For all the in-depth coverage thus far about the latest and by far the most significant criminal indictment of Donald John Trump, there has been remarkably scant acknowledgment of the actual, real-world import of the charges he faces. Legal phraseology such as “conspiracy to defraud the United States” and “attempting to obstruct an official proceeding,“ and even “seditious conspiracy” (which Trump wasn’t charged with) fall woefully short of capturing the sheer, overwhelming magnitude of his (alleged) treachery.
In fact, this has been the case ever since Jan. 6, 2021. It’s as if the media can’t quite get their heads around something so vast and antithetical to American democracy as what Trump attempted in plain sight. Or even if they do appreciate it, they can’t figure out how best to convey it to the American people.
Let’s try this, then. Under the scheme Trump is now charged with, 81 million Americans would have had their votes for the highest elected office in this land rendered meaningless, effectively erased, as if they’d never existed. That’s 81 million Biden voters instantly disenfranchised; their judgments, motives, hopes, and everything that shaped them, abruptly negated. Their trips to the local voting precinct during a pandemic, their careful consideration and concern in filling out mail-in ballots, their discussions with spouses and family about which presidential candidate they should vote for, all crudely and unilaterally disregarded and trashed. Had Trump succeeded in this plan, half the voting nation would have experienced the absolute foundation of their own citizenship snatched away from them in one single, tyrannical power grab, making them—for all intents and purposes—noncitizens.
That would have led to massive protests in the street, the likes of which this nation has never seen. Work for millions would have come to a complete standstill. There would have been riots, property destruction, and violence on a national scale as voters vented their fury. And, as special counsel Jack Smith’s Tuesday indictment shows, Trump was prepared to respond to those anticipated protests by calling out the military to quell them.
As he plotted his coup, Trump knew he needed the assistance of the Justice Department to at least paint a thin veneer of legality over what he was contemplating. The fact that he weighed elevating a nobody like Jeffrey Clark (clearly referenced as “Co-Conspirator 4” in Smith’s indictment) to the post of acting attorney general showed that Trump knew he would face almost total opposition from the Department of Justice.
Clark, recommended to Trump by Republican Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, was the solution to that problem. As explained by Tim Dickinson analyzing the indictment for Rolling Stone, Clark was nothing if not a compliant toady, brimming with ideas on how to handle the inevitable and violent fallout from Trump’s coup:
In a meeting that same afternoon [Jan. 3, 2021] Co-Conspirator 4 allegedly had a discussion with a Deputy White House Counsel, who had previously told Trump directly that there was no hope of overturning the 2020 election and that, “there is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House” on Jan 20, 2021.
This same Deputy White House Counsel now “tried to dissuade” Co-Conspirator 4 from taking the post of Acting Attorney General. The counsel again made clear his conviction that there had not been meaningful fraud in the election. And he warned that there would be “riots in every major city in the United States” if Trump attempted to remain in office, against the will of the electorate.
Co-Conspirator 4 had an answer for the Deputy White House Counsel, the indictment alleges, that was equally disturbing and glib: “Well,” he said, “that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”
As Dickinson explains, the Insurrection Act permits the president to sidestep the general prohibition of employing using the U.S. military within the nation’s borders if deemed necessary to stop an “uprising.” And indeed, Clark’s proposed solution would have been Trump’s only realistic option. There simply aren’t enough Proud Boys or Oath Keepers to combat the righteous fury of 81 million Democratic voters. Trump would need the military to keep order if his plan was to succeed. And if that meant deploying soldiers to confront protesting Biden supporters in the street, that was just fine. In the interim, Trump knew he could rely on the entirety of his supplicant right-wing media juggernaut to try to legitimize his efforts with a hodgepodge of ready-made lies and conspiracy theories.
So Americans should understand the full scope of what Trump was contemplating. It was nothing short of dictatorial rule, using the nation’s armed forces against over half of the nation’s electorate, whom he would have already effectively disenfranchised. It would have been a profound, unspeakable crime against this nation and its people, one far more serious than even the gravest legal language can convey. And all Americans—but Biden voters in particular—should think long and hard about that fact as these criminal proceedings unfold.
Editor’s note: This story’s headline has been changed, and the potential targets and ramifications of the Insurrection Act clarified.