COMMENTARY

Trump quietly unleashes his mob

Threats and intimidation against government workers and public health officials have dramatically increased

By Heather Digby Parton
Published September 20, 2021 9:56AM (EDT)
People listen as former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida. Co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida, the rally marks Trump's further support of the MAGA agenda and accomplishments of his administration. (Photo illustration by Salon/Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
People listen as former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida. Co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida, the rally marks Trump's further support of the MAGA agenda and accomplishments of his administration. (Photo illustration by Salon/Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

There's been a ton of reporting and analysis on Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book, "Peril", most of it focusing on the final days of the Trump administration — which by all accounts were even more of a chaotic mess than we could see from the outside (and we saw plenty). The bizarre antics from the president and his henchmen regarding the election results were unprecedented and continue to this day.

But one of the most chilling quotes from the book that I've seen so far comes from this review of the book by history professor Eric Rauchway in the Washington Post. As we knew, Vice President Mike Pence tried every way he could to come up with a rationale to do Trump's bidding and refuse to ceremonially confirm the electoral count in the joint session of Congress on January 6th. On that morning, before the fateful rally that inspired the insurrection, Pence came to the White House to reluctantly tell his boss that he just didn't have the power to do that under the Constitution:

Gesturing at some of his supporters already gathered and shouting outside the White House, Trump asked, "Well, what if these people say you do?

When Pence demurred again, Trump mused, "wouldn't it almost be cool to have that power?"

As Rauchway points out, "the president was willing to find authority in the mob if he lacked it in the law." It's entirely possible that if the mob had succeeded in finding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or the vice president or had been able to corner some of those elected officials in the Capitol that day, Trump would have gone along with it. All the recent books, including "Peril" have Trump watching the event unfold and being unmoved by exhortations to step in from everyone from his daughter Ivanka to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to whom he reportedly said, "well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."

That comment about the mob conferring the power to overturn the election results got me thinking about the timeline on Jan. 6 and it occurs to me that Trump only issued his pathetic video in which he said he loved the gathered rioters but implored them to go on home once it became clear that all the officials had gotten away safely and there was no longer any chance his supporters would succeed in finding them. He had waited to see if they could physically force the Congress to overturn the election.


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As predicted, the "Justice forJ6" rally last Saturday was a non-event. More media showed up than protesters, largely because the organizer has no talent for organizing and the word on all right-wing social media was that the FBI was going to arrest everyone. As I noted earlier, Trump himself said it was a "set-up." But in case anyone wondered where he stood on the premise of this rally, which is that the federal authorities are unjustly holding peaceful protesters as political prisoners, he left no doubt when he issued his statement in solidarity. "Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice."

ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on "This Week" that when he's interviewed Trump for his new book, it's clear that Trump has no regrets:

I was absolutely dumbfounded at how fondly he looks back on January 6th. He thinks it was a great day. He thinks it was one of the greatest days of his time in politics.

Trump is still flouting the law and openly condoning the violent insurrection. As Rauchway said, he "finds authority in the mob." He's always engaged in lurid rhetoric and has nudged his followers and police to beat protesters and the like. But starting with his calls to "liberate" states that were trying to mitigate the spread of the pandemic, he has been backing insurrectionist and vigilante activity. And his followers are listening.

We've seen threats and intimidation against government workers and public health officials for months. Congressional representatives are under constant threat having to hire private security and bodyguards. We are starting to see violence in everyday interactions between local officials and their constituents. School board meetings have become fraught with locals citizens yelling at officials that they know where they live and they will find them. Last week GOP Congressman Anthony Gonzales announced that he would not run for reelection in Ohio because ever since he voted to impeach Donald Trump after the insurrection he and his family have needed security due of the risk of violence from Trump supporters. Trump quickly put out a statement indicating his elation at the success of that intimidation:

The 9 he refers to are the other Republicans who voted to impeach him. He is using the "authority of the mob" to chase his perceived enemies in the GOP out of politics and to send a message to all the other Republicans that they will be subject to the same treatment if they cross him.

All the recent polls show Trump is as popular as ever with Republicans. His obsessive attention to his Big Lie seems to have hardened their attitudes with more of them believing he was cheated than believed it last January. The vast majority of his voters have lost faith in the electoral system to deliver a fair result and will likely not accept anything but a victory going forward, particularly if Donald Trump is on the ballot.

Rauchway's review of "Peril" features an unexpected insight into President Biden's view of Trumpism. He writes:

Biden regards the -ism, not the man, as the real threat; Trump put the nation in peril because he evoked and organized a darkness that was already there.

That darkness isn't going away. It is energized and stimulated by the strong threat of violence that is running through our politics. Like its leader Trump, it sees the "authority in the mob" as the best way to preserve its dominance in a culture it believes is slipping away. Biden is right that Trump is not the real threat. The threat is the violent beast he has unleashed and there isn't any obvious way to put it back in its cage.  


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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" Bob Costa Bob Woodward Commentary Donald Trump Gen. Mark Milley Peril