"King Trump" dreams of a glorious return: It seems preposterous, but we laugh at our peril

Donald Trump longs to have the life-or-death power of a feudal monarch — if that's ludicrous, it's also terrifying

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 28, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump watching democracy burn (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump watching democracy burn (Getty Images/Salon)

The House Jan. 6 select committee has Donald Trump dead to rights. Over the course of four public hearings — with a fifth unexpectedly scheduled for Tuesday — the committee has presented a compelling de facto indictment of Trump and his coup cabal for their crimes on and around Jan. 6, 2021, including treason. The evidence is so conclusive that if Attorney General Merrick Garland does not prosecute Trump, that choice will itself be a crime against American democracy and society.

Ultimately, if Garland refuses to act, future history books will forever connect him to Trump's coup attempt. Such hypothetical accounts may observe that after a defeated president and his confederates attempted to overthrow American democracy, the nation's top law enforcement official declined to hold him accountable — and that led directly to the collapse of democracy and the rise of a fascist regime. 

How has Trump himself reacted to the Jan. 6 hearings and their devastating depiction of his gross criminality and bottomless ignominy? He is a criminal mastermind and apparent sociopath, who throughout his life has demonstrated a profound ability to evade responsibility for his misdeeds. He has learned from his experience in hundreds of lawsuits and dozens of accusations: He never accepts responsibility for any wrongdoing, always depicts himself as the real victim and always goes on the attack.

RELATED: Dr. Lance Dodes: Trump is a dangerous sociopath — but he's sane enough to stand trial

True to form, Trump has responded to the hearings by inciting violence against Democrats, liberals and other individuals and groups he deems to be his enemies — exactly the same offense he so clearly committed in connection with the coup attempt and Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

In a speech at the "Faith and Freedom" conference two Fridays ago in Nashville, Trump basically promised to pardon his followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. He told the audience that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Liz Cheney should be prosecuted for investigating him and his cabal. Needless to say, he showed no contrition for willfully endangering the life of Vice President Mike Pence. As legal experts have observed, these statements offer more evidence of Trump's state of mind and malice aforethought in connection with the events of Jan. 6.

Trump has no fear of speaking out in public, since to this point the Department of Justice has not shown any substantive indications that he will face prosecution. Trump also believes, with good reason, that he can command his followers to engage in acts of violence if he is indicted or prosecuted, and that they will obey.

On his Truth Social site, Trump has unleashed a number of enraged diatribes in response to the committee hearings:

The Fake News Networks are perpetuating lies, falsehoods, and Russia, Russia, Russia type disinformation (same sick people, here we go again!) by allowing the low rated but nevertheless one sided and slanderous Unselect Committee hearings to go endlessly and aimlessly on (and on and on!)

It is a one sided, highly partisan Witch Hunt, the likes of which has never been seen in Congress before. Therefore, I am hereby demanding EQUAL TIME to spell out the massive Voter Fraud & Dem Security Breach! I demand equal time!!!

For Trump to accuse anyone else of telling lies is of course massive projection  He is a professional victimologist. Nonetheless, Trump's followers hear his repeated demands for violence (whether explicit or implied) for violence very clearly.

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As such, Trump's Truth Social platform has also featured an increase in threats of assassination or other acts of political violence against members of the House Jan. 6 committee. CNN reports that users on Truth Social and other right-wing sites "are openly calling for the execution of committee members, with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney appearing to be a specific target. Calls for former Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged ... continue to be echoed online":

An analysis by the group Advance Democracy, a not-for-profit that conducts public interest investigations, shared with CNN found posts on Truth Social calling for the execution of January 6 committee members and others. The researchers searched for specific terms on the platforms like "execute."

One post on Truth Social includes a picture of a noose and reads, "The J6 committee are guilty of treason. Perpetuation of a insurrection hang them all."

On another post referencing Cheney, a user posted a GIF of a guillotine with the message, "#MGGA #MakeGuillotinesGreatAgain."

Trump and his spokespeople continue to circulate the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen by Joe Biden and the Democrats through "voter fraud" — effectively meaning any or all votes cast by Black and brown people. That is part of a larger propaganda strategy to justify Trump's coup attempt and the Capitol attack, as well as future right-wing political violence.

