Lots of news swirling around about the boxes of classified information Trump took from the United States and held at Mar-a-Lago, but the most telling window into all those stories is that the former president took to his Truth Social network this morning to demand that he be declared the winner of the 2020 election, or that the election be redone again “immediately!”
This is distraction at its purest—no one is going to redo the 2020 election—but it no longer works. As Trump has lost the power to command attention, his demands have gotten more and more outrageous. Gone are the days when he could make the media jump with a tweet. Not only is he banned from Twitter, but also his own Twitter clone, Truth Social, is in financial trouble. The stock of Digital World Acquisition, the company that planned to take Truth Social public, has dropped nearly 75% since its high in March, and last week the company reported that it had lost $6.5 million in the first six months of 2022. It has announced that it might be forced to liquidate, cutting off billions of dollars from the Trump Organization, which appears to be short of funds. The web service that hosts Truth Social claims that the company had not paid its bills since March.
Trump supporters are trying to turn the theft of secret documents into a political question. Today, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seemed to be trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy when he warned that if Trump is prosecuted for his theft of classified information—a theft that would have any other American in terrible trouble—“there will be riots in the streets.” Graham, who is himself fighting a subpoena requiring him to testify in the Fulton County, Georgia, investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, tried to argue that law enforcement was out to get Trump, holding him to a standard it did not enforce for anyone else.
Graham referred to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, implying that law officers had somehow gone easy on her over her use of a private email server. But, in fact, both the State Department and the FBI investigated her several times over that issue and concluded there was “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.” She cooperated with the investigations and turned over her devices and emails. No prosecutors charged her.
The question of the stolen documents is not about politics, but rather about the rule of law. When Graham threatens that gangs will take to the streets, he is saying that violence can overrule laws, a key sign of authoritarian rule. That sort of violence is not new to America. It dominated the Reconstruction South, of course, when white gangs terrorized their Black neighbors and the white men who voted as they did, suppressed labor organization at the turn of the last century, and fed rising fascism in the 1930s.
It has been a growing threat in the U.S. since the 1990s, as right-wing activists egged on by talk radio armed themselves against the federal government, but that violent organization took off under the former president, first as he condoned the violence at the August 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then as he urged on the “American Patriots” who demanded their state governments reopen their states during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those gangs were Trump’s troops on January 6, 2021, and on that day they quite literally illustrated the attempt to use violence to overturn the rule of law at the heart of our democracy.
Such gangs have always operated in the U.S., and they gain power and momentum when they engage in violence and are unchecked. After several years in which they have seemed invulnerable, we are now in a period when, as we learned on Saturday, an armed man in a truck chased Independent Utah senatorial candidate Evan McMullin with a gun after an event in April and forced the vehicle carrying McMullin and his wife into oncoming traffic. That incident echoes one from October 2020, when a bus carrying Biden staffers and volunteers through Texas was harassed by Trump supporters, some of whom appeared to be trying to force it off the road. When the terrified Biden workers called the police, officers allegedly refused to help.
Part of restoring democracy is imposing the rule of law, which means treating everyone equally.
The Department of Justice, which under the former president weakened the rule of law for Trump’s political ends, appears to be working to restore that rule. Just today, a judge sentenced a Proud Boy who participated in the January 6 insurrection to 55 months in jail. Joshua Pruitt had an extensive criminal record and was on probation in two states at the time of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, when he came face to face with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). His attorney wrote that “[o]n January 6, 2021 Mr. Pruitt, along with nearly 40,000 other participants, at the direction of President Donald J. Trump went to the Capitol,” and that now—after facing legal consequences—he “regrets his actions.”
Today the White House announced that on Thursday, President Joe Biden will give a prime-time address from Philadelphia on “the continued battle for the Soul of the Nation.” Outside Independence Hall, where the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Framers wrote the United States Constitution, Biden will tell Americans “how the core values of this nation—our standing in the world, our democracy—are at stake.” He will talk about “the progress we have made as a nation to protect our democracy, but how our rights and freedoms are still under attack. And he will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms, and fighting for our democracy.”
Biden’s use of the physical symbols of our democracy to defend its values is itself a statement about the return of the rule of law. The former president used our symbols not to reinforce the nation’s principles, but to shore up his own leadership. In August 2020, almost exactly two years ago, he held an extravaganza at the White House to accept his renomination for president. He used the backdrop of the White House; Vice President Mike Pence spoke at Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner; and First Lady Melania Trump spoke from the newly renovated Rose Garden—all in service to Trump.
Today, Tony Ornato, the Secret Service agent who crossed over to become a top aide in Trump’s White House and who was involved in the events of January 6, announced that he is retiring as of tomorrow.
I'm kind of morbidly curious just how far off the deep end Trump will go. He's passed the point of no return: every escalation makes him less palatable to everyone, and he has no other strategy.
Before Trump met with Putin in Helsinki, Lindsey Graham was his fierce opponent. After that meeting, he was Trump's lapdog. You have to wonder exactly what dirt Vlad gave Moscow Donnie on Lindsey that day, and how it could be so bad for Graham to sell his very soul.