For the man who contributed “bigly” and “covfefe” and mistwits “hamberders” and “shoebiz,” vermin is an “SAT word”. It is also an ugly word befitting the men who have used it as he has to describe people whom they hate. Vermin is as vermin does, I suppose.
We are about to measure the width of the chasm between those of us who see clearly the insanity that grips the rest of us. The “us” part of this phenomenon is crucial in determining our ability to move on after Donald Trump. Like it or not, we are engaged in a struggle with ourselves that is as great as the one that gripped the nation when the division was between North and South. The issues dividing us may seem wholly different— but they are much the same. Intolerance and greed stoke passions that quickly grow out of hand. And that is by design. The intolerance of others and the greed that proposes that “I am owed as much as I can grab” is the main ingredient in the making of a grievance.
Trump’s language and tactics grow darker as his personal and political prospects deteriorate. Channeling Hitler is likely more organic than it is deliberate. His life history is replete with examples of his uncanny ability to fail without consequence. This is a lucky— not a bright— man:
The plotline here makes for an inherently satisfying story (evil leader has terrible and deeply illegal idea; heroic retainer strives and strives and finally prevents its execution), but at bottom the rationale was not overly complicated: Trump’s simple ideas to solve complicated problems tended to be outlandish, unworkable, and—where the limit was reached for more than one appointee—illegal. And his manifest inability to take in information meant that he raised these ideas and insisted on them again and again and again, with mounting stubbornness and petulance and anger.
— The New York Review. “The Grievance Artist”, by Mark Danner
At the highest level of government with the available resources of the nation’s best and brightest, the MAGA movement thrives on its disdain for intellect and competence, and, instead demands blind fealty as the most important resume bullet point. It is the paradigm for a cult. During his time as president Donald Trump exhibited the same lack of imagination he brought to his business enterprises. His inability to think outside the box is manifest in his simplistic solutions to complex problems. Mark Danner recreates a scene in the White House in which Trump offers a solution to the complex immigration problems on the southern border that boggles the minds of his Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen:
“Kiiiirstjen,” he said in his distinctive New York accent. “I can’t believe what I am seeing at the border.” The president…wanted to talk about creative options….
He had an idea: “a big, deep moat.”
She muted the line. “Did he just say what I think he said?”
“I want you to figure out how deep you can dig it, okay Kirstjen?” Trump proposed filling the moat with “snakes and alligators” to eat people alive if they fell into it. “How much would this cost, honey?”
She unmuted. “We’ll look into it, Mr. President.” He kept pressing the point until she assured him again we’d get back to the White House.
He wasn’t joking, and we weren’t laughing anymore. The call derailed the morning as DHS cobbled together a back-of-the-envelope estimate for digging a border-long ditch and filling it with snakes and alligators.
— Mark Danner
If this were simply a singular lapse of imagination for solving a knotty problem it might be overlooked, but it is rather the rule. Building walls, and filling moats with snakes and alligators might seem funny until one realizes that the solutions derived from feudal times. His wall references the Great Wall built circa 220 BC to ward off barbarian incursions. Digging moats and building walls become an obsession rooted in his own lack of imagination that engulfed and confused his administrative aides. Trump is transfixed by ideas that he encountered as a boy in grammar school— the imagination-stunted adult mind seems trapped within a box he is unable to think outside of:
The president went back to his greatest hits—“a big, big border wall!” “cut off the cash!” “screw the Mexicans!”—and we sat there listening to the diatribe that had begun to sound like a Broadway sing-a-long from hell. We left without any clear direction….
— A Warning, published anonymously by Miles Taylor
Taylor, a former official in the Office of Homeland Security turned whistleblower. he has described in a controversial (because he chose to write it and the NYTimes chose to print it without attribution) NYTimes op-ed an erratic commander-in-chief whose policies and decisions were formed by whims rather than thoughtful deliberation. The perspective now, after seven years of evidence detailing his descent from demagogue to anti-democratic criminal, is that the United States for a time was led by a man hardly in touch with reality.
