By Robert Reich
The former president of the United States, now running for reelection, assails “the ‘Thugs’ from the Department of Injustice,” calls Special Counsel Jack Smith a “deranged lunatic,” and casts his prosecutions and his bid for the White House as parts of a “final battle” for America.
In a Saturday speech to the Georgia GOP, Trump characterized the entire American justice system as deployed to prevent him from winning the 2024 election. “These people don’t stop and they’re bad and we have to get rid of them. These criminals cannot be rewarded. They must be defeated.”
Trump is demanding once again that Americans choose sides. But in his deranged mind, this “final battle” is not just against his normal cast of ill-defined villains — Democrats, communists, socialists, Marxists, the “Deep State,” the FBI, and any Republican politician who dares cross him.
It is between those who glorify him and those who detest him.
It will be a final battle over … himself.
“SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!” he told his followers Friday night in a Truth Social post, referring to his Tuesday arraignment.
It was a chilling reminder of his December 19, 2020, tweet, “Be there, will be wild!” — which inspired extremist groups to disrupt the January 6 electoral vote certification. Calls are already circulating online for a gathering outside the federal courthouse in downtown Miami.
At the Georgia Republican Party convention on Friday night, Arizona Republican Kari Lake — who will go to Miami to “support” Trump — suggested violence. “If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me,” Lake exclaimed to roaring cheers and a standing ovation. “Most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA,” the National Rifle Association gun lobby. “That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”
Most Republicans in Congress are again siding with Trump rather than standing for the rule of law. A few are openly fomenting violence. Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins tweeted, “This is a perimeter probe from the oppressors. Hold. rPOTUS [a reference to the real president of the United States] has this. Buckle up. 1/50K know your bridges. Rock steady calm. That is all,” suggesting guerilla warfare.
Most other prominent Republicans — even those seeking the Republican presidential nomination — are criticizing President Biden, Merrick Garland, and Special Counsel Jack Smith for “weaponizing” the Justice Department.
All this advances Trump’s goal of forcing Americans to choose sides over him.
Violence is possible, but there will be no civil war.
Nations don’t go to war over whether they like or hate specific leaders. They go to war over the ideologies, religions, racism, social classes, and/or economic policies these leaders represent.
But Trump represents nothing other than his own grievance with a system that refused him a second term and is now beginning to hold him accountable for violating the law.
In addition, the guardrails that protected American democracy after the 2020 election — the courts, state election officials, military, and Justice Department — are stronger than before Trump tested them the first time.
Many of those who stormed the Capitol have been tried and convicted. Election-denying candidates were largely defeated in the 2022 midterms. The courts have adamantly backed federal prosecutors.
Third, Trump’s advocates are having difficulty defending the charges in the unsealed indictment — that Trump threatened America’s security by illegally holding (and in some cases sharing) documents concerning “United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” as well as sharing a “plan of attack” against Iran.
Many Republicans consider national security the highest and most sacred goal of the Republic. A large number have served in the armed forces.
Bill Barr, Trump’s own former attorney general, said on “Fox News Sunday”: “I was shocked by the degree of sensitivity of these documents and how many there were, frankly … If even half of it is true, then he’s toast. I mean, it’s a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damning. And this idea of presenting Trump as a victim here, a victim of a witch hunt, is ridiculous.”
None of this is cause for complacency. Trump is as dangerous as ever. He has inspired violence before, and he could do it again.
But I believe that many who supported him in 2020 are catching on to his lunacy.
Trump wants Americans to engage in a “final battle” over his own narcissistic cravings. Instead, he is likely to get a squalid and humiliating last act.