Trump and his lawyer, John Lauro, and others

Former President Donald Trump flanked by attorney John Lauro, left, and D. John Sauer, center right, speaks to reporters and members of the media at the Waldorf Astoria hotel after attending a hearing of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals at the federal courthouse on Tuesday, Jan. 09, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A Fascist Donald Trump and the Lawyer's Dilemma

Trump’s assault on democracy’s essential institutions has always been open and notorious. Examples abound—and they are laced with lies. If you were an attorney committed to defending democracy, could you defend this man?

“Thus was democracy finally interred…. [I]t was all done quite legally, though accompanied by terror. Parliament turned over its constitutional authority to [the dictator] and thereby committed suicide, though its body lingered on in an embalmed state to the very end…, serving as a sounding board for some of [the dictator’s] thunderous pronunciations, its members hand-picked by the [dictator’s party], for there were no more real elections….” —William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

In his book, Shirer then quoted historian Alan Bullock, whose observation decades ago frames the lawyer’s dilemma in representing Donald Trump today:

“‘The street gangs… had seized control of the resources of a great modern State, the gutter had come to power….’ But —as Hitler never ceased to boast—‘legally,’—by an overwhelming vote of Parliament. The Germans had no one to blame but themselves.”

The Constitutional Right to Representation

In the United States, anyone charged with a crime is entitled to a defense. But representing someone seeking to undermine the U.S. Constitution by destroying its institutional foundations and the rule of law is an entirely different matter. That’s because every lawyer swears an oath to support the Constitution.

Trump’s assault on democracy’s essential institutions has always been open and notorious. Examples abound—and they are laced with lies.

The Big Lie(s)

More than 60 federal and state courts ruled that Trump lost the 2020 election. But Trump claims falsely that he won. Yielding no ground to facts or reality, he and his allies claim that—unless he wins—every election is “rigged” against him and no one should credit the outcome, including the upcoming contest on November 5, 2024.

Likewise, a jury of Trump’s peers convicted him of 34 felonies. But Trump asserts that the entire civil and criminal justice system is out to get him. As for January 6, he labels the convicted insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol “patriots” and “martyrs,” and promises to pardon them if he recaptures the White House.

Trump’s congressional sycophants have fallen in line behind him in adopting his false, revisionist history of the insurrection and his assault on the criminal justice system. But as the attack on the U.S. Capitol occurred, Republicans in Congress—including then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—were clear about what was happening and who was responsible. A week after the riot, McConnell went to the Senate floor and said, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

After voting to acquit Trump in his second impeachment, McConnell said:

There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day…

The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president, and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

He did not do his job. He didn't take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored.

No. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily—happily—as the chaos unfolded. Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in serious danger.

Today McConnell supports Trump’s re-election bid.

History Might Not Repeat Itself, But Sometimes It Rhymes

Trump has followed the lead of his most heinous predecessor.

Trump peppers his rants with bigotry, fear, and terror. He refers to immigrants as “vermin” who are “poisoning the blood” of the United States. He says, falsely, that they are criminals from “prisons,” “mental institutions,” and “insane asylums.” Trump warns Americans to resist immigration or “you won’t have a country anymore.”

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that he “was repelled by the conglomeration of races…repelled by this whole mixture of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs, and Croats, and everywhere the eternal mushroom of humanity – Jews and more Jews… [His] hatred grew for the foreign mixture of peoples….” (Shirer, p. 27) And he spoke repeatedly about the need to “increase and preserve the species and the race.” (Shirer, p. 86)

Pledging that, if elected, he will be “dictator for a day,” Trump has vowed publicly to “root out” his political opponents. And he promises to stack the federal government with cronies who will never disagree with him.

Hitler said repeatedly that he would “know neither rest nor peace until the November criminals [who, he falsely claimed, had ‘stabbed Germany in the back’ with the onerous Versailles Treaty of 1918] had been overthrown.” He banished or executed those who crossed him. (Schirer, p. 70)

During his first term in office, Trump stacked his administration and the courts with allies, including a federal judge in Florida who presides—and delays—one of the three remaining criminal cases against him. That judge—and many of his other appointees—were and are manifestly unqualified for their jobs.

Hitler co-opted the judiciary and then established his own special courts. He alone became the law. (Shirer, 268-274)

The Washington Post reported in February 2024:

Just before the former president lost the 2020 election to President Biden, Trump issued an executive order designed to gut civil service job protections for workers across the government. It would have paved the way for the workers to be replaced with others, including political partisans, subject to termination at will—a move the Republican president backed because he felt nonpartisan bureaucrats were hampering many of his policies. Trump has promised to reinstate the directive, which Biden quickly revoked after his inauguration. It created a new federal employment category, Schedule F, that would make federal jobs vulnerable to partisan political whims by weakening guardrails meant to ensure a nonpartisan bureaucracy.

Initial estimates that Trump’s edict would apply to more than 50,000 government employees were far too low.

Hitler populated the government with his lackeys. Before becoming chancellor, he vowed that “when the National Socialist movement is victorious in this struggle, then there will be a National Socialist Court of Justice too. Then the November 1918 revolution will be avenged and heads will roll!” (Shirer, p. 141)

Trump understands the importance of symbols and branding. “MAGA” and related paraphernalia—hats, T-shirts, flags—are no accident.

Hitler likewise understood the power of symbols and used the swastika as a unifying image.

Trump co-opted religious evangelicals, many of whom view him as the divine messenger for their cause.

Hitler exploited his country’s history to gain the support of its religious institutions. Then he assumed control over all of them.

Trump has persuaded many industrial magnates to support him because his policies will favor them economically, including a promise to reverse climate initiatives affecting the major oil companies in return for $1 billion in contributions to his current campaign.

Hitler cultivated industry leaders who supported his rise to power – until it was too late to stop his heinous acts that disserved even them.

Trump understands the power of lies, deception, and disinformation. He rode to the White House on the wings of his “birther” lie about President Barack Obama’s origins.

Hitler rode lies to power too: “[A]t a given sign it unleashes a veritable barrage of lies and slanders against whatever adversary seems most dangerous, until the nerves of the attacked persons break down… This is a tactic based on precise calculation of all human weaknesses, and its result will lead to success with almost mathematical certainty…” (Shirer p. 22-23)

Trump understands the power of fomenting fear and encouraging terror. January 6, 2021 made that abundantly clear.

One hundred years earlier, Hitler had discovered that power, writing: “I achieved an equal understanding of the importance of physical terror toward the individual and the masses… For while in the ranks of their supporters the victory achieved seems a triumph of the justice of their own cause, the defeated adversary in most cases despairs of the success of any further resistance.”

Trump has never won a majority of the popular vote for President.

Hitler topped out at 37 percent before an aging President Paul von Hindenburg gave him the chancellorship.

Trump uses television and social media to outline his views and to reveal—in advance—how he will proceed if he gains control of the government.

Hitler used Mein Kampf as a roadmap of his ambitions and his plans to fulfil them. Trump meets all of the criteria that one of Hitler’s professors listed in describing the future dictator: lacking “self-control and, to say the least, he was considered argumentative, autocratic, self-opinionated, and bad-tempered, and unable to submit to school discipline.”

The Lawyer’s Dilemma

So Adolf Hitler seeks your help in dismantling the foundational institutions of government and undermining popular support for democracy.

He offers you a big retainer and dangles the promise of a media spotlight for his outrageous positions.

Your assignment is simple: Do whatever it takes to help him achieve power—but all of the steps must be lawful. His objective—and yours if you accept—is the destruction of the U.S. Constitution and the demise of the rule of law.

Do you take the case?

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