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Ideas | The Atlantic
Ideas | The Atlantic
Now They’re Calling for Violence
In a sane world, a partisan Republican reaction to the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home on Monday would be something like this: We don’t believe Trump did anything wrong. We’re skeptical about the Department of Justice’s actions, but we’ll wait to see the evidence before we make any sweeping claims or definitive judgments. Unfortunately, the reaction online, in the right-wing media, and even among lawmakers has been far from sane. It’s been unhinged and ominous.MAGA-world denizens have called for violence and civil war, so much so that the phrase civil war was trending on Twitter Monday night. One user on Trump’s social-media platform, Truth Social, said, “Fuck a civil war, give them a REVOLUTION. We out number all of the 10 to 1.”We’re seeing references to “lock and load” and statements like this: “It certainly feels like they’re treating it as a hot civil war. When this is all said and done, the people responsible for these tyrannical actions need to be hanged.”Ben Collins, who covers disinformation, extremism, and the internet for NBC News, wrote on Monday evening, “The posts on these pro-Trump forums tonight are as violent as I’ve seen them since before January 6th. Maybe even moreso.”Commentators in right-wing media, meanwhile, have been using extraordinarily reckless and inflammatory language.The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet, wrote “This. Means. War”—which was “quickly amplified by a Telegram account connected to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s onetime political adviser,” according to The New York Times. Bannon called the FBI “the Gestapo” and said, “We need to choke down the FBI and choke down the Justice Department.” Another former Trump adviser, Michael Caputo, said, “With this militant raid on President Trump’s home, we have become Russia. The FBI is the KGB.” And Fox’s Dan Bongino called the FBI’s action “some third-world bullshit.”Juliette Kayyem: The bad and good news about Trump’s violent supportersDinesh D’Souza, a right-wing provocateur who received a pardon from Trump for campaign-finance violations, said, “The FBI, an organization set up to fight organized crime, has become the most powerful organized crime syndicate in the world. We now need to carry the fight against organized crime to its logical conclusion: Shut down the FBI and prosecute this gang of dangerous criminals.”Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested that the FBI might have planted evidence against Trump. When asked by Charlie Kirk, a talk-show host, why the FBI would do this, Gingrich said, “We’d be better off to think of these people as wolves”—wolves who “want to eat you, wolves who want to dominate.” According to Gingrich, the FBI has “declared war on the American people at such a level and with such total dishonesty.” We are seeing “the ugly face of a tyranny.”One of the most popular figures on Fox News, Jesse Watters, hinted that the FBI was setting up Trump. “How do we know they’re not planting evidence right now?” he asked. Watters added, “I’m angry. I feel violated. The whole country feels violated. It’s disgusting. They’ve declared war on us and now it’s game on.”Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser who now hosts a show on Salem radio, said the FBI’s actions were “a declaration of war.” Monica Crowley, a right-wing commentator who worked in the Trump administration, tweeted, “This is it. This is the hill to die on.” Another popular right-wing talk-show host, Mark Levin, made this claim: “This is the worst attack on this republic in modern history, period.” For good measure, he added, “This is a Stalinist hunt.” And Stephen Miller, who worked closely with Trump in the White House, called the FBI’s action an “abomination” and made this historical comparison: “We are truly living in a situation where the FBI has become a Praetorian guard from Rome where they take it unto themselves to decide who wields power in this country.”Bannon, busily making the rounds, told the conspiracist Alex Jones, “I do not think it’s beyond this administrative state and their deep-state apparatus to actually try to work on the assassination of President Trump.” This charge was echoed by former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who said he is worried Democrats might try to assassinate Donald Trump. “I’m gonna tell you something: I’m not into conspiracies; I’m not into anti-government rhetoric,” Kerik said. “This is the first time in my lifetime that I would say I am deathly afraid for Donald Trump. I would not put assassination behind these people.”Many Republican candidates and lawmakers have been just as inflammatory as these more peripheral figures. Kari Lake, running for governor in Arizona, called the FBI’s search of Trump’s home “one of the darkest days in American history: the day our government, originally created by the people, turned against us.” She added, “This illegitimate, corrupt regime hates America and has weaponized the entirety of the federal government to take down President Donald Trump.”Representative Lauren Boebert said of the FBI’s search, “This is gestapo crap, and it will not stand.” