June 2, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
It’s Clear Now That for Donald Trump, Political Power Grows Out of the Barrel of a Gun
This is what you'd expect from a president acquitted of treason.
As I’m writing these words, the United States Senate is busy doing what it’s been doing for the most part since Donald Trump took office nearly four years: confirming federal judges. Despite everything going on—a pandemic killing tens of thousands, an economy nearing collapse, police officers rioting in the streets—despite a republic on the edge, the Senate Republicans have continued mass-producing judges in order to enshrine minority rule in this country and establish a 21st-century apartheid state.
Trump signaled to his followers—white citizens willing to use illegitimate violence as well as white cops willing to use legitimate violence—that all violence is worthy, and pardonable, when put in the service of his name.
This is important to point out after the president threatened last night to use the US military to crush public protest of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop. This is important to point out after Trump signaled to his followers—white citizens willing to use illegitimate violence as well as white cops willing to use legitimate violence—that all violence is worthy, and pardonable, when put in the service of his name. Pointing out the mass-production of jurists is important, because totalitarianism didn’t arrive last night, as some seem to think. Fascism and its variants have always been with us, but they have been growing in strength since at least 2000 when one branch of the government invaded another in order to advance a “constitutional revolution.”
The difference between pre- and post-Trump authoritarianism, however, is the difference between lawfulness and lawlessness. The Republicans were always careful about appearing lawful before 2016, but they have since abandoned all pretense in a bid to hasten their jurisprudential project, with Lindsey Graham even urging publicly that retiring judges hurry up before the electorate catches on to what’s happening. The Republicans know in their bones they can’t win playing by the rules, so they must rig the rules in their favor with assistance from friendly jurists. This is so important, the Senate Republicans were not only willing to overlook Trump’s treason; they helped him cover it up, and, in the process, made the president the embodiment of the state.
Don’t forget the tip jar!
It hardly needs saying that when a president becomes the embodiment of the state, he is above the law, or more precisely, he is the law itself—which is, or should be, an abomination in the eyes of Americans privileging the rule of law above all other forms of rule. Ignoring a pandemic that has killed 107,000 people so far and threatening to occupy US cities as if their inhabitants were enemy combatants are precisely what you’d expect from president helped into office by a Russian autocrat and acquitted of treason by a political party tightening its grip on power. Indeed, the Republicans are getting a twofer. For their friends, there’s anything. For their enemies, there’s the law.
Make no mistake: it is illegal and unconstitutional for any president to use military power domestically. But being illegal and unconstitutional does not and will not stop a president who has become the embodiment of the state. Do not presume military occupation of, say, Minneapolis cannot happen. It can happen as quickly as Trump’s order to teargas peaceful protesters in Washington to make way for a photo op. Even if the president does not take such action, however, there are other ways of achieving his objectives. If nothing else, the Floyd protests have revealed, for all Americans to see, that Trump is, ideologically, a Maoist in capitalist form. For him, political power does not grow from the will of the American people. It grows out of the barrel of a gun.
If nothing else, the Floyd protests have revealed, for all Americans to see, that Trump is, ideologically, a Maoist.
Understand what you are seeing when you see police rioting. It is a system of monopolized violence whose adherents, though not all of them, will not be held accountable for their actions, because they believe accountability is a violation of their natural right to exercise power without legal restraint. What you are seeing when you see police rioting is a real-time expression of what people inhabiting a nation within a nation believe about people outside that nation. They, the real Americans, are chosen by God to rule in God’s name. Morality, for everyone else, means submission. If you refuse to submit, you get what’s coming to you, even if that includes your murder.
The president understands the psychology of the confederate nation within a nation perhaps better than anyone, and he understands, too, the natural kinship between some white cops and white vigilantes, who together constitute a covert and lethal force for maintaining order in or outside the purview of the law. Even if the US military never occupies Minneapolis, the president still has a network of legitimate and illegitimate actors itching for a reason to shoot. Axios reported last night that Trump went full law-and-order. No, it’s the opposite. Trump went full lawlessness and order.
John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the
, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good. He's a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Wesleyan University, a fellow at the
Yale Journalism Initiative
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.