Trump's so-called "Virtues": More threats of violence against his enemies

Trump's "astonishing" propaganda video gets short shrift in mainstream media. Is it cowardice or complacency?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published April 12, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Last weekend, Donald Trump issued a new barrage of threats against Americans who decline to vote for him or who otherwise resist the resurgence of the MAGA movement.

This came in the form of a new video repeatedly shared on Trump's personal disinformation platform, Truth Social. Titled “Trump’s Virtues Part II,” it extols the virtues Trump notably lacks, basically declaring that the manifestly corrupt and multiply-indicted ex-president should be followed and obeyed unquestioningly and implying that dissent is unpatriotic because Trump is a warlord facing a state of emergency. This video was reportedly created by Tom Klingenstein, partner in a Wall Street investment firm and board chairman of the Claremont Institute, who is waging what he calls a personal “war” against “the existential threat of the woke regime.”

Hardly any of the agenda-setting news media devoted any significant coverage to this propaganda video. I found no obvious mention of it in the New York Times or Washington Post, for example. That reflects a much larger pattern of the American press neglecting its basic responsibilities in the Age of Trump.

Salon columnist Heather Digby Parton quoted an extended excerpt from the video's narration: 

We shouldn’t much care whether our commander-in-chief is a real conservative, whether he is a role model for children or says lots of silly things, or whether he is modest or dignified. What we should care about is whether he knows we are in a war, knows who the enemy is, and knows how to win. Trump does. ... 

His policies are important, but not as important as the rest of him. Trump grasps the essential things. He understands that the group quota regime is evil and will not stop until it destroys America. He is a fighter — bold, brave, and decisive — who has confidence in himself and his country. ...

His enemies hate him with an indescribable fierceness. “Another Hitler,” they say, “elect him and he will be a dictator.” We should take this hysteria as reason for hope. The America-haters rightly fear that he and his party are on the threshold of a successful counterrevolution. ...

Trump hates his enemies every bit as much as they hate him. His enemies are America’s enemies."

In a post on X/Twitter, former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance described the video as “an utterly astonishing message for a candidate for the presidency to embrace. And, just a clue, it's not about virtues":

It starts with a command — even if you can't stand Trump, you must get behind him. Has any candidate ever run like that? It gets worse. GOP voters shouldn't care if he's a conservative, a role model for children, or modest & dignified ... The tone & pacing of the video carries an echo of WWII fascism that makes me feel queasy. The important message Trump endorses about himself? "He knows we're in a war. He knows how to win." Who is the enemy? It's us. You and me. It's Democrats. It's anyone who doesn't support Trump, anyone who is [the] Other. Believe him when he tells us who he is before it's too late.

Another former federal prosecutor, Barbara McQuade, described Trump’s video in a post on X as a "a master class in disinformation tactics. Demonizing and scapegoating others, embodying every man yet claiming to be godly in ability, exploiting patriotism, portraying the most extreme parts of the left as equal to the whole, and suggesting that desperate times call for desperate measures."

Trump's latest propaganda video reveals much more than evidence that he is a bad person who does bad things. That framing has been embraced by the professional centrists and careerists of mainstream media.

Seen in a larger context, Trump’s sharing of this dangerous propaganda becomes even more ominous. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his affinity for violence, his God complex and his antipathy for democracy. Numerous mental health professionals have argued since 2015 that he is an apparent sociopath, if not a full-on psychopath.

Furthermore, Trump’s pathological behavior does not exist in a vacuum: Public opinion polls show that a large percentage of Americans believe that Trump was chosen by God and has the status of a prophet or messiah. Trump's admiration for Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping is well-known; as former White House chief of staff John Kelly has reported, Trump has even spoken highly of Adolf Hitler.

Trump has repeatedly threatened political enemies and rivals with violence, imprisonment or death. He has a clear pattern of referring to Black and brown people, especially immigrants or those with immigrant roots, as "vermin," "snakes" or subhuman "animals." It is reasonable to describe that as eliminationist language, which legitimates or encourages genocide.

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate recently interviewed national security expert Juliette Kayyem about Trump’s use of "stochastic terrorism" and the likely scenarios for right-wing political violence surrounding this year's presidential election Election Day. Kayyem said there were "three periods" of time that especially concern her: 

Now until November. This we know already because we’ve been promised it, which is going to be violence or the threat of violence as the extension of the electoral process. That’s going to focus on election workers, judges, and others. We’re already seeing this; he’s already trying to do this. We’re not seeing anything organized—it’s the randoms. The randoms can be scary, but it’s not a movement that is unmanageable. So that just means greater efforts to protect courthouses and judges. It involves federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including intelligence-sharing, including threat assessments. Now, the good news is this is likely confined to six states. It’s going to be Arizona and North Carolina and Georgia and Michigan and a few other swing states.

Period two is between Election Day and when [a winner] is called. If it’s not called the first day, that’s going to be insane. Biden is in charge of the federal apparatus; governors have their own law enforcement statuses, and we’d better be ready for that. We’d better be ready to take states to court that are using state law enforcement in violation of due process and the protection of laws of equal access. We need Biden to own this.

The third period is [about] who wins. So let’s say it’s Trump. Do the institutions hold? I doubt it. I think that this is a once-in-a-lifetime election, a once-in-a-nationtime election. If Biden wins, then we have to anticipate that Trump only has two narratives left. One is: He’s in jail. The other is: He’s the victim. He’s going to pick the latter. The one way that you create this narrative is to create a lot of mayhem. And that scenario, we’re not talking about enough. I know it’s hard for people to imagine, but Biden could very much win. Trump continues to be Trump, and the only thing he has is to bring it all down, right? 

Trump's latest propaganda video reveals much more than further evidence that he is a bad person who does bad things. That framing is embraced by the professional centrists and careerists of mainstream media as a way to rationalize their failure to pay consistent and close attention to Trump and his allies’ increasingly dangerous behavior. To many in the media, Trump's pathological behavior is no longer "news"; everyone who matters already knows about it. That is a false, self-serving and deeply irresponsible assumption, which only serves to smooth Trump's potential path to dictatorial power.

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As Dan Pfeiffer recently explained in his newsletter The Message Box, most of the American media "have yet to accept the reality that this is not a normal election between a Republican and a Democrat":

Donald Trump and his enablers represent an extraordinary threat to democracy. This industry, which prizes objectivity above all else, is incapable of accurately covering an election where one candidate is a normal politician and the other is a dishonest, corrupt insurrectionist. To accurately portray events would make the press out to be biased and they would rather stumble into autocracy than take a side.

There is another dimension to Trump’s repeated threats of violence and chaos that merits closer attention.

Aspiring authoritarians and autocrats use a variety of means to train and socialize the public, including media and cultural elites, into compliance and submission. The threat of severe negative consequences such as violent retribution, coupled with the promise of positive rewards for loyalty and “patriotism,” is one of the most important such tactics. In effect, Trump is authorizing his MAGA followers to act on his behalf, and to do their utmost to ensure his return to power. 

Ignoring or avoiding Trump’s dangerous behavior will not stop it. In a better world, the American news media would fulfill its basic obligation to report on Trump’s escalating threats in a consistent and accurate fashion. To this point, that mostly has not happened. It is not too late for media decision-makers to change their approach and stand up for democracy, but it seems increasingly unlikely they will ever do so. 

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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