This propaganda is working: A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that a large majority of Republicans believe that "Trump bears not much of the responsibility (25 percent) or none at all (44 percent) for the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6."

Trump has ramped up the fundraising grift during the Jan. 6 hearings: He recently offered to include his followers in a "top secret poll," urging them not to share it with anyone else.

As the Jan. 6 hearings continue, Donald Trump and his acolytes have ramped up their email messaging and fundraising campaign, urging supporters to send Father's Day cards to Trump, who will supposedly read a list of his "favorite" followers at a rally. He continues to seek constant validation and demands that followers boost his self-esteem by responding to polls asking if he is "the greatest president" of all time. He is also giving away "limited edition" autographed MAGA hats and photos of himself — for a donation, of course. Trump is also titillating his followers by offering to include them in a "top secret poll," which they must promise not to share with anyone else.

As always, Donald Trump wants more money. He asks and pleads for it. He browbeats and threatens his followers for it. The House Jan. 6 committee has shown that Trump raised more than $250 million from his followers, supposedly to investigate nonexistent voter fraud, by way of a fund that also did not exist. The money instead went to Trump's political action committee, his personal and family businesses and various other members of his inner circle. Trump's fundraising is in all likelihood an act of criminal fraud, although exceedingly unlikely to be prosecuted as such. 

Those facts are of little importance to the Trumpists, they are cult followers who will continue to give him money as an act of love and loyalty. For them, the money is a way to become one of the chosen, the MAGA elect.

Trump's fundraising emails have become dangerously absurd. One recent example appears to describe Trump as a godlike authority with the power to confer "GREAT MAGA KING STATUS" on a fortunate few among his followers. Here is the explanation:

The Patriots that have reached this status are the ones that President Trump has always been able to count on to answer the call when the Left comes after us — his MOST RELIABLE and DEDICATED supporters.

It's too easy to dismiss such an email as buffoonish and ridiculous, or to declare that Trump's followers are "idiots" for responding to such a shameless grift. But that laughter and mockery are a form of defensive humor or contempt by liberals (and others) who are terrified of Trumpism and the larger American fascist movement.

Fascists and authoritarians can often be buffoonish, and sometimes highly entertaining. That is part of their power and charm over their followers, especially if they wield "populism" as one of their primary weapons. Adolf Hitler was described by a prominent magazine editor in 1930 as a "big mouth," a "half-insane rascal," a "pathetic dunderhead" and a "nowhere fool."

Donald Trump is a malignant narcissist and may be so mentally unwell that he actually believes that he is some type of king. Many of his followers are prepared to kill and die at his command, and a significant number believe that he is a divinely inspired ruler.

Under the European feudal system, kings had no regard for democracy, human rights or the rule of law. There was no contradiction: They were literally the state, and possessed the arbitrary power of life and death over their subjects. Donald Trump desires such power for himself.

Donald Trump would love to have the power of a king, who was literally the state and had no regard for human rights, popular opinion or the rule of law.

The Trump movement's coup attempt and its ongoing assault on American democracy clearly resemble the actions of a would-be king, explicitly rejecting the idea that the legitimate majority will of the people should govern a democracy. Trump and his allies also reject other basic principles of democracy, such as that a government should be transparent and accountable to the people, and should be viewed as holding legitimate authority through the consent of the governed. None of that is important to Trump and his followers in the larger white right, who would prefer tyranny in the form of an Apartheid Christian-fascist plutocracy.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution personally understood the dangers of kings and their tyranny. Trump and his fascist insurgency represent exactly the type of authoritarian force that the framers rejected.

What will King Trump do if he (or another younger and more vigorous aspiring monarch) returns to power in 2024 or thereafter? Like the kings of old, the Trump regime will pursue violent retribution against everyone they believe has wronged them. Those who laugh at King Trump now are trying to find safety and comfort in gallows humor. It will not be enough. Such laughter will not save them.

Read more on our 45th president and the ongoing threat to democracy:

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Authoritarianism Coup Donald Trump Fascism Jan. 6 Committee Political Violence Republicans