Anti-Democracy Crazies Can’t Accept The Rule Of Law

Heather Cox Richardson

Today felt as if there was a collective inward breath as people tried to figure out what yesterday’s jury verdict means for the upcoming 2024 election. The jury decided that former president Trump created fraudulent business records in order to illegally influence the 2016 election. As of yesterday, the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States of America is a convicted felon. 

Since the verdict, Trump and his supporters have worked very hard to spin the conviction as a good thing for his campaign, but those arguments sound like a desperate attempt to shape a narrative that is spinning out of their control. Newspapers all over the country bore the word “GUILTY” in their headlines today.

At stake for Trump is the Republican presidential nomination. Getting it would pave his way to the presidency, which offers him financial gain and the ability to short-circuit the federal prosecutions that observers say are even tighter cases than the state case in which a jury quickly and unanimously found him guilty yesterday. Not getting it leaves Trump and the MAGA supporters who helped him try to steal the 2020 presidential election at the mercy of the American justice system.  

After last night’s verdict, Trump went to the cameras and tried to establish that the nomination remains his, asserting that voters would vindicate him on November 5. But this morning, as he followed up last night’s comments, he did himself no favors. He billed the event as a “press conference,” but delivered what Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times described as “a rambling and misleading speech,” so full of grievance and unhinged that the networks except the Fox News Channel cut away from it as he attacked trial witnesses, called Judge Merchan “the devil,” and falsely accused President Joe Biden of pushing his prosecution. He took no questions from the press.

Today the Trump campaign told reporters it raised $34.8 million from small-dollar donors in the hours after the guilty verdict, but observers pointed out there was no reason to believe those numbers based on statements from Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Trump advisor Stephen Miller shouted on the Fox News Channel that every Republican secretary of state, state attorney general, donor, member of Congress must use their power “RIGHT NOW” to “beat these Communists!” 

The attempt of MAGA lawmakers to shape events in their favor seemed just as panicked. Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) posted on social media that “New York is a liberal sh*t hole,” and Jim Jordan (R-OH) today asked Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the case against Trump, to testify before the House Judiciary’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government about “politically motivated prosecutions of…President Donald Trump.” Representative Dan Goldman (D-NY) noted that Trump is a private citizen and Congress has no jurisdiction over the case, but that Jordan is using his congressional authority illegally to defend Trump. 

MAGA senators were even more strident. Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah melted down on X last night over the verdict, and today he led nine other Republican senators in a revolt against the federal government. Lee, J. D. Vance of Ohio, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rick Scott of Florida, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin issued a public letter saying they would no longer pass legislation, fund the government, or vote to confirm the administration’s appointees because, they said, “[t]he White House has made a mockery of the rule of law and fundamentally altered our politics in un-American ways. As a Senate Republican conference,” they said, although there were only 10 of them, “we are unwilling to aid and abet this White House in its project to tear this country apart.” 

It was an odd statement seemingly designed to use disinformation to convince voters to stick with them. Ten senators said they would not do the federal jobs they were elected to do because private citizen Trump was convicted in a state court by a jury of 12 people in New York, a jury that Trump’s lawyers had agreed to. The senators attacked the rule of law and the operation of the federal government in a demonstration of support for Trump. A number of the senators involved were key players in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. 

Awkwardly, considering the day’s news, a video from 2016 circulated today in which Trump insisted that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who he falsely insisted had committed crimes even as he was the one actually committing them, “shouldn’t be allowed to run.” If she were to win, Trump then said, “it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis. In that situation, we could very well have a sitting president under felony indictment and, ultimately, a criminal trial. It would grind government to a halt.” 

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memoput it correctly: this is not an “outpouring of rage and anger,” so much as “an overwhelming effort to match and muffle the earthquake of what happened yesterday afternoon with enough noise and choreography to keep everyone in Trump’s campaign and on the margins of it in line and on side.”

Still, there is more behind the MAGA support for Trump than fearful political messaging. Trump has been hailed as a savior by his supporters because he promises to smash through the laws and norms of American democracy to put them into power. There, they can assert their will over the rest of us, achieving the social and religious control they cannot achieve through democratic means because they cannot win the popular vote in a free and fair election. With Trump’s conviction within the legal system, his supporters are more determined than ever to destroy the rules that block them from imposing their will on the rest of us. 

Today the Federalist Society, which is now aligned with Victor Orbán’s Hungary, flew an upside-down U.S. flag as a signal of national distress. Their actions were in keeping with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s statement that Trump is being persecuted “for political reasons” and that the cases show “the rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy.”

Ryan J. Reilly of NBC News reported today on a spike in violent rhetoric on social media targeting New York judge Juan Merchan, who oversaw Trump’s Manhattan election interference trial, and District Attorney Bragg. Users of a fringe internet message board also shared what they claimed were the addresses of jurors. “Dox the Jurors. Dox them now,” one user wrote. Another wrote, “1,000,000 men (armed) need to go to [W]ashington and hang everyone. That’s the only solution.”

This attack on our democracy was the central message of a crucially important story from yesterday that got buried under the news of Trump’s conviction. In The New Republic, Ken Silverstein reported on a private WhatsApp group started last December by military contractor Erik Prince—founder of Blackwater and brother of Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos—and including about 650 wealthy and well-connected “right-wing government officials, intelligence operatives, arms traffickers, and journalists,” including Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), who served as Trump’s secretary of the interior. 

Called “Off Leash,” the group discussed, as Silverstein wrote, “the shortcomings of democracy that invariably resulted from extending the franchise to ordinary citizens, who are easily manipulated by Marxists and populists,” collapsing Gaza into a “fiery hell pit,” wiping out Iran, how Africa was a “sh*thole of a continent,” and ways to dominate the globe. Mostly, though, they discussed the danger of letting everyone vote. “There is only one path forward,” Zinke wrote. “Elect Trump.” Another member answered, “It’s Trump or Revolution” “You mean Trump AND Revolution,” wrote another. 

And yet the frantic MAGA spin on the verdict reveals that there is another way to interpret it. Americans who had lost faith that the justice system could ever hold a powerful man accountable as Trump’s lawyers managed to put off his many indictments see the verdict as a welcome sign that the system still works. 

“The American principle that no one is above the law was reaffirmed,” Biden said today. “Donald Trump was given every opportunity to defend himself. It was a state case, not a federal case. And it was heard by a jury of 12 citizens, 12 Americans, 12 people like you. Like millions of Americans who served on juries, this jury is chosen the same way every jury in America is chosen. It was a process that Donald Trump’s attorney was part of. The jury heard five weeks of evidence…. After careful deliberation, the jury reached a unanimous verdict. They found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts. Now he’ll be given the opportunity as he should to appeal that decision just like everyone else has that opportunity. That’s how the American system of justice works. And it’s reckless, it’s dangerous, and it’s irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don’t like the verdict. Our justice system has endured for nearly 250 years and it literally is the cornerstone of America…. The justice system should be respected, and we should never allow anyone to tear it down. It’s as simple as that. That’s America. That’s who we are. And that’s who we will always be, God willing.”

Today the publisher of Dinesh D’Souza’s book and film 2000 Mules, which alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election, said it was pulling both the book and film from distribution and issued an apology to a Georgia man who sued for defamation after 2000 Mules accused him of voting illegally.  

MAGA Republicans confidently predicted yesterday that the stock market would crash if the jury found Trump guilty. Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained almost 600 points.

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