Please, Please Stop Blaming “Progressives” for Donald Trump’s Fascism

Please, Please Stop Blaming “Progressives” for Donald Trump’s Fascism

Please, Please Stop Blaming “Progressives” for Donald Trump’s Fascism

He’ll attack the prosecutors and judges bringing him to justice for “criminalizing” politics no matter what Democrats say.


I am not sitting at my desk drinking from a Judge Tanya Chutkan coffee mug while a votive candle to special counsel Jack Smith burns on my coffee table. I own neither; it’s not my way.*

But I don’t judge anyone who is savoring the sight of justice officials trying to bring twice-impeached Donald Trump to justice, and I don’t begrudge their buying a little bit of swag to celebrate.

Politico magazine writer Michael Schaeffer does. He spent thousands of words warning progressives not to turn Chutkan and Smith into folk heroes, because it “only furthers the institutional delegitimization that sits at the core of Trump’s rhetoric.” If liberals lionize Chutkan and Smith—or the local district attorneys, Alvin Bragg and Fani Willis, who are also prosecuting Trump—they “reinforce” Trump’s claim that the cases against him are “a partisan plot countenanced by a rigged judicial system.”

Schaeffer is concerned that Trump will come especially hard for Chutkan, since she’s an Obama-appointed, Jamaican-immigrant woman of color. “There is no way I can get a fair trial with the judge ‘assigned’ to the ridiculous freedom of speech/fair elections case,” Trump wrote on Truth Social after she got the January 6 case. “Everybody knows this and so does she!” Chutkan’s security detail has already been expanded, Schaeffer notes, adding that “it seems inevitable that much, much uglier stuff lies ahead.” Buying Chutkan swag, he warns, will only make things worse.

The fact is, Trump was raging against Chutkan before the first piece of merch flew off Etsy’s digital shelves. He has labeled Smith’s multiple January 6 indictments the “freedom of speech/fair elections case,” and he’ll continue his ridiculous claims, as well as his attacks on those bringing him to justice, no matter what progressives do. His attack on Chutkan will also likely become more explicitly racist—we know that not because folks are wearing Tanya Chutkan T-shirts, but because he’s made racist attacks on Bragg, Willis, and New York Attorney General Letitia James. It’s what he does.

I don’t mean to pick on Schaeffer. There’s a long history of mainstream media outlets and even liberal pundits blaming liberals for Trump’s electoral success and fascist excess. “Recent polls suggest that the Democrats really are increasing the chances Trump will win re-election,” The New York Times David Leonhardt wrote in September 2019, by focusing on “wonky subjects that excite some progressive activists—and alienate most American voters.” Obviously, Joe Biden won.

“Why do Democrats keep helping Trump?” The Economist asked crankily in April, criticizing Democratic DA Alvin Bragg’s bringing business-fraud charges against the ex-president and media outlets who covered that news like it was a big deal (um, it was). Prosecuting Trump at all, some have suggested, risks inciting more violence from his supporters.

Trump supporters go hard on that point. Adviser Peter Navarro says the January 6 Trump indictments could foment “a new civil war,” and he blames that on progressives. “In their quest for power, radical elements within the Democrat Party have abandoned any pretense of fairness, tolerance, and justice,” he said in a Substack video recently, advising Democrats to back this anti-democratic truck up before it runs over you.”

Against the backdrop of right-wing threats and even violence—just this week a heavily armed Utah Trump supporter threatened to kill Biden, Bragg, Smith and others, and died when he refused to surrender to law enforcement—owning a Chutkan T-shirt or a Jack Smith stainless steel water bottle seems pretty harmless.

Also, there’s a case to be made that fighting fascism with humor can be energizing. In his extraordinary book The Undertow, writer Jeff Sharlet marvels at the handmade “folk art of this fascist movement,” from customized Trump flags to “silos painted with Trump art and other fascist symbols, trees carved into the likeness of fascist heroes!” Maybe having cottage industries of anti-fascist folk art is a way of fighting back?

I think about the joy many of us got watching the Montgomery riverfront brawl—not the violence itself, but the sight of Black men and women (and a few white people) teaming up to defend a Black boat crew member who had been attacked by a white mob (explained so well by Elie Mystal here). No, I’m not going to create a T-shirt photoshopping Judge Chutkan with the iconic white folding chair, but I won’t be surprised, or horrified, if I see one on social media.

Under Trump, the rule of law took a thorough beating, and democratic norms were roundly trounced. It’s easy to want to cheer for the “good guys” after the bad guys have done so much damage. And it’s not going to effect the bad guys’ behavior anyway.

Trump himself has howled about a photo showing President Joe Biden drinking from a “Dark Brandon” coffee mug, captioned “Enjoying a cup of Joe.” But the “Dark Brandon” meme evolved from Trump supporters’ turning a “Fuck Joe Biden” chant into the more family friendly “Let’s Go Brandon,” which graced bumper stickers and banners as a cool, insiders’ diss of the president. When Biden backers turned the insult into an homage—“Dark Brandon” became the genial, elderly Biden’s cool, cunning alter ego—Trump and his backers cried foul. He’s a whiny little man baby, and also a racist and a fascist, and I say let him howl.

Progressives playing by the media’s standard of “fair” political behavior, respecting institutional norms and decorum, will never make Trump and his Republican allies do the same. So I’m going to let people celebrate Chutkan, Smith, Bragg, Willis and the avengers of the Montgomery boat brawl however they want.

* I did give friends Robert Mueller votive candles, and tossed mine in the trash when his milquetoast report came out.

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