More than the law: Why Trump's trials trigger him so much

A trio of Black women have been the target of some of Trump's fiercest attacks

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published October 23, 2023 6:01AM (EDT)

Letitia James and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Letitia James and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump does not like to be told what to do by anyone or otherwise have limits put on his behavior. That type of oppositional behavior is rooted in Trump’s childhood where he showed great pleasure in acting as a destroyer who refused to listen to his father. Trump’s delinquent behavior eventually led to him being sent away to military school. As Trump grew into adulthood, he would continue with his antisocial behavior, including a deep ideation for and attraction to violence and other antihuman behavior. In his mind, Trump is always a winner and has no use for “losers” or human weakness. Trump believes that he possesses “superior” genes and intelligence because of his German ancestry. In 21st-century reality, however, women and black and brown people, at least on paper, still have the same fundamental rights as rich white men like Trump. This means that black and brown people and women can be judges, prosecutors, attorneys generals, and other members of the courts and law enforcement with the power to hold rich white men like Trump accountable for his misdeeds and lawbreaking.

At his core, Donald Trump is a bully and a human predator – and loves being one. In many ways Trump’s defiant behavior and drive was responsible for his business “success” (along with millions of dollars from his father) and then taking the White House in 2020. He is an egomaniac, a fabulist, and a megalomaniac who believes that he has godlike powers. Trump loves conflict and humiliating his perceived enemies, be that in his personal relationships, business, politics, and in life more generally.

Trump is 77 years old. He is not going to change. When Trump must exercise restraint in his behavior and act in a reasonable and responsible manner more generally, he lashes out and rages. This is not the behavior of a private citizen; Trump is one of the most powerful people in the country and the leader of a tens of millions strong neofascist movement. In his role as leader of the Republican Party and the American neofascist movement, Trump will become the country’s first de facto dictator if he wins back the White House in 2025. These plans are detailed in Trump’s Agenda 47 as well as in Project 2025 and the “Red Caesar” scenario.

If Trump and the Republican fascists and larger white right are successful in their revolutionary plans to end America’s pluralistic multiracial democracy the civil and human rights of black and brown people, women, the LGBTQI community and other marginalized people will be significantly taken away, rolled back to a time at least until the 1950s if not the 19th century or before. When Trump and the other Republican fascists and “conservatives” talk about a return to “traditional values” and “restoring America” and “the good old days” and “Making America Great Again” what they really mean is a return to the near total control and power enjoyed by white men as a group in American society over others.

In a recent conversation with Salon, Journalist Katherine Stewart described what such an America will be like:

[W]e can say, broadly speaking, that there will be privileged groups in society, those who adhere to the “correct” religious and political viewpoints, and those who are despised and disfavored.

The far-right seeks to impose a culture of majoritarian fear, where if you don’t conform to a certain prototypical expectation and are not part of the “in-group,” then you are going to feel out of place and may have difficulty in the society they wish to create. We know from history that the people in the in-group often don’t end up feeling better either. They feel pressure to conform, and they live in a state of fear. It’s not a happy cultural place.

For members of disfavored groups, some of your most important life decisions may be out of your control; your vote may be marginalized; and an even larger share of your tax dollars will be funding other peoples’ religion.

This is the world that Trump was born into and socialized by; he desperately wants to return to it.

The idea and reality that a woman, never mind a black or brown woman could have such power is a type of narcissistic injury to Trump and his followers because of their collective investment in white supremacy, white privilege, hostile sexism, misogyny, and authoritarianism. Now Trump is forced to stand trial in a court presided over by black women such as U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington D.C., who is presiding over the federal trial for interfering in the 2020 Election, or Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who indicted Trump and 18 others for their alleged efforts to rig the presidential election results in Georgia, or New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is responsible for Trump being put on trial for fraud and other financial crimes.

Trump has been transparent and direct with such feelings of angst and rage and white entitlement. Trump has attacked the black women (and black men) who are attempting to hold him accountable under the law with thinly coded racial slurs such as “thugs” and “criminals” and saying they are “corrupt”. Trump went so far as to attack prosecutor Letitia James as a “racist” “monster”. In his white rage temper tantrums, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he, a rich white man, is a “victim” of “racism” because he is finally being held accountable for his decades-long public crime spree.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Last Monday, Judge Chutkan issued a limited gag order on Trump regarding the trial for Jan. 6 and the larger plot to steal the 2020 Election. 

“Mr. Trump is a criminal defendant," Chutkan made clear. "He is facing four felony charges. He is under the supervision of the criminal justice system and he must follow his conditions of release.” 

The judge was direct in her concerns about how Trump has repeatedly used the word “thug”:

“When you start to use a word like ‘thug’ to describe a prosecutor doing their job, that wouldn’t be allowed by any other criminal defendant,” Chutkan said. “Just because the defendant is running a political campaign does not allow him to do whatever he wants.”

"After Lauro launched back into sharp arguments about Trump's free speech rights, Chutkan sought to steer him back to the particulars of the gag order litigation: 'I do not need to hear any campaign rhetoric in my court,'" reported The Messenger's Steve Reilly.

Chutkan continued to "chafe" at Lauro's arguments during the hearing.

"'Obviously you have an audience other than me in mind,' she says, still pressing him to explain why Trump needs to call prosecutors 'thugs,'" Politico's Kyle Cheney reported.

At one point, Chutkan "literally" laughed in Lauro's face after he argued that Trump had abided by his pre-trial release conditions.

Judge Chutkan is not intimidated or impressed by Trump and his legal team’s attempts to delay and disrupt the trial. Such confidence and competence by a black woman is infuriating to Donald Trump and people who share his hostility towards black people and women. Unable to keep quiet even under threat of a gag order, Trump continued to attack Judge Chutkan later that same day.

We need your help to stay independent

“They think the only way they can catch me is to stop me from speaking. They want to take away my voice and a judge gave a gag order today,” Trump said during a rally in Clive, Iowa. “Did you hear that? On speech, which I believe is totally unconstitutional what she did. A judge gave a gag order, a judge doesn’t like me too much.”

By comparison, Donald Trump is very pleased that Judge Aileen Cannon, a white woman who he appointed to the court, appears to be following his directives in how she is presiding so favorably — to the consternation of legal experts and the Department of Justice — over the classified documents case in Florida. For Trump, and others who share his regressive worldview about race and gender, that is as it should be.

Given his demonstrated hostility towards black people and women, I have no doubt about the racist and misogynistic words and thoughts – those two or three vile and hateful words – that Trump is in all probability repeating over and over again inside of his head.

Because he lacks an effective internal censor, Trump has a habit of speaking his private thoughts publicly. I sincerely hope that Trump lets out his hateful thoughts towards Judge Chutkan (and/or the other black women — and men — who are working so hard to defend democracy and the rule of law by holding the ex-president accountable) during an interview or is caught on a “hot mic” unawares. Alternatively, perhaps Trump will quietly mutter or mouth that hateful language while in court in a moment when he is being admonished for his bad behavior or finally found "guilty" for his crimes, and a lip-reader or other such skilled observer will communicate them on the evening news.

But here is the problem: If Donald Trump’s racism and sexism is “revealed” again in such a manner it will only confirm what the public knows about him. And given how Trump’s racism and sexism are a central part of his appeal, as happened in 2016 when he was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women, he may just become even more popular with his followers and other members of the public.

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.

MORE FROM Chauncey DeVega

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

Commentary Crime Donald Trump Fani Willis Jan. 6 Judge Chutkan Letitia James Race Racism Sexism Trials