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene insisted, “This is the rogue behavior of communist countries, NOT the United States of America!!! These are the type of things that happen in countries during civil war.” She also called for Congress to “DEFUND THE FBI!” and said Republicans, if they seize control of the House, should take on “the enemy within.”Read ‘The opposite of a raid’Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said, “Joe Biden’s FBI and Department of Justice have been fully weaponized against their political opponents.” She characterized what the FBI did as “an absolute outrageous abuse of power and unAmerican.” And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused the Justice Department of “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”Senator Ted Cruz said the FBI’s action was “corrupt & an abuse of power.” Senator Rand Paul said what the FBI did “truly is an attack on our constitutional republic.” Senator Marco Rubio said, “Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships. But never in America.” And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed, “The raid of [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” On and on and on it goes.The worst may be yet to come. Already, Trump is laying the groundwork for his followers to dismiss any evidence of wrongdoing that the FBI may have uncovered. He released a statement yesterday noting that the FBI “would not let anyone, including my lawyers, be anywhere near the areas that were rummaged” and alluding to the possibility of agents “planting” evidence. Did we expect anything else from him?The decision by the Department of Justice to search Trump’s home may have been unwise. And at this point we don’t know the precise subject of the search or what crime the FBI is investigating. But we do know that a federal judge signed off on the warrant, which means he had reason to believe that the FBI would find evidence of a crime at Trump’s home. We also know that FBI Director Christopher Wray was nominated by Trump.Clearly, at this early stage, the responsible reaction to what the FBI did is to withhold judgment, to wait and see, to base one’s assessment on the facts and the evidence as they become known. But such an approach is alien to the modern-day GOP. The entire incentive structure is to use language that is intemperate, belligerent, conspiratorial, even crazed. This week has once again proved that there’s no rhetorical line Trump Republicans won’t cross, no outlandish charge they won’t make. It’s now all about one-upmanship, with each person trying to make a more freakish claim than the next.This debasement of language comes at a considerable cost. George Orwell believed that political language mattered because politics mattered, and that the corruption of one leads to the corruption of the other. And in some cases, the misuse of words can lead to political violence. We saw that on January 6, 2021. My fear is we’re edging ever closer to that. Some people on the right—enraged and inflamed, caught in an echo chamber of undiluted anger and massive lies—clearly hope for it. They are perpetually frenzied and hyper-agitated, convinced they are in an existential struggle against a wicked foe.In the face of this, virtually the entire Republican Party is egging them on. Based on no evidence right now, Republicans are promoting a narrative that the events of this week prove that the United States government and its chief law-enforcement agency are Nazi-like, corrupt to the core, at war with its own citizens. This can’t end well.David Frum: Stuck with TrumpIf political violence comes, the Republican Party will be its authors and finishers. In his 1838 Young Men’s Lyceum speech, in which he warned about mob violence and people who disrespected America’s laws and courts, Abraham Lincoln said, “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide.” Today it is Lincoln’s party that wants America to die by suicide.
