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L’etat, c’est Trump

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Good piece from Susan Glasser on where we are now as a nation, and where we’re going on the Trump train. She references the Republican political consultant Richard Berman’s FLAGS theory of political rhetoric, in which the acronym stands for fear, love, anger, greed, and sympathy. Trump’s FLAGS of course don’t include any love or sympathy, and really just gesture at greed in a pro forma way. It’s all fear and anger all the way down:

Among the flags I flagged were his complaints about “one of the most outrageous and vicious legal theories ever put forward in an American court of law”; “the horrific violation of my rights by Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Department of Injustice”; and, no surprise “Deranged Jack Smith,” the special counsel who brought the case against him in Florida and who is a “raging lunatic,” as well as a “thug,” whose previous work as a war-crimes prosecutor took place in “globalist tribunals not beholden to the Constitution or the rule of law.” (It should be noted that Trump also called Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney who indicted him in a hush-money case earlier this spring, a “lunatic.”) Even Trump’s complaints about previous investigations of him, such as the “Russia, Russia, Russia” hoax and the “Mueller witch hunt,” have now been upgraded to sweeping systemic threats, lumped together as part of what he called a years-long series of “illegal psychological warfare campaigns against the American people.” The point is that this is scary stuff, targeting you and not just him.

Notably and understandably, neither CNN nor MSNBC carried this speech, with its toxic but predictable cocktail of misinformation and lies, live on their airwaves. I watched it on Fox News, which briefly showed Trump alongside an image of President Biden making his own speech. A chyron flashed across the screen during this split-screen moment: “Wannabe dictator speaks at the White House after having his political rival arrested.” Talk about fear and anger. Fox is an entire network premised on their enduring marketability.

But there is, I’m afraid, an important reason to listen more attentively than ever to what Trump is saying. As he faces the very real threat of conviction and imprisonment in the criminal cases now pending against him, he has dramatically escalated the apocalypse quotient in his rhetoric. It’s no longer enough merely to bemoan “American carnage,” à la his 2017 Inaugural Address, or to portray himself as the savior who will do something about it. With his own survival on the line, Trump has now embraced a Presidential-campaign platform of do-or-die-ism. There is a chilling urgency to his words as he calls on his followers to show up for “the final battle,” a phrase I first noticed him using earlier this year. “We will get reëlected,” he said in his speech this week. “We have no choice.”

Trump’s 2024 campaign is turning out to be a master class in fear, his own and that which he seeks to inspire in his supporters. His doom-casting is designed not only to provoke their emotions but to lead his audience to the inescapable conclusion that radical action is required. “Republicans all, you must finally get tough,” Trump said on Tuesday night. “You’ve got to get tough and you’ve got to show them, when you arrest your leading political opponent, we no longer have a democracy.” He concluded with a promise to “obliterate” his enemies in the “deep state,” and to appoint a “real” special prosecutor to go after Biden, “the most corrupt President in the history of the United States of America,” and Biden’s family, too—the very politicization of justice of which Trump claims to be a victim.

The speech ended on the dictatorial note that has become the chilling, messianic signature of his 2024 campaign: “I am the only one that can save this nation,” he said. L’état, c’est Trump. 

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