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.

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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

John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, 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, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, and a contributing editor for Religion Dispatches.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

10 Comments

  1. Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    For every action there’s a reaction, right? What should be the people’s reaction? Think Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Many died but the leader eventually fled the country in the middle of the night on a helicopter to Russia.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      I think the Republicans gravely underestimate how pissed Americans are right now.

      • Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

        Do you think it’s remotely possible that Republicans dump Trump before November, accept their losses, and shift their focus to 2024?

        • Burgs on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

          Never.

          • Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            😳



          • Burgs on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            As bad as their outlook likely is with him, it’s probably a lot worse without him.



          • Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            The hubris of these Republicans is beyond the pale. If voters would just vote enough of them out of the Senate so we can establish a majority then perhaps progress may begin. It’s only June 2nd. God help us!



        • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

          Not remotely, not by a few light years.

          • Chris on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

            Boggles my mind how elections in this country are even close. So many millions of voters always voting against their self interests based on Fox, fear, and racism. Sad.



    • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      Absolutely. The GOP elite and those around them truly believe that they can grind people to dust. Since they are dismissive of those outside their political world, they don’t have a clear sense of just how enraged people are getting.

      Many people are familiar with Machiavelli’s admonition to a ruler that it is better to be feared than loved. But what is far less known is his other advice to avoid being hated and despised as a result of being too despotic. The white hot rage many people are feeling is one reason why people are defying the curfews. I think more and more people are unwilling to back down no matter what. May the GOP reap the whirlwind…..

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