Hey MAGA world: Trump thinks you're stupid — and he's exploiting you, as usual

His latest tantrum over potential indictment is just another reminder: Trump sees his followers as easy marks

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published March 19, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Former US President Donald Trump looks on as South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster addresses the crowd during a 2024 election campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2023. (LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US President Donald Trump looks on as South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster addresses the crowd during a 2024 election campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 28, 2023. (LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images)

There's little that can be gleaned, legally speaking, from Donald Trump's all-caps Saturday-morning tantrum on Truth Social claiming that he "WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK."  It's always a safe bet that any one of Trump's supposedly dramatic pronouncements is a lie being used to gain for money or attention. For another thing, Trump's spokesperson says he has received no formal notice of indictment from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has been presenting evidence of campaign finance fraud regarding a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Trump's breathless post claims that Bragg working from "ILLEGAL LEAKS," which probably just means that Trump, a well-known TV addict, has heard exactly the same speculation about a forthcoming indictment that every other cable news viewer has heard.

Sure, there might be an indictment next week. There also might not. There's no actual news on that front. But here's one thing we can glean from Trump's Truth Social outburst, not that any one of good faith doubted it: He thinks his followers are complete morons.

While he avoids calling directly for violence, there is little doubt that call for his followers to "PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!" is meant as a threat. As the Washington Post reports, "His language echoed rhetoric that he used in advance of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, by his supporters." Not only is Trump clearly aware of the effect his words can have on his own people, but as the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 insurrection outlined in painstaking detail, violence is exactly what Trump was hoping for when he riled up the crowd that morning in Washington with elaborate lies about a "stolen" election. 

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But there's one glaring difference between now and the day of the Capitol insurrection: Let's consider what goals Trump hoped to achieve through violence in 2021, and what his goals are now.

On Jan. 6, the people who rioted didn't just believe they were just acting on Trump's behalf; they also believed they were doing it for themselves and their so-called movement. While I don't doubt the sincerity of their Trump-love, ultimately they didn't storm the Capitol and risk arrest just to mollify his hurt feelings over losing an election. Their goal was to seize power illegally, not just for Trump but for the larger MAGA movement, and to keep a Democrat out of the White House by any means necessary. 

The folks who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 thought they could overturn an election. What do they possibly have to gain by committing acts of terrorism for Trump now?

This time around, it's a lot harder to argue that the larger MAGA movement would benefit violence. This is just about Trump not wanting to face a judge and jury in a criminal trial. The folks who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 had reason to believe, — however far-fetched this might seem — that they could successfully overturn a democratic election. But what could possibly be accomplished by committing terrorist acts for Trump now?

Even if Bragg could be successfully intimidated into never filing charges against Trump, what would that do to advance the larger interests of the MAGA movement? Biden would still be president and Trump's hordes would still be facing the prospect of — gasp! — actually having to win an election if they want to regain power in 2024. 

If anything, any acts domestic terrorism on Trump's behalf will only make life harder for the MAGA movement. Most Americans already loathe Trump and see MAGA, correctly, as a threat to democracy. More Trump-inspired violence would keep anti-Trump voters motivated, and would quite likely convince independents otherwise inclined to vote Republican that the party is still too radical for their tastes. 

Of course Trump is trying, in his distinctive grammatically-challenged fashion, to spin his own personal fears of prosecution and possible jail time as something bigger than himself, by claiming that he's the target of a political witch hunt. That's already being backed up by his biggest sycophants in Congress, such as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who tweeted that the (so-far-nonexistent) indictment is "political vengeance against President Trump."

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That argument isn't just false. It's highly implausible, and ought to be a hard sell. Trump being indicted doesn't actually change anything for the MAGA movement. If he's forced to drop out of the presidential race, his followers could move onto one of his successors. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has already positioned himself as the candidate for people who want Trump's authoritarian politics, but without all of Trump's legal baggage. 

Donald Trump's principal personality trait has always been crippling narcissism, and he's always had trouble distinguishing between his own interests and those of his followers. He obviously thinks the MAGA movement exists because he has some magical hold on his supporters, but that's exactly backward. His followers they have a set of political goals and desires — white supremacy,  male dominance and "owning" the liberals — and Trump molded himself into their perfect leader by reflecting those desires back at them. 

But Trump yearns to believe that his followers are so infatuated with him personally that they'll be willing to give up their own lives and freedom just to keep him out of jail. His latest Truth Social post proves, yet again, how much contempt he feels toward his own followers. He really does seem to think there's a wellspring of Trump-loving patriots who'll risk everything for him — and not in hopes of seizing political power, but just to stop a private citizen from going to jail. He doesn't care, quite obviously, how many people he induces to get arrested, hurt or even killed, just so he can avoid consequences for his lengthy career of criminal activity. 

We'll know how Trump's gamble plays out soon enough, since he gave his followers a pretty brief timeline in which to act. It's never wise to bet on the intelligence of Trump voters, of course; he may be right that enough of them have confused their own political yearnings with his desire to stay out of jail that they'll be willing to stage acts of violence on his behalf. But it's at least as likely that he won't get any takers, as even his followers are intelligent enough to understand that the only likely result here is that they're the ones who go to jail while Trump, of course, won't he lift a finger to help them. 

Either way, what's important here is that Trump has reverted to form, revealing yet again that he's only out for himself. He's asking his followers to run the risk of prison, injury or death — and not for any larger political movement or goal. He thinks they're dumb and he thinks they're disposable. He's asking them, pretty much directly, to volunteer to go to prison so he doesn't have to. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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