Former President Donald Trump speaks at a podium.

Former President of the United States Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the Windham High School in New Hampshire on August 8, 2023.

(Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Beyond the Indictments, We Must Do More to Protect US Democracy From Trump

MAGA Republicans have joined forces with wealthy international elements dedicated to ending democracy all around the world.

While it may be satisfying to call former President Donald Trump and his enablers “fascists,” there’s a deeper truth here, with which America must come to terms: the Trump/MAGA faction of the GOP has declared war on democracy itself.

Funded by right-wing billionaires who, themselves, view democracy as an inconvenient pain-in-the-ass and—when Democrats talk about them “paying their fair share”—an actual threat, these MAGA Republicans have also joined forces with wealthy international elements dedicated to ending democracy all around the world.

They’re supported by a media machine itself largely created by right-wing billionaires—Murdoch’s Fox “News,” over 1500 right-wing radio stations, and think tanks and publications based in every state in the union—dedicated to tearing down democracy in our country and promoting the interests of oligarchs, the fossil fuel industry, and autocrats.

Violence is antithetical to democracy, but is a favorite tool of authoritarian leaders like Putin and Trump.

They gin up suspicion of racial, religious, and gender minorities to replace the natural distrust working class people have historically had of corporate bosses and the morbidly rich.

Their assertion that Jews and Blacks are colluding to “replace” working class white people has already sparked a racial war whose victims include 11 Jews killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue, nine Blacks slaughtered at Mother Emmanuel Church, and 23 Hispanics murdered in El Paso (among others).

The main weapon they’re using in this war against democracy is distrust. After 247 years, they want Americans to believe that our form of government is unreliable, feeble, and has been taken over by “weak” liberals bent on feminizing our nation’s men.

This then becomes the foundation of the homophobic and transphobic hate we’re seeing displayed across our nation literally every day.

From Tucker Carlson’s testicle tanning to Josh Hawley’s new book on masculinity to groups terrorizing public school teachers and trans kids, their sales pitch is that only “strong, forceful” leadership can “restore” America (and American white men) to a mythic greatness.

This obsession with virility and strength—the calling card of fascists and dictators worldwide and throughout history—has even transformed a large portion of American Christianity. Russell Moore, Editor of Christianity Today, shared his concerns with NPR in an interview earlier this month:

“[My concern] was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching—‘turn the other cheek’—[and] to have someone come up after to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?’

“And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, ‘I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,’ the response would not be, ‘I apologize.’ The response would be, ‘Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.’ And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we’re in a crisis.”

This is nothing new. From Greece’s Alexander the Great, to Rome’s various Caesars, to Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, autocrats have gained popular support by declaring themselves the saviors of a nation’s men and their strength, virility, and potency.

It’s why rape has been used as a weapon of war by every one of those leaders throughout history, why Russian President Vladimir Putin is using rape against Ukrainian civilians today, and why Republicans today rally around a man recently convicted of one rape and credibly accused of dozens of others including raping a 13-year-old girl.

Violence is antithetical to democracy, but is a favorite tool of authoritarian leaders like Putin and Trump. Putin’s use of state violence has successfully cowed most of Russia; Trump’s call to violence on January 6 was answered resoundingly and is today being justified by his Republican followers in and out of Congress.

The key to inciting that violence and then using it as a political weapon is to claim victimhood: for the leader to declare he is getting revenge for all the slights inflicted on his followers by those he considers his political enemies.

As Nicolo Machiavelli noted, in 1532, in his masterpiece on political manipulation, The Prince, when a leader convinces his followers that they’re victims and he’s the one who will get revenge on their behalf:

“Words can’t express the loving welcome such a savior would get…: the thirst for revenge, the unswerving trust, the devotion, the tears. What doors would be closed to such a man? Who would refuse to obey him? What envy could stand in his way? What [man] would not bow his knee?”

Indeed, just this past weekend a Republican member of Congress called for more violence—he used the synonym “force”—in the service of today’s GOP’s autocratic vision.

Florida Republican Matt Gaetz told the crowd at a Trump rally, with Trump proudly standing next to him, that they must be willing to be “a hundred times” more aggressive (“harder”) than even Trump himself:

“Mr. President, I cannot stand these people that are destroying our country. They are opening our borders. They are weaponizing our federal law enforcement against patriotic Americans who love this nation as we should…

“We love standing with you. But we know that only through force do we make any change in a corrupt town like Washington, D.C.

“And so, to all my friends here in Iowa, when you see them come for this man, know that they are coming for our movement and they are coming for all of us. And as hard as you see him work, I need you working 10 times harder, a hundred times harder.”

Trump’s actions in 2020 led to a half-million unnecessary American deaths from Covid-19; his followers shrug at the violence implicit in that. After all, hard men don’t cry.

