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Trump Drops the Pretense of Democracy
I flew home tonight from a lovely long weekend in Boston with my husband and daughter but wanted to take a few minutes to write to you tonight, nonetheless. Forgive me if my thoughts are less formal than usual. I continue to be deeply troubled by the openness with which Donald Trump expresses an anti-democratic vision for his hoped-for future presidency and the reporting about just how far along the planning is. Over the last few days we’ve read details that include vetting people for inclusion in the shock troops he’ll use to take over the federal bureaucracy as well as plans for concentration camps to corral and deport immigrants and foreigners Trump views as undesirable.
Today started on a more mundane note, with the Special Counsel's office firing back at Trump's demand that the court televise his Washington, D.C., trial. As we discussed over the weekend, Trump’s lawyers unexpectedly made that demand and condemned Jack Smith’s opposition to televising the trial, after previously telling government lawyers Trump wouldn’t take a position on the request by media groups for cameras in the courtroom.
Smith asked the Judge for permission to respond to Trump’s attack and wasted no time filing his opposition once she gave it. Smith deepened his opposition to televising Trump’s trial, pointing not just to longstanding rules that prohibit it but also accusing Trump of wanting to "turn his trial into a media event." Of course, the absence of cameras in the courtroom won’t prevent Trump from trying to inject his trial with the “carnival atmosphere” Smith is worried about. In fact, cameras, or audio—one of the other measures proposed by the media groups—might go a long way to counteracting Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about what goes on in the courtroom.
It will now be up to Judge Chutkan to decide in the first instance where Constitutional rights, either Trump’s or those invoked by the press, dictate a course of action contrary to the longstanding rule in federal court prohibiting photos and video. Ultimately, it may fall to an appellate court to decide the issue. It’s a very important one that will impact the future of our country.
The substantive issue here is of so much import that the ethical violation by Trump’s lawyers—misrepresenting their intentions to the government—seems to have been set aside. But lawyers have a duty of candor, a requirement that they be truthful in their dealings with the court. Filing a response to the media groups' request at the eleventh hour, after telling Special Counsel’s office lawyers they wouldn’t take a position and letting them represent that to the court, is inconsistent with that duty. Even after watching Trump lawyer after Trump lawyer fatally damage their professional reputation in his service, even end up under indictment, it seems that there are still plenty more people ready to sacrifice themselves—inexplicably—for Trump.
Trump’s lawyers in the D.C. case damaged their credibility with the court so their client could try to score points in the court of public opinion. Truly, everything Trump touches dies, even, perhaps especially, his lawyers. As for Trump himself, he seems focused less on convincing people he didn’t commit the crimes he’s charged with than he is on delaying his trials in hopes he can win and use presidential powers to end those prosecutions. It’s inconsistent to demand cameras in the courtroom so the public can see the proceedings, while simultaneously doing everything possible to delay the cases so they will never progress to trial. But that is undeniably Trump’s strategy. Outside of people who are closely following the proceedings, there is far too little understanding of that.
Trump’s continued presence in the public square is damaging and unpleasant. His rhetoric is hard to tolerate. I had a conversation recently with someone who told me they couldn’t take another election cycle with Trump in it and planned to isolate themselves for the duration. I understand the feeling, but I want to encourage you not to do that. It’s important to listen to the things he says, to understand precisely what he intends to do, and to face it squarely in order to defeat it. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye.
Here’s what Trump had to say over the weekend in a speech commemorating Veterans Day, where he repeated his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen: “We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, that lie and steal and cheat on elections…They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”
The use of the word “vermin” is a surprisingly precise and archaic choice of language for a man with a limited vocabulary. Too much so to be coincidental with the Nazis’ use of the German word for vermin, “ungeziefer”, to describe and dehumanize Jews. Trump clearly understands the power of marginalizing segments of the population by dehumanizing them, as he sets up a future where loosely defined “communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs,” as well as, presumably, immigrants with brown skin and his political opponents, are less than human and not deserving of the protections and rights Trump allows his followers.
Former Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki, now an MSNBC host, said it perfectly: “If elected to a second term, Trump would prosecute anyone he deems an enemy, unleash troops on protesters, and essentially unravel the rule of law as we know it. And this time, he plans to line his administration with people who actually will help him do it.”
That’s Trump’s formal promise to end democracy unless we vote and do everything we can to keep it from happening.
There was an enormous deluge of news today—everything from the Supreme Court’s sudden release of ethics rules that “guide” (not bind) it (and have no enforcement mechanism) to the leak of testimony by cooperating witness and former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis and other former Trump co-defendants in Georgia. It’s all important, and we’ll likely be discussing it as the week progresses, especially Ellis’ testimony that Trump’s caddy-turned-deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino told her, “The boss is not going to leave under any circumstances. We are just going to stay in power.” But all of it, as damning as it is, pales in comparison to Trump’s increasing openness in proposing a fascist future for America. He no longer couches it in the language of democracy, and there is no pretense that his America is one with a place for all of us. It is a moral imperative to stay engaged.
We’re in this together,
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