August 16, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump trades places with his enemies

To him, the FBI search was an end to itself.


Share this article

Cut the crap. There’s absolutely no question that the former president has been issuing threats since last week when federal agents searched his Florida home for secret government documents. 

There’s no question that the Republicans have joined the effort with lightning-bolt rhetoric that makes political violence seem like a legitimate option after running out of all other legitimate options.

There’s no question that this rhetorical bile and grume is being swallowed whole by subterranean paramilitaries who are heavily armed thanks to Republicans gun policy and who have been prepared to accelerate an insurgency that’s been underway for many years.   

This link between violence and democracy suggests the end is coming, though when and how precisely I have no idea. Trump and his followers believe they have run out of options, but once they commit to violence that belief becomes a fact. And facts stick.

The only question, to my way of thinking anyway, is whether respectable white people understand that the Republicans manufacture violence rather than preserve peace, as the party has claimed for years. Put a bit differently: Who do respectable white people fear more? White seditionaries or nonwhite democrats.

“People are so angry at what is taking place,” Trump told Fox on Monday, as if he were merely a concerned citizen. “Whatever we can do to help — because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen.”

Again, cut the crap. We know who he is.

Let’s not pretend we don’t. 

And let’s not pretend that political violence is working.

Trump crossed the line
Respectable white people are white people who care about their appearance of respectability – their social status – among other white people who also care about their ranking in society. Their opinions are key to GOP success in the midterms and any election. A turn toward violence by the Republicans risks pushing them away. 

And once they turn, there’s no going back.

Respectable white people can tolerate pretty much anything on account of white power shielding them from the consequences of fascist politics. Even the hostile takeover of the US government might have been tolerable had it been bloodless, orderly and legal. 

Sure, a bloodless, orderly and legal would have been contrary to democratic values. But for respectable white people, a lawful peace is more important than that, as a lawful peace is the preservation of a status quo that serves the interests of respectable white people.

Trump’s gambit has always been getting as many people as possible to believe that anything associated with the federal government, as well as the federal government itself, is so saturated with graft and corruption that anything’s permissible. What’s wrong with taking home a few “nuclear documents” if everyone else is doing it, too?

Selling government secrets, as treasonable as it is, might have been tolerable among the respectable white people. As long as the status quo remains established, selling government secrets could be respectably ignored, thus treated as just more partisan politics. 

Trump, however, crossed a line. 

There’s no going back
Respectable white people may think “government” is irredeemably corrupt. But such crass cynicism does not apply to law enforcement. As terrible as police can be, respectable white people will never shake off their basic faith in the institutions of police power.

The day after the FBI searched Trump’s home, an Ohio man attacked a federal facility in Cincinnati with an AR-15. (He fled and was later killed by police.) The federal magistrate who signed off on the search warrant has been threatened with death. (His synagogue had to shut down temporarily.) The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security later issued a bulletin warning of an “unprecedented” volume of threats “against federal law enforcement, courts and government personnel and facilities,” according to CNN.

By attacking not only the FBI but all “federal law enforcement, courts and government personnel and facilities,” according to CNN, Trump and the Republicans threaten the institutions of law enforcement that were erected to preserve America’s original racial order. By threatening “law and order,” they’re threatening white power itself.

Post columnist Catherine Rampell was correct when she said last week that the Republicans, by attacking law enforcement, even doxxing individual agents, are no longer the party of “law and order.”

But let’s be clear. 

“Law and order” was code for the preservation of America’s original racial order, which serves respectable white people. By attacking law enforcement, by attacking the interests that the rule of law protects, the Republicans are no longer the party of respectable white people.

And there’s no going back.

Facts stick
To normal people, the search of a former president’s home may have been shocking, but it’s understood that the search was not an end. It is the beginning of a legal process that may or may not end with an indictment. Indeed, the odds of indictment are still rather slim.

But to Trump and the Republicans, the search was an end itself. 

It was what Trump and his advisers wanted when trying to deny the democratic will and keep Trump in the White House. Just say the election was corrupt, Trump told senior officials in the Justice Department, and leave the rest of me and the House Republicans.

Ditto for Ukraine. Just say Biden is corrupt. Leave the rest to me. Ditto for 2016. Just say Hillary’s corrupt. Leave the rest to me. 

In Clinton’s case, former FBI Director James Comey didn’t just say Hillary Clinton was reckless with government documents. He launched an investigation. Trump and his aides interpreted that as proof of guilt. With Russian allies, they killed off her candidacy.

So when the FBI searched Trump’s home, he found himself where his enemies had been. Knowing that smears work, Trump naturally turned to violence. The closer law enforcement gets to him, the more desperate he’ll become. The more desperate he becomes, the more blood there will be. Violence, just as it was in the waning days of his presidency, is his final option. Democracy has nothing to offer him.

This link between violence and democracy suggests that the end is coming, though when and how precisely I have no idea. Trump and his followers believe they have no choice but to act violently but once they commit to violence that belief becomes a fact. And facts stick.

It’s unusual – well, it’s never happened – for a former president to find himself at odds with a lawful peace, a status quo preserving the original racial order and the interests of respectable white people. 

The only question is when they finally see it.

When they do, it’s over.

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

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.