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Why Trump is taking the unusual step of actually filing a lawsuit he had threatened

Former president Donald Trump speaks at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on July 7. (Seth Wenig/AP)
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The only thing Donald Trump likes more than suing people is talking about suing people.

Over the past 30 years, Trump, his political campaigns and the Trump Organization have filed more than 4,000 lawsuits, most of them related to his business activity before seeking office. In recent years, though, we have also seen how often he has liked to simply threaten a lawsuit, usually with the goal of silencing a critic. At times, even that threat has been effective. Usually, though, it has simply been bluster.

As it turns out, it’s both easy and inexpensive to threaten to sue someone. I, for example, am thinking about suing you if you do not share this article with at least five other people. (I hate to do it, but I demand justice.) It is slightly more expensive and slightly less easy to actually file a lawsuit.

So, since he announced his candidacy in June 2015, Trump has threatened to sue some two dozen individuals or entities, ranging from China to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to a random anti-Trump T-shirt company. He has actually sued a smaller number, including this very newspaper. (He also threatened to sue The Post a few years earlier without doing so.) In most cases, those suits were dropped or dismissed.

During a news conference at his private club in Bedminster, N.J., on Wednesday, Trump unveiled his latest legal endeavor, targeting social media companies such as Facebook for their efforts to police their platforms. This was framed in the expected way — the companies are unfairly targeting conservatives — but Trump’s complaint obviously centers on the fact that he was removed from those platforms after his repeated dishonest claims about the 2020 election led to the violence of Jan. 6.

As I’ve written before, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter began more actively policing misinformation and abusive content in the months after the 2016 election, following rampant criticism for allowing that behavior to propagate unchecked. The algorithmic effort to uproot such content included a number of prominent conservatives who (like Trump) had shared false information or (like Trump) had berated perceived opponents. A narrative formed: The companies were targeting them for what they believed rather than how they expressed it. This culminated in Trump’s removal from the platforms for obviously spreading false claims about fraud and obviously stoking his base’s anger.

FAQ: Trump's use of 'shadow ban'

It’s clearly the case that Republicans see this as a politically useful issue. As Trump announced his suit against Facebook (which, it’s safe to say, will probably not succeed), congressional Republicans moved forward with targeting tech companies legislatively. Polling conducted by Fox News last month found that most Americans think tech companies have too much power; more than 6 in 10 say that’s true of Facebook. Most Americans also think Facebook should be broken up into smaller companies. It’s a hefty if imperfect target.

But, of course, actually launching this suit bears other benefits. Filing a lawsuit continues to convey a sense of seriousness with the public even when that’s not really deserved. This lawsuit is being presented as a “class-action lawsuit,” a designation that is granted by a court and not simply declared by a litigant — but the term implies that there has been some broad injustice that demands a fix.

Most to the point, Trump’s announcement offered an opportunity for two of the things Trump likes the most: getting attention and collecting money. Shortly after his speech, his political action committee sent out a fundraising appeal centered on the suit. The Republican Party followed suit soon after. It’s possible that the announcement marks not only a manifestation of Trump’s frustrations against his opponents but also the GOP figuring out how to effectively leverage Trump’s popularity. The party has been threatening to target tech for a while; with Trump’s lawsuit it gets a news peg, a fundraising hook and an ability to position itself as enacting Trump’s will.

During his comments at Bedminster, by the way, Trump made another familiar promise.

“This is the first of numerous other lawsuits I assume that would follow,” Trump said.

We’ve heard similar threats before.

Trump’s lawsuits

A list of threatened or filed lawsuits from Melania Trump, Donald Trump, the Trump Organization or Trump’s political campaigns. Lawsuits centered on the aftermath of the 2020 election are not included.

June 2015

vs. Univision. For: Dropping the Miss Universe pageant. A lawsuit was filed and settled.

July 2015

vs. Hispanic Media Coalition. For: Running an ad criticizing Trump’s rhetoric on immigration. No lawsuit filed.

September 2015

vs. Club for Growth. For: Running anti-Trump ads. No lawsuit filed.

vs. a T-shirt company. For: Selling anti-Trump gear. No lawsuit filed.

