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Our Racist, Fascist Ex-President

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Worth noting that last night, our ex-president not only promised to pardon his fascist coup supporters, but also basically promised a race war by calling the Black prosecutors investigating his many crimes to be “racists.”

In fact, the man who’d occupied the White House little more than one year ago delivered one of the most incendiary and most dangerous speeches in America’s 246-year history. It included an appeal for all-out mayhem in the streets to thwart the U.S. justice system and prevent Trump from going to jail, as the vise tightens from overlapping criminal probes in multiple jurisdictions. And it also featured a stunning campaign promise — that Trump would look to abuse the power of the presidency to pardon those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

It’s impossible for me to understate or downplay the importance of this moment, and I hope that my colleagues in the media — who too often over the last year have craved or even pretended about a return to the politics of “normal,” when we are nowhere near normal — will wake up and see this. Of course, Biden’s presidency deserves our full scrutiny, with praise for what’s gone right (an economic boom) and criticism for what’s gone wrong (broken promises on climate and student debt). But while Biden is seeking to restore democratic norms, a shadow ex-president — unpunished so far for his role in an attempted coup on Jan. 6 — is rebuilding a cult-like movement in the heartland of America, with all the personal grievance and appeals to Brownshirts-style violence that marked the lowest moments of the 20th century. On the 89th anniversary of the date (Jan. 30, 1933) that Adolf Hitler — rehabilitated after his attempted coup — assumed power in Germany, are we repeating the past’s mistakes of complacency and underestimation?

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— But let’s take a step back and drill down on arguably the most important and alarming word in Trump’s statement: “Racist.” At first blush, it seems to come out of left field, in the sense of what could be racist about looking into a white man’s role in an attempted coup or his cooked financial books? Except that it happens that three of the key prosecutors investigating Trump — the Fulton County, Ga., district attorney, Fani Willis, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, and new Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg — as well as the chair of the House committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, are all Black.

Thus, it’s both alarming and yet utterly predictable that Trump would toss the gasoline of racial allegations onto his flaming pile of grievances, knowing how that will play with the Confederate flag aficionados within the ex-president’s cult. In tying skin color into his call for mobs in Atlanta or New York, Trump is seeking to start a race war — no different, really, from Dylann Roof. Roof used a .45-caliber Glock handgun, while Trump uses a podium and the services of fawning right-wing cable TV networks. Sadly, the latter method could prove more effective.

What happened in Conroe, Texas, on Saturday night was not politics. A politician seeking to regain the White House might craft a narrative around Biden’s struggles with inflation or with COVID-19 and make a case — no matter how absurd, given Trump’s failings on the pandemic and elsewhere — that he could do better for the voters. But increasingly Trump is less a politician and more the leader of a politics-adjacent cult. He does not want to make America great again so much as he wants to keep Donald Trump out of prison, and the most narcissistic POTUS of all time is willing to rip the United States in two to make this happen.

Trump’s chief weapons are fear and intimidation. To save American democracy, the people tasked with getting to the bottom of a former president’s high crimes and misdemeanors — on Capitol Hill and in those key courthouses — must be ready for the violence that Trump is inciting, and must summon the courage to finish their job. My fear is that Trump’s speech in Conroe will live in infamy — but the only reason it happened at all is because we have not held Trump to account for attempting to wreck American democracy on Jan. 6 … not yet. Now, Trump has told us in no uncertain terms how he plans to break the nation this time. We can act forcefully to stop his new insurrection and punish his past crimes — or we can sit back and let the comet of autocracy strike.

Great country we have here.

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