In his recent speeches, Donald Trump has taken to saying that he is “the most persecuted person in the history of our country.” The millions who lived and died in slavery? Native Americans who endured the Trail of Tears? Sure, they suffered. But did they get kicked off Twitter?
The gleeful enthusiasm with which his party has rallied to his defense shows how invested Republicans have become in Trump’s personal narrative of oppression, one that is notable for its distance from anything that might affect the lives of the Americans whose votes Trump might soon be seeking again.
Let’s keep in mind one vital fact about the FBI’s action Monday: No one you see commenting on this matter — not the angry members of Congress, TV hosts or the pundits aplenty — knows precisely what crime the bureau is investigating or what evidence was presented to the judge who approved the search warrant.
That hasn’t stopped Trump’s defenders from assuming that he can’t possibly have done anything that would justify the search. After all, we know how careful he has always been about following rules, particularly with regard to classified information.
Don’t forget that in order to get a warrant, the FBI would have had to convince a judge that it had probable cause to believe a search would locate evidence of a crime. One would like to think that if Trump had committed crimes, even Republicans would admit that it would be appropriate to investigate.
But the nearly universal GOP response has been that the search can only have been politically motivated, despite the fact that no one commenting knows what the FBI was looking for or what it found.
“I stand with President Trump against this outrageous action of the FBI,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “The Biden Admin has fully weaponized DOJ & FBI to target their political enemies,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, “The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” On Fox News, the hosts and guests all but lost their minds in rage. Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed GOP nominee for governor of Arizona, thundered in a statement that “We must fire the Federal Government,” whatever that means.
Meanwhile, Republicans immediately began using it in fundraising appeals.
counterpointIt’s too soon to judge Trump on missing documents and fake slates
There’s no question that this was an extraordinary action for the Justice Department to have taken, which is why it’s almost certain that it came after lengthy deliberation and in the belief that a crime (or multiple crimes) had been committed. The department had to be fully aware of the political firestorm that would erupt.
Attorney General Merrick Garland is hardly some kind of hothead, and the other top Justice Department officials likely to have been part of the decision-making aren’t the collection of knaves and buffoons Trump had gathered around himself. You can question their decisions, and they’re capable of making mistakes, but in this Democratic administration, the officials in charge are serious people.
And of course, the reaction of Trump’s defenders was going to be political. But the way that they’re making their case shows how profound a hold Trump’s cult of personality still has on his party.
Imagine you’re a voter, perhaps one who voted for Trump in 2016 but crossed over to Joe Biden in 2020. What are Republicans saying to you right now, besides “Donald Trump should be above the law”? It’s not as though Republicans will be running on an anti-corruption platform, or standing up for strict adherence to an independent Justice Department. They’re making more than clear that they “support law enforcement,” but they’re not so keen on it enforcing certain laws.
However, some did make a halfhearted effort to link Trump’s personal oppression to some hypothetical future oppression you might experience yourself:
If they can do it to a former President, imagine what they can do to you.— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) August 8, 2022
What’s the “it” here? Execute a search warrant approved by a judge to investigate unlawful seizure of classified materials, and perhaps other crimes as well? I suppose in theory the federal government might do that to me or you, but I confess I’m not particularly worried.
This gets to something important about why Trump was voted out of office in 2020 and what is likely to hamper his bid in 2024: His narcissism is so all-encompassing that he is unable to tell anyone not already deep within his cult why the things that matter to him should also matter to them.
He’s consumed with re-litigating his 2020 election loss and obsessed with his alleged persecution, and his defenders see no higher purpose than shouting that Donald Trump is the greatest victim we have ever known, and nothing could be more important than freeing him from his oppression. Some seem positively elated at the possibility that this will help Trump’s 2024 bid to win the White House.
But to believe that, you’d have to think the American electorate will rise up to defend poor, persecuted Trump, no matter what crimes he might have committed, and sweep him back into office for no reason other than his personal victimization. Let’s hope that isn’t true.