But elevating masculinity and violence above democracy is just one part of today’s Republican war against our form of government. Other aspects, long embraced by authoritarian leaders, include:

  • Hatred of a free press and the eventual destruction of same, replacing it with a press that claims to be news but in fact only parrots the party’s line;
  • Distrust of democratic governments (like ours and members of the E.U.);
  • Embrace of autocrats like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Russia’s Vladimir Putin;
  • Corruption of public officials with promises of money and power;
  • Seizure of the “stabilizer” of a democracy: it’s court system;
  • Impoverishing a middle class that may rebel against autocracy;
  • Training young people to hate the same minorities the party used as foils to seize power;
  • Rewriting history and blurring its meaning;
  • Ending our constitutional form of government in favor of a Trump-like strongman rule-by-decree; and
  • Threatening law enforcement when they don’t bend their knee to the strongman.

While right-wing billionaires have been rehearsing for a re-write of the Constitution for about a decade, trying to get enough states to go along with calling a constitutional convention, Trump has gone so far as to call for an end to our system of government altogether.

Just eight months ago, he explicitly laid it out, calling “for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

Trump is not alone in this; he’s succeeded, in seven short years, in transforming virtually the entire GOP and thus much of America. Vivek Ramaswamy proclaimed last week that:

“Most Republicans favor reform. I’m on the side of Revolution.”

Trump has taught his GOP acolytes well: If violence is necessary, do it and get it over and done with quickly. As Machiavelli counseled would-be leaders:

“It’s worth noting that when you take hold of a state, you must assess how much violence and cruelty will be necessary and get it over with at once, so as not to have to be cruel on a regular basis. When you’ve stopped using violence your subjects will be reassured and you can then win them over with generosity.”

A 2021 survey found that almost 40% of Republicans agree that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

Fully 12 million Americans believe violence would be justified today to return Trump to the White House.

This theme of violence against those who have wronged white MAGA Republicans is as real as Hitler’s assertion that Jews had “stabbed Germany in the back” at the end of World War I. As Trump promised his followers in Waco, Texas, this past March:

“In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice.’ And now, I say to you again tonight, ‘I am your warrior. I am your justice.’ And I took a lot of heat for this one, but I only lead it in the proper way. For those who have been wronged and betrayed, of which there are many people out there that have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. We will take care of it. We will take care of it.”

More recently, he’s issued thinly veiled threats of violence against the prosecutors, judges, and even grand jurors who’ve participated in holding him to account for his many crimes against our nation.

Yesterday, on his Nazi-infested social media site, Trump referred to the Black judge in D.C. and the Black prosecutors in New York and Atlanta as “Riggers.” That one doesn’t even take a secret decoder ring.

And, as you’re reading these words, the names of Georgia grand jurors are being passed around on neofascist bulletin boards with an eye to revenge, intimidation, and even murder.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said if she’d been running the January 6 insurrection it would have been armed and “we would have won,” is now using pictures of herself in a military vehicle before the Capitol building carrying an assault weapon to gin up political support among those who would embrace political violence.

Will today’s Republican politicians and their billionaire funders also repeat history and succeed in turning America into the fascist hellscape of Greene’s picture?

Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are experimenting in their states with SS-style armed militias loyal and answerable exclusively to the governors. Other red states are almost certainly considering the same. When citizens complain about these types of gestapo tactics, they’re attacked as being “weak.”

As astonishing as it may seem, this war against democratic ideals has gone so far that many members of the GOP have actually taken the side of Russia in their terrorist war against the citizens of Ukraine. So much for the GOP’s Nixon-era slogan, “Better dead than red.”

As Senator Chris Murphy noted:

“Trump’s admiration for Putin, it’s turned into a collective right wing obsession. Turn on [Fox News] virtually any night and you’re going to hear him lionizing Putin, and pushing often line for line Russian disinformation. Elon Musk uncritically blasts out Russian propaganda about the war to his 120 million plus followers.

“Steve Bannon says that Putin is the leader of the anti-woke fight globally. Donald Trump Jr., I follow him on social media, he’s relentlessly making fun of Zelensky online. QAnon sites say that Russia’s war in Ukraine is righteous because it’s just the next front of the war against these global sex traffickers that apparently are operating out of pizza parlors in Northwest D.C. and Ukraine.”

Right-wing billionaires have taken over the training and grooming of young lawyers for our court system, packing a supreme and appeals court system to their liking. They run political operations in every state and at the federal level: they’ve become the tail wagging the dog of Republican politics. The billionaire network in America has, according to Politico, three times more employees and a larger budget than the GOP itself.

In this, these billionaires would be wise to read German industrialist Fritz Thyssen’s apologetic book I Paid Hitler. He tells how he pressured German President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, and then lobbied the Association of German Industrialists, that country’s and era’s version of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to donate 3 million Reichsmarks to the Nazi Party for the 1933 election. It brought Hitler to power—and eventually Thyssen himself had to flee Germany for his life.

Like Thyssen’s story, history is littered with examples of elites and average people who supported populist strongman movements, only to rue the day they worked to end democracy.

Which brings us to the most pressing question of our era: Will today’s Republican politicians and their billionaire funders also repeat history and succeed in turning America into the fascist hellscape of Greene’s picture?

Hopefully, the GOP will regain its sanity, ideally after a severe drubbing in the polls in 2024. But nothing can be taken for granted: We all must do everything we can to wake up friends, neighbors, and relatives and work to reestablish and strengthen democracy in our now-badly-wounded republic.

© 2023 Thom Hartmann