

Here’s what I want to say. This is the closest I have seen Trump come to saying that he is the leader of a confederacy of the mind and spirit that’s a real country in all but name, that’s located inside the United States and that works with the enemies of the United States against it. 

Of course, these are my words. I’m putting the various pieces together. It’s clear, however, that to Trump, China and Russia are not enemies but allies or at least potential allies. He and his followers have more in common with these enemies than they do with their fellow Americans, because their fellow Americans are not, according to the people who inhabit this confederacy of the mind and spirit, “real Americans.”

“Real Americans” are the makers. “These scoundrels” are the takers, the enemies within, the parasites. They are feasting on the body of the host country. They are as foreign to the confederates as Russia and China are, but the difference is that China and Russia hate whom they hate, which is anyone who stands with universal democratic equality. 

The “emergency” is such that business-as-usual, including expected commitments to defending and protecting the US Constitution, must be set aside to deal with it. Problems are not problems demanding democratic solutions. They are instead opportunities to seize enough power to eliminate the parasites before they kill the “real America.”

Openly open to crimes in his name

“I don’t know that the public would stand for it,” Donald Trump said. “I’m not sure the public would stand for it. I think it would be tough for the public to take. At a certain point, there’s a breaking point.” 

The “it” here is prison time for Trump, whether it’s time in actual prison or what’s more likely, some kind of house arrest – that is, if he serves any time at all. “The public” here is not the public, but instead Trump’s followers. “Stand it” and “it would be tough” are euphemisms for political violence or the potential for political violence. “Breaking point” is, obviously, the point at which political violence breaks out. 

Here’s what I want to say. Before he was found guilty of 34 felonies, it was possible – possible! – to hear him talk like this and not hear his openness to violence. After all, he didn’t literally encourage it. He danced around it enough to deny accusations of encouraging it. And until now, his character deflected such accusations, or in any case, the myth of his character did. Trump is said to be a powerful businessman. What business would a powerful businessman have with criminals?

It’s not possible anymore, or shouldn’t be. It now makes sense that a convicted criminal would pal around with criminals, especially if those criminals helped him achieve his goals, in this case the intimidation of the judge (and judges generally), who might sentence him to prison.

His conviction should permanently burst the myth of Trump as a powerful businessman who has no need for people willing to step outside the law to help him. Indeed, his crimes were business crimes. He used the Trump Organization as a slush fund to conceal crimes. 

A truly powerful businessman and former president would condemn all crimes, all potential crimes, all potential criminals. He would fear the social cost of associating with any of that, to his business and to his status as a powerful businessman. Trump has no such fear, however, and in the absence of such fear, this convicted criminal is capable of appearing to be open to criminals committing crimes in his name.

A vengeful man cares about one thing

Trump said: “It’s a really tough question, because these are bad people. … It’s a very interesting question, because, and I say it, and it sounds beautiful, my revenge will be success, and I mean that, but it’s awfully hard when you see what they’ve done. These people are so evil.”

The question was whether Trump would, after returning to the White House and taking control of the administration of federal law, seek revenge on his enemies for convicting him. It’s “interesting” because there seem to be two choices. One is the high road. America’s success will be his revenge. The other is the low road. He’ll seek his revenge, perhaps by arresting, prosecuting and jailing people who are “so evil.” 

Here’s what I want to say. There is no high road. We all know this. If there were such a thing, Donald Trump would fear the social cost of being open to, even appearing to be open to, criminal acts. He would fear the price that he would have to pay for violating a highly visible American taboo. He has no such fear, however. Therefore, this criminal is openly open to criminals committing crimes in his name. 

The rightwing media apparatus would like us to believe there is a high road. “Fox and friends” seemed to hope he’d go down it. (The hosts seemed to hope he’d choose “success for America,” not revenge.) The New York Post said Trump’s revenge is coming in the form of millions in dollars in donations by supporters who are big mad about his felony conviction. Its Saturday coverline: “Revenge: a dish best served gold.”

But now that he’s a criminal former president, not just a former president, the Washington press corps seems unwilling to play along. The AP ran this headline over the weekend: “Republicans join Trump’s attacks on justice system and campaign of vengeance after guilty verdict.” The Post ran this headline this morning: “Republicans seek revenge for Trump conviction in hush money case.” Revenge has been in the air since the first indictment, but now the air is smoggy with it.

If the press corps continues to assume that he’s out for revenge, rather than continuing to play along with his dancing around the idea, Trump is in trouble. He won’t control the story. It will control him. Revenge might juice up his supporters, but it won’t expand his base. To do that, and to win, he needs to offer people solutions to problems. He needs to sell a vision of “success for America.” But a vengeful man doesn’t care about solving America’s problems. All he cares about is revenge. 

If he were smart, Trump would tell all those Republicans, who are enthusiastic about revenge, to cool it. He would sandbag them the way he sandbags antiabortionists, whose positions are so unpopular they threaten his standing among swing voters. But he can’t do that, I suspect because he doesn’t want to. He actually believes what he says about his perceived enemies – that they are evil. After all, they want to jail him, which, if it happened, would be tantamount to assassinating him, as it would be a form of narcissistic injury he could not overcome.

Even if he doesn’t really believe it, the story may be out of his control now. Maybe he knows it. Perhaps that’s why he came closer than he ever has to admitting that he’s the leader of a confederacy of the mind and spirit, a country that’s real in all but name, that’s inside the United States and that works with the enemies of the United States against it.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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