By Robert Reich
One week after a team of F.B.I. agents descended on his private club and residence in Florida, Trump warned that things could get out of hand if the Justice Department kept the heat on him. “People are so angry at what is taking place,” Trump told Fox News, predicting that if the “temperature” isn’t brought down, “terrible things are going to happen.”
But Trump and his allies are doing all they can to increase the temperature. Last Sunday, one of Trump’s closest allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, warned of “riots in the streets” if Trump is prosecuted.
On Tuesday, Trump spent much of the morning reposting messages from known purveyors of the QAnon conspiracy theory and from 4chan, an anonymous message platform where threats of violence often bloom. Some of Trump’s reposts were direct provocations, such as a photograph of President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi with their faces obscured by the words, “Your enemy is not in Russia.”
Online threats are escalating against public servants. Bruce E. Reinhart, the federal magistrate judge who approved the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, has been targeted with messages threatening him and his family.
How to respond to this lawlessness? With bold and unwavering law enforcement.
If Trump has broken the law – by attempting a coup, by instigating an assault on the U.S. Capitol, by making off with troves of top-secret documents — he must be prosecuted, and if found guilty he must be imprisoned.
Yes, such prosecutions might increase tensions and divisions in the short term. They might provoke additional violence.
But a failure to uphold the laws of the United States would be far more damaging in the longer term. It would undermine our system of government and the credibility of that system — more directly and irreparably than Trump has done.
Not holding a former president accountable for gross acts of criminality will invite ever more criminality from future presidents and lawmakers.
It is also important for all those in public life who believe in democracy to call out what the Republican Party is doing and what it has become: not just its embrace of Trump’s Big Lie but its moves toward voter suppression, takeovers of the machinery of elections, ending of reproductive rights, book bans, restrictions on what can be taught in classrooms, racism, and assaults on LGBTQ people.
Last week, Biden condemned “ultra-MAGA Republicans” for a philosophy he described as “semi-fascism.” Today he will deliver a rare prime-time speech outside the old Independence Hall where the Framers of the Constitution met 235 years ago to establish the basic rules of our democratic form of government. The speech is will focus on what the White House describes as the “battle for the soul of the nation” – the fight to protect that democracy.
President Biden’s earlier conciliatory tone and talk of uniting Americans and “healing” the nation from the ravages of Trump has obviously not worked on most of the Republican Party. With the notable and noble exceptions of Liz Cheney and a few other courageous Republicans — most of whom have been or are being purged from the GOP — the Republican Party is rapidly morphing into an anti-democracy movement. With each passing week, it becomes more rabid in its opposition to the rule of law. Republican lawmakers who took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution are repudiating it in word and deed. Republican candidates are lying about the 2020 election and whipping up our fellow countrymen into angry mobs. And as Republican lawmakers and candidates exchange their political integrity for power, Fox News and other rightwing outlets continue to exchange their journalistic integrity for money.
The essential political choice in America, therefore, is no longer Republican or Democrat, right or left, conservative or liberal. It is democracy or authoritarian fascism. There can be no compromise between these two — no halfway point, no “moderate middle,” no “balance.” To come down squarely on the side of democracy is not to be “partisan.” It is to be patriotic.
As Adam Wilkins suggested on this page yesterday, while today’s Republican party does not have its own paramilitary, such as the Nazi’s Brownshirts, the GOP is effectively outsourcing these activities to violent fringe groups such as the “Proud Boys,” “Oathkeepers,” and others who descended on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and who continue to threaten violence.
Yet Democrats cannot and must not take on this battle alone. They must seek common ground with Independents and whatever reasonable Republicans remain. As Eric T noted on this page, we must continue to appeal to truth, facts, logic, and common sense. We must be unwavering in our commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law. We must be clear and courageous in exposing the authoritarian fascist direction the Republican Party has now chosen, and the dangers this poses to America and the world.
It is also important for Democrats to recognize — and to take bold action against — the threat to democracy posed by big money from large corporations and the super-wealthy: record amounts of campaign funding inundating and distorting our politics, serving the moneyed interests rather than the common good.
Indeed, the two threats – one, from an increasingly authoritarian-fascist Republican Party; the second, from ever-larger amounts of corporate and billionaire money in our campaigns and elections – are two sides of the same coin. Americans who know the system is rigged against them and in favor of the moneyed interests, are more likely to give up on democracy and embrace an authoritarian fascist demagogue who pretends to be on “their side.”
The battle to preserve and protect American democracy is the most important battle of our lifetimes. If we win, there is nothing we cannot achieve. If we lose, there is nothing we can achieve.