"An expectation of redemption": Trump is fueling MAGA's revenge fantasy

"This message is being customized for groups of voters by sophisticated digital AI techniques"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 10, 2024 6:01AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump, now convicted of a criminal felony, is also the presumed presidential nominee for the Republican Party and leads in several key battleground state polls. A sexual assaulter as confirmed by a civil court and an admirer of Adolf Hitler, Trump is an aspiring dictator who is threatening to imprison his perceived enemies. These are truly unprecedented existential challenges for the United States.

But these extreme dangers to democracy are not confined to the United States. They are global. The United States is the world’s most powerful country and has been described as a type of shining city on the hill, a beacon of global democracy. In reality, America’s democracy is deeply flawed and has been a real democracy for only some sixty years because of the victories and sacrifices of the civil rights movement and the long Black Freedom Struggle in defeating Jim and Jane Crow. If Trumpism and neofascism take power the United States will become the opposite: A premiere example of how democracies rot and then die from within.

Trump’s escalating attacks on the rule of law are empowering autocrats and tyrants such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and other leaders of the global antidemocracy movement. America’s European allies are reportedly on the verge of panicking at the prospect of Donald Trump returning to power and the harm he will do to the global democratic order, most importantly their safety from Russia.

Ultimately, Donald Trump and his MAGA movement and the larger neofascist project must be stopped by the American people in the voting booth on Election Day 2024 and beyond. The courts – and yes, even putting Trump in prison – will not stop the MAGA movement and the larger neofascist threat to the country’s democracy. Moreover, the latter is comparatively easy and the former is much more difficult.

In an attempt to make better sense of Donald Trump’s historic felony conviction and its meaning and implications for this political moment, the 2024 election, the country’s democracy and what may happen next, I recently spoke to a range of experts.

Steven Beschloss is a journalist and author of several books, including "The Gunman and His Mother." His website is America, America.

In a sane world, the jury's unanimous guilty verdict of Donald Trump on all 34 felony counts would provide an overwhelming signal to one of the country’s two main political parties that he is unfit to hold office and should not be their presidential nominee. But the once-legitimate Republic Party and its top elected officials — including the House speaker and craven, high-ranking U.S. senators — have chosen to emulate Trump's false and hateful message that the trial was rigged, and the judicial system and its participants cannot be trusted. Their response portends a deeper tragedy for our country beyond November: Their degradation of the judicial system is tearing apart the main fabric of a healthy society that depends on the rule of law and the public’s trust.

On the morning after his conviction, Trump stood in front of the stars and stripes of American flags and called his jury trial “rigged,” the judge a “tyrant,” witness Michael Cohen a “sleazebag” and the criminal case itself a “hoax” and a “scam.” It was a miserable sight to watch this convicted felon lash out against the judicial system while employing the symbols of American democracy and freedom behind him. But this should be a vivid warning to all of us who recognize the danger and care about democracy’s survival. Between now and November 5 — as the attacks by Trump and his enablers grow more grotesque and violent — the response must be fierce, unrelenting, and focused on voters who are only now paying attention. This GOP is determined to usher in a fascist state, ruled by a proven criminal who rejects the rule of law, the will of the people and factual reality. If they win in November, it will mean the end of America's nearly 250-year-old democratic experiment.

Federico Finchelstein is a professor of history at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York. His most recent book is "The Wannabe Fascists: A Guide to Understanding the Greatest Threat to Democracy."

The trial was important in the sense that it showed that justice or legality prevailed over raw power and propaganda. Trump, as a wannabe fascist, of course, expected the opposite to happen. But it is still concerning, and not at all surprising, that MAGA and the usual conservative enablers in GOP, still believe the opposite.

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In 2023, Trump told them "I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” These beliefs are widely shared by his followers, including a belief in his unique connection to God. In this sense, Trumpism shares features with the fascist history of crowd manipulation and propaganda, which often involved shared fantasies and an expectation of redemption. For Trump’s MAGA cult followers, the law does not really mean anything.

David L. Altheide is the Regents' Professor Emeritus on the faculty of Justice and Social Inquiry in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University and author of the new book "Gonzo Governance: The Media Logic of Donald Trump."

The public perception of justice is influenced by media narratives. Political actors seek to shape media accounts by playing to the criteria and emphasis of entertaining formats that drive the coverage. This media logic is foundational for Donald Trump’s approach to Gonzo Governance. He has manipulated both mass and social media by promoting conflict and drama that draws coverage emphasizing that American social institutions are corrupt and can only be changed by him. As his former— and now current— Trump campaign digital guru, Brad Parscale, explained: “I pretty much used Facebook to get Trump elected in 2016.” 

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Donald Trump’s pretrial claims about being a victim of an unfair election process and a corrupt criminal justice system set the tone for his dismissal of the jury’s verdict as unfair. This message is being customized for groups of voters by sophisticated digital AI techniques for disinformation and propaganda, such as Republican-led investigation of the weaponization of the federal government.” Many Republican officeholders echoed this claim. House Republican leader Mitch McConnell posted on X, formerly Twitter: “These charges never should have been brought in the first place. I expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal.”

Most convictions are contested on specific grounds about an individual case; a defendant’s claims that he/she was treated unfairly by the legal process. Some defenses claim that the violation should be denied because the law itself was unjust. But Trump’s case is different: The jury’s verdict was immediately attacked by a chorus of naysayers denouncing not just the verdict in this case, but the entire criminal justice system that is said to be “weaponized” and being used by Democrats against Trump and the American people.

In a comment in February, Trump compared his legal troubles to Black prisoners: "Some of the greatest evils in our nation's history have come from corrupt systems that try to target and subjugate others to deny them their freedom and to deny them their rights," Trump said. "I think that's why the Black people are so much on my side now because they see what's happening to me happens to them." Such evocative statements follow media logic, although even Trump would hesitate to promise that if elected, he would pardon all Black prisoners. That would not likely appeal to his MAGA base.    

Jason Van Tatenhove served as the national media director for the Oath Keepers. He documented his experiences with the Oath Keepers in his book "The Perils of Extremism: How I Left the Oath Keepers and Why We Should be Concerned about a Future Civil War.

As we reflect on Trump's historic felony conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records, it's evident that his modus operandi remains unchanged. It's a playbook we've witnessed unfold time and again, from the Jan. 6 insurrection to his relentless attempts to subvert democracy. Trump's desperation to cling to power at any cost has been on full display, culminating in the violent siege of the Capitol.

What's perhaps even more alarming is the complicity of Republican leaders who now rally behind Trump, despite knowing full well the extent of his misinformation and outright lies. This blind allegiance not only undermines the credibility of the GOP but also poses a grave threat to the future of our nation. With Trump's daughter-in-law now wielding considerable influence within the party, it's evident that a new regime is emerging — one where loyalty to Trump supersedes loyalty to the country.

Trump's own messaging has taken a deeply authoritarian turn. He has openly discussed plans to expand executive power and exact retribution on his political opponents. His rhetoric, which includes threats of mass deportations and crackdowns, signals a shift towards quasi-autocratic leadership. This dangerous trajectory mirrors the tactics used during the Jan. 6 attack, reinforcing fears of further democratic erosion.

As we look ahead to the 2024 election, it's imperative that we confront this reality head-on. The stakes have never been higher, and the choice could not be clearer. Will we allow ourselves to be governed by fear, division, and deceit? Or will we rise to defend the values that have long defined us as a nation? The path forward may be uncertain, but one thing is clear: the soul of America hangs in the balance, and the time to act is now.

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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Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Fascism Hush-money Trial Maga Trump Trial Verdict