Politics / April 2, 2024

Trump’s Threats Against Opponents Are Getting Increasingly Violent

The former president’s rhetoric is characteristically over the top. But his agenda for a second presidential term targets an array of personal enemies.

Chris Lehmann
(Truth Social)

Just a few days after circulating his Holy Week pitch for God Bless the USA Bibles, former president Donald Trump marked Good Friday in high MAGA fashion, by posting a video to his Truth Social account showing his successor, Joe Biden, hog-tied on the gate of a pickup truck. The video was apparently shot en route to the memorial for fallen New York City Policeman Jonathan Diller on Long Island—an event that Trump attended so as to showcase his popularity with the police on the same day Biden attended a lavish Manhattan fundraiser featuring former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The blizzard of violent rhetoric and imagery associated with Trump’s reelection bid is relentless, but even amid such charged threats, the Long Island video stood out in shocking relief. Not only did it legitimize violent attacks on a political opponent but it also referenced the ugly, racist practice of modern lynching, something sickeningly familiar to anyone who recalls the truck-dragging murder of James Byrd Jr. in 1998.

More broadly, the Biden video keys directly into Trump’s frequent, deadly earnest threats to convert a second administration into a vehicle for “revenge” and “retribution” on behalf of a permanently aggrieved MAGA movement. That mandate would produce a wide-ranging ideological purge of the federal workforce to ensure its firm adherence to Trump policy preferences. The prototype for such an effort is already firmly in place at the retooled Republican National Committee, now cochaired by Trump’s daughter-in-law, where much of the old staff has been cashiered, and prospective new hires are quizzed on whether the 2020 election was stolen. (Spoiler alert: They are exponentially more likely to be hired and move up the ranks if they respond with some variation of “Hell, yes.”)

The other elements of a federal regime driven principally by an ethos of belligerent hard-right comeuppance are itemized in Mandate for Leadership, the Heritage Foundation’s exhaustive Project 2025 blueprint for a second Trump term. Its authors lay the groundwork for a new immigration police state, an authoritarian makeover of the Justice Department, and a frontal assault on diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives, among other alleged “woke” and “radical left” violations of the MAGA birthright. Another set of Trump advisers is already hard at work trying to revamp civil rights law to combat “anti-white racism,” according to a report from Axios’s Alex Thompson.

Because things like the Biden video, or Trump’s dehumanizing immigration rhetoric, carom around the mediasphere in breathlessly decontextualized dispatches, they tend to be characterized as standard campaign gaffes. (Over on the right, meanwhile, the tone-policers at National Review ludicrously warn that the chief threat stemming from a second Trump administration would be a wave of left-wing political violence.) But, as Michael Kinsley noted long ago, a gaffe is when a candidate veers off script to say what he actually means, and that is very much the case with Trump’s exuberant embrace of rhetoric endorsing political violence for its own sake. That was the unmistakable message when Easter rolled around, and Trump unleashed one of his trademark rancorous holiday greetings to his political foes on his Truth Social account. The all caps, needless to say, are in the original:

HAPPY EASTER TO ALL, INCLUDING CROOKED AND CORRUPT PROSECUTORS AND JUDGES THAT ARE DOING EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO INTERFERE WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 2024, AND PUT ME IN PRISON, INCLUDING THOSE MANY PEOPLE THAT I COMPLETELY & TOTALLY DESPISE BECAUSE THEY WANT TO DESTROY AMERICA, A NOW FAILING NATION, LIKE “DERANGED” JACK SMITH, WHO IS EVIL AND “SICK,” MRS. FANI “FAUNI” WADE, WHO SAID SHE HARDLY KNEW THE “SPECIAL” PROSECUTOR, ONLY TO FIND THAT HE SPENT YEARS “LOVING” HER, LONG BEFORE THE GEORGIA PERSECUTION OF PRESIDENT TRUMP BEGAN (AND THEREBY MAKING THE CASE AGAINST ME NULL, VOID, AND ILLEGAL!), AND LAZY ON VIOLENT CRIME ALVIN BRAGG WHO, WITH CROOKED JOE’S DOJ THUGS, UNFAIRLY WORKING IN THE D.A.’s OFFICE, ILLEGALLY INDICTED ME ON A CASE HE NEVER WANTED TO BRING AND VIRTUALLY ALL LEGAL SCHOLARS SAY IS A CASE THAT SHOULD NOT BE BROUGHT, IS BREAKING THE LAW IN DOING SO (POMERANTZ!), WAS TURNED DOWN BY ALL OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES, AND IS NOT A CRIME. HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!

But Pastor Donald’s Easter homilizing didn’t stop there; he also posted a link to a Washington Times article that likened his self-inflicted legal woes to Jesus’ crucifixion. The ability to toggle effortlessly between the image of Trump as savior and threats to lynch, harass, and discredit legal and political figures deemed “sick,” “evil,” and “deranged” bears grim testimony to the evangelical world’s wholesale annexation to the Trump empire. Back when that alliance was initially forged during the 2016 presidential cycle, believers spoke of getting on board “the Trump train.” Now, there should be no doubt that they are boarding the Trump truck, with rope, axes, and fire accelerants close at hand.

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Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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