Trump Will Release the Warrant
When it’s good for Trump, and not before
A Republican’s Guide to Surviving a Vote to Impeach Donald Trump
Donald Trump is not known as a man of his word, but he’s worked hard to follow through on his promise of retribution against Republicans who voted to impeach him in 2021. Of the 10 GOP House members who voted for impeachment, four retired rather than face likely losses, two lost primaries, and a third, Liz Cheney, is almost certain to lose hers later this month.Two of the others, Daniel Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler, are representatives of Washington State. Their primaries were on August 2, but votes are still being counted. Herrera Beutler conceded her race yesterday, but Newhouse managed something that none of the other pro-impeachment Republicans has: He triumphed in his primary, likely clinching another term in D.C., because his very Republican district is unlikely to send a Democrat. This gives him a good chance at being the only Republican House member to vote for impeachment and manage to win election to the 118th Congress.So what can Newhouse’s win and Herrera Beutler’s loss teach? Here’s a clip-and-save guide for other Republicans looking to survive without allying themselves with the former president.1. Don’t Make It About TrumpOne advantage for Newhouse was that he was arguably the most anonymous of the gang of 10 from the start: Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio (retiring) is a former NFL player; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois (retiring) had already become known as a chronic Trump critic; Liz Cheney is a Cheney. Newhouse, by contrast, doesn’t have much profile at all outside central Washington. A hop farmer and former state legislator, Newhouse’s vibe is cool grandpa, not political brawler. He has slicked-back white hair, a carefully trimmed beard, and rimless glasses. When I went to his campaign-kickoff event in Yakima, Washington, in May, he arrived in a Jeep adorned with American-flag decals and a No Shoes Nation sticker.Some of the pro-impeachment Republicans, such as Kinzinger, Cheney, and Peter Meijer of Michigan (who lost his primary last week), made opposing Trump a part of their political identity, knowing it might end their careers. Herrera Beutler didn’t do that, but she didn’t shy away from her vote, either. After the January 6 insurrection, she said that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had begged Trump to intervene but that the president had refused. Her claims have since been vindicated, but they also attracted Trump’s ire and made her a target for him. Another Republican, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, didn’t vote for impeachment but castigated Trump; she managed to survive a primary against a Trump-backed opponent, but only by doing everything she could to tie herself back to Trump.By contrast, Newhouse made little fuss about his vote then and hasn’t said much about it since. During his speech at the kickoff luncheon, Newhouse didn’t mention Trump a single time, positively or negatively—though everyone I talked with at the event brought it up unprompted, praising Newhouse’s stand on principle while acknowledging that it had made his political life difficult. Newhouse even managed to enlist Trumpists to support his campaign, luring Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, a rising Republican star and a close ally of Trump’s, to speak at the luncheon. (When I tried to speak with Banks about this curious pairing, he refused to be interviewed and quickly hustled away.)2. Keep It LocalThe old axiom that all politics is local may not be dead, but it’s dying. As the University of Washington political scientist Jacob Grumbach explains in his new book, Laboratories Against Democracy, national politics has begun to seep into state and local institutions. At one time, elected officials could easily be at odds with national leaders of the party on certain issues while remaining in good standing, but that is harder and harder to do.Newhouse, however, was able to do it. The Fourth District is “the most solidly Republican district in the state,” Kevin Pirch, a political-science professor at Eastern Washington University, told me. “It’s conservative, but more of an agribusiness conservatism than a social conservatism.” At the May luncheon, Newhouse talked a lot about local issues—he defended dams that central-Washington agriculture depends on for irrigation and called for immigration reform, because farmers in his district need labor—but what struck me even more was how much of his speech was devoted to shouting out local grandees in the crowd, from the lowest elected offices up to former state-GOP chairs. In a rural district with distinctive politics, it’s still possible to keep it local.3. Run in a State With Favorable Election LawsNewhouse also benefited from Washington’s unusual primary system. Rather than having separate Republican and Democratic primaries, as most states do, Washington has a single primary. All the candidates run together, and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, even if they are in the same party. (In practice, the system usually produces a Democrat and a Republican, as it did in the Fourth, where Newhouse will face Democrat Doug White in November.) Instead of parties picking a standard-bearer, candidates declare a “preference” on the ballot. That means the state parties are weaker, which tends to produce larger fields of candidates and allow incumbents such as Newhouse to run against the field instead of taking on a single candidate.