An ominous warning from Trump

March 15, 2019

By Steve Klinger

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

With these words in an interview with Breitbart News, Donald Trump seemed to indicate that if things get dire for his tenure in the White House—either through impeachment/indictment or perhaps a defeat in the 2020 election—he will not go quietly (as Michael Cohen and others have warned).

Lawrence O’ Donnell tried to minimize the danger in his MSNBC show’s “Last Word” segment on Thursday evening, claiming the police and military would never uniformly follow any power-grabbing instructions from Trump, and that bikers are a disparate lot, with many Harleys now costing $45,000 and owned by weekend-warrior dentists. While his observations have some validity, he failed to deal with the growing likelihood Trump would at least attempt to blow dog whistles to his MAGA base, which of course includes a lot of people who are very angry and armed to the teeth.  O’Donnell acknowledged the likely continuation of hate-crime incidents like the slaughter of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue a few months ago, but rejected as unrealistic any threats to a peaceful transition of power.

While it’s possible Trump’s rhetoric to Breitbart might be so much bluster, like his campaign claim that Mexico would pay for the border wall, America needs to take the threat seriously, whether or not it would be likely to succeed if actually attempted. It is difficult, knowing his past, to predict whether Trump would suddenly back down and leave office peacefully (hard to envision) or whether he would defy the rule of law and pit his own defenders against the U.S. Marshals come to escort him from the Oval Office. A further complication is that, while Justice Department protocols might protect him from indictment while in office, it’s clear that he would immediately become vulnerable as a civilian, barring some grand bargain that would include his resignation. Nothing like dire alternatives to inspire President-for-Life fantasies.

MSNBC, the cable network with the most liberal programming, is usually quite circumscribed in its politics and tends to tiptoe around lengthy discussions of Trump’s totalitarian impulses. Thus it was surprising to see O’Donnell take this theme up, but I’m sure it was to the relief of the network’s executives and many corporate advertisers that he tried to quash viewers’ fears. (On the other hand, more alarm by O’Donnell might just have produced a smooth shift to more ads for expensive new anxiety medications.)

Trump has shown admiration for violence he considers appropriate (praise for the body-slamming congressman comes to mind, and the campaign pledge to pay legal bills for supporters who might rough-up protesters). His new budget proposal blatantly displays his favoritism for increasing the military budget at the expense of all manner of social safety nets and non-Defense government agencies’ funding. Every successful dictator—Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Maduro, Franco—has either the military behind him or various paramilitary or civilian vigilantes actively suppressing dissent with brutal tactics and constant intimidation. Franco’s thugs in Spain would kill the first person who voted in an election (even if that vote was for Franco), just to send the message to all voters that the generalissimo would not tolerate dissent.

The internet, for all its pluses, has enabled violence-crazed extremists who previously were mostly isolated to connect on social media and white supremacist websites with chilling ease and frequency. As the horrific attacks on Muslims in two New Zealand mosques demonstrate, racism, xenophobia and acts of mass violence are a growing phenomenon worldwide and call for universal condemnation and countermeasures, starting with zero tolerance for hate speech on social media and of course better gun control.

Here at home, it may be difficult for Trump to accomplish a coup by fomenting street violence alone, but vigilance and concern from the rest of us would by no means be an overreaction.

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