By Robert Reich
Shortly after the 2016 election, I spoke with a Republican friend who had retired from the Senate years before. I asked him why so many Republican lawmakers remained silent in the face of Trump’s vile lies and bigotry.
After a pause, he said, “Some of his supporters are nuts, and they have guns.”
I laughed, thinking he was joking. He was dead serious. “They’re a dangerous mob, and Trump’s the mob boss,” he added.
I remember thinking he should call them out and denounce their threats of violence, as well as Trump. But I didn’t feel I had a right to ask him to put himself and his family in harm’s way.
Yet in retrospect, perhaps I was wrong. If all Republican lawmakers had denounced Trump and his supporters’ tactics right from the start, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are today.
A failure to condemn political violence when it begins invites more of it.
On January 6, 2021, Trump’s armed mob stormed the Capitol. Trump waited more than three hours before calling them off.
Trump’s threats continue to this day.
CNN recently aired audio of the kind of threats faced by Republican lawmakers who opposed Jim Jordan, Trump’s original pick for House speaker before Mike Johnson. In the audio, the caller can be heard threatening to harass an unnamed lawmaker’s wife.
Some Republican lawmakers voted against Jordan nonetheless, but we will never know how many others caved in to intimidation. Nor will we know how many ultimately voted for Mike Johnson because they were afraid not to.
Retiring Sen. Mitt Romney recounted (in McKay Coppins’s new Romney biography) that during Trump’s January 23, 2021, impeachment for incitement of insurrection, a member of the Republican Senate leadership was leaning toward voting to convict Trump. But after several other senators expressed concern about their personal safety and that of their children, the senator in question voted to acquit.
Former Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney said that in that impeachment vote, “there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives.” She cited how “members of Congress aren’t able to cast votes, or feel that they can’t, because of their own security.”
When announcing his retirement, former Republican congressman Anthony Gonzalez cited threats to him and his family after his vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment. Gonzalez was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. In September 2021, Gonzalez announced he would not seek another term.
Former Republican congressman Peter Meijer, another of the 10, stated the day after the vote that he had purchased body armor and made changes to his daily schedule due to threats against his life.
Meijer also noted that his colleagues who voted not to certify the 2020 election “knew in their heart of hearts that they should’ve voted to certify, but some had legitimate concerns about the safety of their families. They felt that that vote would put their families in danger.”
The Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate explained why he signed a letter backing Trump’s attempt to overturn the results in that state: “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ I’d get my house bombed tonight.”
Trump has been analogized to the leader of a cult. A better analogy would be a mob boss.
The lackeys of mob bosses commit crimes on their behalf so the bosses aren’t held responsible.
Last week, on his first day of testimony in the case underway in Manhattan accusing Trump of civil fraud, Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, recounted committing crimes on the former president’s behalf.
Three of Trump’s lawyers in the Georgia criminal case against him have already pleaded guilty to racketeering charges — that is, committing the crimes on Trump’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to hurl invective against judges, prosecutors, and prospective witnesses in his pending criminal trials — gag orders notwithstanding.
In seeking such gag orders, prosecutors have shown a pattern of death threats following Trump’s outbursts.
For example, on August 4, Trump posted, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” The following day, a Texas woman left a voicemail for Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the election conspiracy case against Trump, threatening that “If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you.”
The next day, a man left a voicemail threatening the lives of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Sheriff Patrick Labat for their roles in the Georgia criminal election interference case against Trump.
Threats and intimidation are hallmarks of mob bosses.
Mob rule is incompatible with democracy.
Rep. Liz Cheney warned a few weeks ago that if Trump is reelected, “all of the things he attempted to do but was stopped from doing by responsible people around him … he will do. There will be no guardrails … . He will unravel the institutions of our democracy.”
This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack