Political warlord Trump now targets his enemies — and Mitch is first on the list

Like a cornered animal, Trump is ready to lash out — and he longs to make his violent fantasies come true

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published October 7, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump aspires to be a warlord. He publicly admires despots, tyrants and other authoritarian leaders who kill their enemies and take away the rights of anyone who oppose them. Mental health professionals have repeatedly warned that Donald Trump is likely a sociopath with an erotic attraction to violence and mayhem.

He has repeatedly shown that he has no regard for the rule of law, democracy, human rights or other restrictions on his behavior. He encourages his followers and allies to engage in acts of terrorism and other violence on his behalf. The most notable example came, of course, on Jan. 6, 2021. To this point, Trump has been limited by his cowardice. He prefers to have others engage in violence on his behalf instead of directly ordering such acts or participating in them himself.

Matters are now in flux. Trump is under investigation by the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies, and may face serious consequences for his lawbreaking for the first time. As George Conway described in a recent conversation with Salon, Trump is ready to lash out:

Trump is basically a cornered animal. He's got all these legal proceedings bearing down on him. In addition, he is losing his touch and his connection to his public, because his act has become very tiresome. That explains why Trump is embracing the QAnon conspiracy. He's doing that because of his narcissism: He's feeling attacked, and for the first time in his life, he is facing real consequences for his actions. The DOJ and other investigations have caused Trump to suffer a narcissistic injury. …

Trump is in a downward psychological, emotional and physical spiral. His embrace of QAnon shows how extreme his deterioration is. But here is the problem for the rest of us: Donald Trump is not going to go away immediately. He is going to try to use the electoral process, and threats of violence, to regain power and influence. Then Trump will say that he can't control what people do because they are so angry at how he is being treated by Joe Biden, Merrick Garland, the DOJ, the various prosecutors and judges, the news media and so on. Trump is going to make things much worse in this country before things finally get better.

Ultimately, as Donald Trump becomes more desperate, he will reveal more of his true self: a violent predator who will almost always attack instead of retreating or otherwise surrendering. Last Saturday, Donald Trump took one more step on this journey when he threatened the life of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. On his social media platform Truth Social, Trump accused McConnell of having a "death wish" because he has (on a few specific occasions) supported legislation sponsored by Democrats. Trump also used a racial slur to describe McConnell's wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, calling her "his China loving wife, Coco Chow!"

Political scientist Brian Klaas, author of "The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy," wrote on Twitter that Trump's threats were "[t]otally detached from reality, inciting political violence — putting a target on a senior member of the U.S. Senate — and a new racist nickname. We can't just pretend this isn't happening, because these posts are radicalizing more and more extremists every day."

In a recent interview with MSNBC, Mary Trump, who is a clinical psychologist as well as Donald Trump's niece, and author of the family memoir "Too Much and Never Enough," offered this ominous and direct warning: "Everything Donald has done is a prelude to worse things to come."

As usual, the mainstream media largely avoids covering Trump's threats with the seriousness they demand. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin observed that neither McConnell himself nor other senior Republicans have even condemned Trump's statement:

That's the state of today's MAGA movement, where decency toward fellow Americans, loyalty to one's spouse and support for democratic values all take a back seat to cult worship and the unquenchable thirst for power. And once again, the mainstream media is failing to rise to the moment.

One might expect the media to stop treating Republicans like normal politicians after their "big lie" about a stolen election, their ongoing whitewashing of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, their attacks on the FBI and their indifference — if not assent — to racism. Alas, there is little sign that mainstream outlets have dropped their addiction to false equivalence and willful, moral blindness….

These and countless other interviews illustrate the urgent need to reimagine coverage of the GOP. Refusing to confront and expose MAGA Republicans' betrayal of democratic values doesn't make members of the media "balanced." It makes them enablers.

Donald Trump's aspiration to warlord status is guided by his malicious gifts as an entrepreneur of violence. In an interview with Salon in March, political scientist Barbara Walter, who is the author of the book "How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them," explained this concept:

One of the challenges that violent extremists have is how to expand their base of support. If they don't expand their support base, they just remain fringe movements forever. One way is to provoke a harsh government response. Let's say that there are peaceful protests, but then there are provocateurs there who try to get the police to open fire or to bash a few heads. Violence entrepreneurs will use those actions as evidence that the police or the government or the opposition are evil and intent on crushing them.

That tactic is often successful in radicalizing at least some portion of average citizens. It pushes them towards the extremists. Donald Trump is what I would describe as an "ethnic entrepreneur." He and his loyalists want to regain power. He is an autocrat. Trump has no interest in ruling democratically. But Trump is not going to get that power back without the support of the average white American. This means that Donald Trump has to convince them somehow that his is a worthy cause to defend.

Understanding Trump and the Republican-fascist movement requires a broader sense of their social and political context, which in turn renders their behavior both predictable and readily understandable rather than something "shocking" or "surprising" and therefore unknowable. For the most part, the mainstream news media has refused to use such a framework, which would require some candid discussion of the fact that the Republican Party and its supporters no longer support democracy.  For most of the media, that's an existential challenge they are not willing to consider.

Beginning with his 2015 campaign and then throughout his presidency and beyond, Trump has used the technique known as stochastic terrorism to incite violence against his designated enemies. At his rallies and other events Trump has urged his followers to attack protesters. He wanted the U.S. military to crush the civic dissent that took place across the country in response to the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. His regime created a concentration camp system where nonwhite migrants and refugees were imprisoned in violation of their civil and human rights.

Borrowing from language used by the Nazis and other fascist regimes, Trump attacks the free press as "enemies of the people" in an attempt to intimidate journalists into silence.

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Trump has repeatedly threatened Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats with prison or worse. Republicans he deems disloyal (such as Rep. Liz Cheney or former Vice President Mike Pence) have also been subjected to his violent threats and wanton disregard for their safety.

As president, Trump praised right-wing paramilitaries, white supremacists and other street thugs as "very fine people." His administration maintained an arm's-length friendship with right-wing paramilitaries and other violent extremists. During the 2020 campaign, Trump refused to condemn those groups — and after that election they played an integral role in his coup attempt and the Capitol attack.

Trump has suggested several times that his followers will descend upon majority Black and brown "Democrat-controlled" cities if he is indicted for his many apparent crimes. He has made barely-veiled threats against Attorney General Merrick Garland and the FBI, implying that he only can save the country from the violence and mayhem that will occur if he is prosecuted.

Trump's acolytes are often even more explicit with their threats of violence then he is.

During Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's speech at Trump's rally last Saturday, she claimed that "Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings." President Biden, she said, "has declared every freedom-loving American an enemy of the state…. We will take back our country from the communists who have stolen it and want us to disappear."

These are of course inflammatory lies, based in projection and inversion. As the House Jan. 6 hearings have revealed, Trump envisioned a crescendo to the Jan. 6 uprising, perhaps with him personally arriving at the Capitol amid the mayhem and destruction to declare himself an American Caesar.

Trump has continued to embrace the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy cult, with its threats of revolutionary violence and destruction. QAnon believers claim that the "Storm" will return Trump to power, and along the way there will be mass executions of "global elites" and their agents, a laundry list of villains that includes all leading Democrats, numerous Hollywood celebrities, liberal donors and the supposedly sinister forces of antifa, Black Lives Matter, and the gay and lesbian rights movement.  

Trump's escalating threats of violence fit disturbingly well with the model of eliminationism and genocide seen before in Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Most concerning is how Trump's threats of political violence also fit the model of eliminationism and genocide seen in such countries as Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany. The human rights organization Genocide Watch warns that genocide "develops in 10 stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Stages occur simultaneously. Each stage is itself a process.... As societies develop more and more genocidal processes, they get nearer to genocide. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process":

  • Classification — The differences between people are not respected. There's a division of 'us' and 'them' which can be carried out using stereotypes, or excluding people who are perceived to be different.
  • Symbolization — This is a visual manifestation of hatred. Jews in Nazi Europe were forced to wear yellow stars to show that they were "different."
  • Discrimination  The dominant group denies civil rights or even citizenship to identified groups. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship, made it illegal for them to do many jobs or to marry German non-Jews.
  • Dehumanization — Those perceived as "different" are treated with no form of human rights or personal dignity. During the Genocide in Rwanda, Tutsis were referred to as "cockroaches"; the Nazis referred to Jews as "vermin."
  • Organization — Genocides are always planned. Regimes of hatred often train those who go on to carry out the destruction of a people.
  • Polarization – Propaganda begins to be spread by hate groups. The Nazis used the newspaper Der Stürmer to spread and incite messages of hate about Jewish people.
  • Preparation — Perpetrators plan the genocide. They often use euphemisms such as the Nazis' phrase "the Final Solution" to cloak their intentions. They create fear of the victim group, building up armies and weapons.
  • Persecution — Victims are identified because of their ethnicity or religion and death lists are drawn up. People are sometimes segregated into ghettos, deported or starved and property is often expropriated. Genocidal massacres begin.
  • Extermination — The hate group murders their identified victims in a deliberate and systematic campaign of violence. Millions of lives have been destroyed or changed beyond recognition through genocide.
  • Denial — The perpetrators or later generations deny the existence of any crime.

America is further along that path than most of us are willing to admit. In the same interview quoted above, Barbara Walter warned that Donald Trump and retired Gen. Michael Flynn "are preaching violence," not through code words but direct statements: 

You can quote them on it. If you read what they are saying, it is shocking. Yet few people seem to know about it. If I were to show what Trump and Flynn are saying, their actual words, to the average American, they would say, "You're making that up, it can't be true." Thus we have a situation where these things are happening, but the information is not being shared with the general public, or if they are hearing what is happening then it is being distorted or not fully represented in a way that leaves most Americans ignorant of what is really going on.

Historically, the side that wants to do these horrible things and put themselves in a position of power, to lead a dictatorship or start a "race war" or commit acts of genocide — for example, to kill all the Jews in Europe — will spend a lot of time investing in propaganda because they understand that if they can control the narrative they can control the average citizen. That is exactly what is happening now in the United States. 

Aspiring warlord Donald Trump has told America and the world exactly what he and his movement intend to do. Unfortunately, the mainstream news media and other hope-peddlers have deluded themselves into thinking that it's all a misunderstanding or harmless hyperbole. We should take Trump at his word. On these issues, he does not prevaricate or tell lies. It will do no good to protest that you couldn't possibly have known. We all knew this was coming, and now it's here.

By Chauncey DeVega

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

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

Commentary Donald Trump Fascism Mitch Mcconnell Political Violence Republicans Stochastic Terrorism