“One argument put forth when we went to the system was this was going to encourage more moderate candidates,” Pirch said. “There’s no strong incentive to become an extremist in the primary—to be the most Republican Republican or the most Democratic Democrat.”Not coincidentally, Meijer lost to John Gibbs in a traditional primary in Michigan, but David Valadao of California came second in his state’s nonpartisan primary, punching a ticket to the general election. (Valadao faces a dauntingly blue district in November, so Democrats may yet finish what Trump couldn’t and force him out.)4. Get Lucky in Your OpponentsIn a tough election environment, it’s good to have either weak opponents or lots of them so that they split the vote. Newhouse got both. He and White, the Democrat, each ended up with barely a quarter of the primary vote, while six other Republicans split the remainder. The third-place candidate was Republican Loren Culp, who won Trump’s endorsement and took 21 percent of the vote. Notwithstanding the former president’s backing, Culp was a weak candidate. In contrast to Newhouse’s deep local roots, Culp had relocated to the district just to run against him. Prior to that, he was trounced as the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2020 (he refused to concede despite losing by 13.5 percentage points), and before that, he was the sole police officer in a tiny Washington town. Newhouse had ample fundraising and outside help, while Culp had to run on a shoestring.Herrera Beutler was not so lucky, drawing fewer and stronger rivals—particularly fellow Republican Joe Kent, who placed second in the primary and will become the favorite against Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. (Democrats have made several unsuccessful attempts to flip the seat in recent years.) Culp comes off as a crackpot, whereas Kent, another Trump endorsee, is a handsome, square-jawed veteran—which helps distract from his own crackpot views about stolen elections and deep-state provocateurs.The problem with this playbook is that it isn’t much of a playbook at all. Nearly everything had to go right for Newhouse to win—he had to be the perfect local candidate, in the right district, with the right existing election laws, and with good luck in his rivals. But even with all of that, his success may prove hard to replicate as American politics continues to polarize. Washington is a consistently blue state, though not by wide margins. That has created an unusual state Republican Party—moderate in outlook, agricultural in alignment, and unified largely by opposition to the dense, liberal areas around Puget Sound and Seattle that make the state a Democratic stronghold.Distinctive state parties used to be a typical feature of American politics. “One would think that a Republican in Washington State should look different from a Republican in the South or Midwest,” Grumbach told me. “But both parties are becoming more homogeneous. The way ordinary members and voters understand politics is as a national battle with the other team.”Newhouse’s victory shows that the old way isn’t dead—but he’s one of a very few remaining who can pull it off.
The Bad and Good News About Trump’s Violent Supporters
In some corners of MAGA-land, a new civil war is getting under way. The FBI’s arrival at Mar-a-Lago yesterday evening to collect evidence in a criminal investigation related to former President Donald Trump is the trigger that some of his supporters needed to suggest that violence is imminent. Predictably, the unverified Twitter accounts of armchair revolutionaries circulated claims such as “I already bought my ammo” and dark talk of “kinetic civil war” and “Civil War 2.0.”Not to be outdone, the National Rifle Association posted an image of Justice Clarence Thomas above an indignant quotation from a majority opinion he wrote: “The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second class right.’” Verified right-wing influencers got in on the martial rhetoric, too. “Tomorrow is war. Sleep well,” Steven Crowder promised.The bad news is that much of this talk is sincere. It is intended to intimidate the people investigating Trump’s many abuses of power, and to galvanize and organize his true believers—some of whom already proved on January 6, 2021, that they will commit violence in his name. The latest such propaganda is shocking to read, mostly because the talk of violence comes so casually to Trump’s apologists. It is all out in the open now.The good news is that some threats remain merely threats. A violent movement either grows or shrinks. Its ideology is not defeated; it simply stops motivating people to action.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]Trump has a hold on a party that has been offered plenty of exit ramps from its relationship with him, but he is not Voldemort. He has been isolated and humiliated. Many of the individuals who used violence to support him on January 6 are now in jail. His audiences have dwindled. Even on the night of the FBI search, in the area of Florida that he now calls home, an impromptu roadside demonstration in support of him attracted “roughly two dozen” supporters, the Miami Herald reported. “Roughly two dozen” isn’t a revolution. It isn’t even a rally.For many Americans who wish for a peaceful democracy and remain frustrated about Trump’s continuing influence in Republican primaries, hope springs eternal that someone or something—Robert Mueller, two impeachment drives, and now criminal investigators—will definitively erase his power. But expecting saviors to intervene is the wrong way to think about how the threat of violence from Trump’s supporters might dissipate. Rather, the danger will be over when violent MAGAism becomes a rallying cry for a limited pool of adherents whose online anger fizzles upon contact with the real world.A win, at this stage, isn’t that Trump’s troops make an apology. It is that they remain an online threat, a cosplay movement, a pretend army that can’t deliver, whose greatest strength is in their heads rather than reality.[David Frum: Stuck with Trump]Trump, as a former president of the United States, may be a rather unique leader of a violent insurrection, but that doesn’t make the ongoing, multiyear strategy any less effective. The January 6 committee has adopted a counter-insurrection strategy by portraying Trump squarely as the leader of a violent movement, and not simply the leader of the GOP. But some of his more extreme followers are now turning on one another. Members of the Oath Keepers, for example, have spoken to FBI investigators about matters connected with the Capitol riot—a sign that at least some fear legal penalties more than they fear the consequences of breaking with Trump. If the former president’s legal jeopardy deepens, he will in all likelihood try to raise the level of agitation in the days ahead; he knows how to use language that incites followers to violence without giving them specific instruction.But allow me at least a glimmer of optimism. “Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come,” the poet and author Carl Sandburg famously wrote. And the decline of MAGA looks something like that—only a smattering of people respond to the overheated rhetoric of Trump and his allies. If Trump’s supporters only end up cosplaying a civil war, that itself is a small victory.