The rabbit hole he now has entered is the same one shared with other notable scoundrels whose methods the ex-president has adopted. In a way, all autocrats are more alike than not. They share a fondness for wielding power and imposing it on others. Trump is not unique in this way, and his words and actions are similar to a long line of despots who have stained history before him. His brand is most nearly associated with the deranged wing of this ancestry. So he channels Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini as a wannabe because, to date, his autocratic tendencies have been somewhat constrained by our democratic institutions and traditions.
His threats of violence and encouragement of those among us who would willingly carry it out are in line with another tradition that is found not only in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia but within our own less acknowledged past. The enemy within is nurtured and awakened by weak leadership that imposes half-measures and a reluctance to confront our nation’s shortcomings. America’s history is replete with violence committed under color of law or because of the law’s reluctance to act. Lynchings, discrimination, scapegoating, and suppression are a part of an American antidemocratic tradition that has created a tension within us since our founding. Lincoln’s calling on “better angels” from his first inaugural is an acknowledgment of the existence of our inner demons— some of whom Donald Trump has tapped. As judges wrangle over how to control his tampering with our justice system, Trump seethes. As they refuse to act in kind with his threats and intimidations directed at them and their authority to administer justice fairly and equally, he stokes more violence.
As many here have noted, Trump is getting away with what no other defendant under our system of justice would. As long as he is free to continue his attacks on our institutions, our democratic future is in jeopardy. Lock him up. Revoke his bail and be done with it. The fear of reprisals, or the consideration of his next move, which constrain the courts in each jurisdiction (save one) that is responsible for meting out justice for his crimes, only serve to prolong his ability to escape judgment.
Trump masterfully tries to confuse and distort the relationship between his words, mainly, and the violence that swirls around them after they are said. His intent, however, is hardly in doubt. In the New York fraud trial and the Fulton County and D.C. cases his use of words to threaten and intimidate witnesses seems bad enough but the real intent is one the courts refuse to act on. As his lawyers file motions to counter judges’ half-measured sanctions of his behavior, the clock ticks on. Also ticking in the background, however, is the violence his words and deeds foment among his followers. By allowing Trump and his lawyers to manipulate for time, each new stay of a court-ordered sanction is followed by a torrent of further abuses of the court. Trump is not after the witnesses, their damage has for the most part been done with their depositions and plea agreements. No, he is going after the institution itself.
Cause and effect, the theories of causation that normally explain what happens and why, are twisted by Trump to his ends. Threats spark sanctions which, in turn, produce motions requiring stays, which then are followed by more threats. Each new layer of threat and intimidation has the dual effect of tying up the courts and, perhaps just as importantly to Trump, inciting his followers to induce the violence his threats had promised. He is playing the only card left in his weakened hand, but this time waging a more tactical attack on the government and its rule of law than he orchestrated on January 6. As long as the courts employ half-measures to try to control him, Trump will continue to grind away at their efficacy.
Citizen Trump is no longer president and no longer enjoys the protections from the courts he used so effectively in the past. Presently, more than 400,000 criminal defendants are imprisoned in this country because they could not live up to the terms courts required for their release while being tried. He deserves no better— no worse. The courts should realize that their reluctance to clamp down for fear of reprisals gives life to Trump’s false pretense. When asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if he feared going to prison, Trump scoffed:
“I don’t even think about it. I’m built a little differently I guess, because I have had people come up to me and say, ‘How do you do it, Sir? How do you do it?’ I don’t even think about it.
These are political, these are banana republic indictments. I’ve been treated very badly.
When you say, ‘Do I sleep?’ I sleep, I sleep. Because I truly feel that in the end, we’re going to win.”
— NBC News, “Meet the Press,” September 17, 2023
Insiders report, to the contrary, that imprisonment is fully on his mind. False bravado aside, no seventy-year-old, especially one whose life has been one of extraordinary privilege, would like to have his freedom taken. Trump may want us to believe that prison would help his run for president— or that in reacting to his behavior a judge just may provide grounds for an appeal on reversible error:
“When a defendant honestly believes he can’t possibly get a fair trial from the judge, one of the tactics is to antagonize the judge to a point of causing reversible errors...”
— Alan Dershowitz
While we might quibble with Dersh’s choice of “honestly,” the logic fits Trump lawyers’ predicament of defending a terrible case attached to a lousy client. The courts should not take the bait. If the current sanctions imposed by trial judges aren’t working, apply the law-- lock him up.