The Week Ahead
March 26, 2023
“Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and place your hand over your heart for the number one song on iTunes, Amazon, and the Billboard charts: Justice for All, featuring President Donald J. Trump and the J6 choir.”
And so the former president’s first campaign rally to try to become the future president was launched, celebrating his connection to the convicted criminals who stormed the Capitol on January 6 to try to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power.
“2024 is the final battle. That’s gonna be the big one ... I told your great lieutenant governor, I said, ‘Dan [Patrick], let’s not do one of those 50/50 areas, or an area where we’re a little behind. Let’s go right into the heart of it,’” Trump told the crowd, explaining his decision to hold the rally in Waco, Texas, where the association with right-wing extremism is strong.
He was, predictably, pro-Putin and anti-prosecutor. What of the grand old men of the Republican Party? A former president? Senators? Governors? Leaders of all stripes and at all levels? Silent, in abdication of public responsibility for the monster they’d invited in and have permitted to remain, no matter how much private distaste they may have for him.
For many people, it’s easier to ignore Trump than to pay attention. But we cannot afford to look away. The large crowd that assembled to slurp Trump’s Kool-Aid in Waco made that abundantly clear. Too many people looking away, hoping someone else would take care of things—that’s how Trump came to power in 2016. It was only our laser-beam focus in 2020 that prevented him from staying in power.
Last week, lawmakers toured the District of Columbia jail where Jan. 6 defendants are being held, at the behest of Trump cronies like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. They expressed concern that people held there reported being mistreated—despite the fact that they have far better access to their lawyers and technology than most people in custody, and they had sufficient resources to tape the “J6 Choir” song with Trump. Following the visit, first-term Texas Representative and former public defender Jasmine Crockett corrected the Republican narrative. “Somebody’s got to be here to tell the truth,” she said. “If we weren’t here, there would be no check for whatever it was that they said.” But Republicans don’t seem to be listening.
Greene had a busy week, heading to join Trump in Waco after the visit to the D.C. jail. There, she called for the destruction of the party of Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell: “I’m fed up with the Republican Party that will not fight the fight and stand up for the American people. We need to end that party completely.”
But given what’s ahead for us in the coming week and beyond, the concern is less about what’s left of the Republican Party and more about the rest of the country. Increasingly, there are deep concerns about just how far the party of Trump is willing to go, and who they are willing to harm, to get their way and restore their man to the White House. Graham undoubtedly regrets his 2016 tweet, which still resonates with so much force. It’s a good week to remind people of it.
The bottom line is this: we cannot let Trump seep back into the public consciousness as a legitimate candidate and take his place on the campaign trail as though it’s normal. None of it is—the forgetfulness about the insurrection, the calls for violence, the lawlessness, the cult of personality, the elevation of party over country. It is our job, all of our jobs, to point to what he is saying, to his vicious message, and to make sure those around us who have not been paying attention become aware. For too many people, it’s become acceptable to ignore Trump’s words as background noise. They do not believe the threat he poses is real. Too many people are complacent about the challenge the country faces in 2024.
Is Trump tired, shopworn, pathetic? Yes, all of the above. Does it seem impossible that he could be elected—it may to some people who see him as a buffoon with other challengers in the primary, perhaps even more so for people in parts of the country where he does not enjoy tremendous support. But Trump still drew an adoring crowd in Waco. His MAGA caucus in Congress visited and embraced January 6 defendants in the D.C. jail last week and called them heroes. His run is far from over. The reports of his political demise, unfortunately, are greatly exaggerated.
Many people push aside concerns about Trump’s authoritarian streak as alarmist and the voices who encourage our fellow citizens to see him as a threat to democracy as emotional and overwrought. As someone who was professionally hardwired, through years at the Justice Department, to see issues from all sides and to act in a cautious fashion, designed to promote stability, I nonetheless find myself in the deeply concerned camp. I’m convinced our future requires us to raise every voice to condemn Trump’s continued participation in our political system.
The coming week, weeks really, are going to be fraught. We could see charges brought against Trump in any one of a number of venues. Trump knows he’s racing the indictment clock and he’s desperately trying to rally his base. Senator Doug Jones’s comment, which I shared with you yesterday, has stayed with me—Trump is not calling his supporters to action; he’s calling them to arms.
Yesterday, facing indictment in the federal system and in two states, Trump held a campaign rally where he glorified the insurrection. The once unimaginable is our reality.
In Trump’s 2017 inaugural address, he condemned “American carnage.” Now it’s the vision he is promoting, one where he must win at any cost.
What are we going to do about it? One thing we won’t do is give up. We know, because we’ve seen it in the recent past, that we have power when we understand that we do and we work together. So leave your ideas in the comments. Let’s brainstorm what strong community activism in a moment of great need looks like—what should we be doing? I continue to believe that, perhaps belatedly, the criminal justice system will do some of the work. But as in 2020, the work of democracy will be in the hands of the voters. I’m determined to get started now.
We’re in this together,