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Trump’s Ultimate Loyalty Test
You might think that the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago yesterday would provide a welcome opportunity for a Trump-weary Republican Party. This would be an entirely postpresidential scandal for Donald Trump. Unlike his two impeachments, this time any legal jeopardy is a purely personal Trump problem. Big donors and Fox News management have been trying for months to nudge the party away from Trump. Here was the perfect chance. Just say “No comment” and let justice take its course.But that was not to be.The former president has discovered a new test of power: using his own misconduct to compel party leaders to rally to him. One by one, they have executed the ritual of submission: Kevin McCarthy, Marco Rubio, even the would-be Trump replacer Ron DeSantis. Maybe they’re inwardly hoping the FBI will do for them what they are too weak and frightened to do for themselves. But outwardly, they are all indignation and threats of retribution.Meanwhile, Senate and House Democrats are about to pass another major piece of legislation, the third big spending bill of the Biden presidency, after COVID relief and infrastructure.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]FBI warrants aside, the Republican message in 2022 primary contests in battleground states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania has been false accusations against the 2020 election. The Democratic message? $35 insulin. The Republican response? Ask not what your member of Congress can do for you. Ask what your member of Congress can do to salve Donald Trump’s hurt feelings.One of Trump’s political assets has been his ability to persuade others to adopt his grievances as their own. So far, he has not bumped into many limits on that power. Will that continue? Republicans may want to accomplish certain things if they gain a House or Senate majority in 2022 and recover the presidency in 2024. The only thing Trump wants is vindication for his 2020 defeat: revenge upon those who defeated him and legal impunity for his schemes to subvert and overturn the defeat.2016 Trump made a lot of promises. 2020 Trump had a political record. 2024 Trump offers only resentments.In the hours since the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s freshest resentments have become the election manifesto of his party, whose leaders are one by one lining up to investigate and punish the Department of Justice for enforcing the law against Donald Trump. Usually, August of an election year is when a party shifts its message from red meat for the true believers to softer themes for the general electorate. Trump is trying to stop that pivot, and after the FBI’s visit, he may succeed.After all, the execution of a search warrant is very seldom the end of an investigation. More legal action is coming, perhaps indictments, federal or state or both. How much energy do Republicans want to commit to defending Trump at every turn? As things are developing, the demand will be intense.Hours before the FBI search, The New Yorker published a new report of Trump’s expressed contempt for wounded American soldiers—and his eager admiration for Hitler’s generals. The report, an early extract from a forthcoming book by Susan Glasser and Peter Baker, confirmed and expanded 2020 reporting here at The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg.[David Frum: Trump just told us his master plan]More and more of Trump’s ugliest secrets are coming to light, culminating in extracts from the tax returns obtained by the House of Representatives. So long as Republicans follow Trump, they can never change the subject. He won’t let them. He can’t let them. Another scandal always lies ahead.Republicans had hoped that Trump might quietly fade away after losing in 2020. Humor him a bit on the way out the door, then say goodbye. But Trump will not go away willingly. The gentle nudges delivered by Fox News and the big donors are not working either. If Republicans do not want to follow Trump into all-out justification of all the wrongdoing already brought to light—plus whatever is written into indictments in the future—they’re going to have to do more than hint. They’re going to have to fight.If not, if they enable him one more time, then they might as well call the nomination contest over now. It’s his party for the future as in the past, hopelessly and miserably.
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