December 2015

vs. Republican donor Mike Fernandez. For: Buying full-page ads denouncing Trump. No lawsuit filed.

January 2016

vs. The Washington Post. For: Covering past corporate bankruptcies. No lawsuit filed.

vs. Virginia Republican Party. For: Changing procedures for casting primary votes. No lawsuit filed by the campaign.

February 2016

vs. Ted Cruz. For: Not being a natural-born citizen (but, really, for beating him in the Iowa caucuses). No lawsuit filed.

March 2016

vs. Republican National Committee. For: Allocation of delegates in Louisiana. No lawsuit filed.

April 2016

vs. artist Illma Gore. For: Painting an unflattering picture of Trump. No lawsuit filed. Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen denied issuing the threat to Gore.

July 2016

vs. hat manufacturers. For: Reportedly using non-American material in manufacturing process. No lawsuit filed.

vs. Tony Schwartz. For: Publicly identifying himself as the author of “The Art of the Deal.” No lawsuit filed.

September 2016

Melania Trump vs. Daily Mail. For: Making claims about Melania Trump’s career before her marriage to Donald Trump. A lawsuit was filed, and the Daily Mail later offered a public apology.

vs. New York Times. For: “Irresponsible intent.” No lawsuit filed.

October 2016

Melania Trump vs. People. For: Publishing a first-person allegation that Donald Trump had groped a photographer for the magazine. No lawsuit filed.

vs. women accusing him of inappropriate behavior. For: Purportedly lying about the encounters. No lawsuit filed.

vs. New York Times. For: Publishing stories about alleged assaults. No lawsuit filed.

vs. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. For: Running an ad targeting him over veterans. No lawsuit filed.

November 2016

Melania Trump vs. Rosie O’Donnell. For: Sharing a video focused on Barron Trump. No lawsuit filed, but O’Donnell apologized.

June 2017

vs. CNN. For: Coverage of his administration. No lawsuit filed.

September 2017

Melania Trump vs. a school in Croatia. For: Ads featuring Melania Trump that encouraged people to learn English. No lawsuit filed, but the ads were taken down.

January 2018

vs. Stephen K. Bannon. For: Violating a nondisclosure agreement in talking to reporter Michael Wolff. No lawsuit filed.

April 2018

vs. Democratic Party. For: Suing him over alleged collusion with Russia. No lawsuit filed.

June 2019

vs. Twitter, Google and Facebook. For: Purportedly being biased against Republicans. No lawsuit filed.

October 2019

vs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). For: Launching an impeachment probe. No lawsuit filed.

vs. the city of Minneapolis. For: Being asked to pay increased security costs for a political rally upfront. No lawsuit filed, but the additional costs were dropped.

vs. CNN. For: Unflattering media coverage. No lawsuit filed.

vs. participants in Russia probe. For: Investigating his campaign. No lawsuit filed.

February 2020

vs. Robert S. Mueller III and prosecutors. For: Investigating possible connections between Russian election interference and the 2016 campaign. No lawsuit filed.

vs. New York Times. For: Allegedly defamatory opinion articles. A lawsuit was filed and later dismissed.

vs. CNN. For: Allegedly defamatory opinion articles. A lawsuit was filed and later dismissed.

March 2020

vs. local television station WJFW. For: Airing an ad criticizing his coronavirus response. A lawsuit was filed and later dropped.

vs. Washington Post. For: Allegedly defamatory opinion articles. A lawsuit was filed.

April 2020

vs. campaign manager Brad Parscale. For: Trump reportedly threatened to sue his campaign manager over bad poll numbers. No lawsuit filed.

vs. China. For: Damages related to the coronavirus pandemic. No lawsuit filed.

June 2020

vs. Priorities USA. For: Creating an ad attacking Trump on the coronavirus response. A lawsuit was filed.

August 2020

vs. Nevada. For: Enacting mail-in voting. A lawsuit was filed and later dismissed.

October 2020

vs. Philadelphia. For: Access to election offices. A lawsuit was filed and later dismissed.

June 2021

vs. New York City. To: Retain control of a golf course in the Bronx. A lawsuit was filed.

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