Trump’s Retaliation Threats Highlight a Pattern of Attacking Democratic Norms

by Ethan Kim
retaliation threats

As the first former president to face federal charges, Donald Trump and his supporters have resorted to their usual defense of portraying themselves as victims in the face of unprecedented allegations. However, this time, the stakes are higher.

Trump has escalated his claims and threats, fully aware that he could potentially face years in prison if found guilty on 37 charges including obstruction, illegal retention of defense information, and other violations. Shortly after pleading not guilty, Trump alleged that the special prosecutor, who is nonpartisan, is politically motivated and vowed to seek revenge against President Joe Biden if he were to be elected in 2024.

During a speech at his New Jersey golf club, Trump told his supporters, “There was an unwritten rule” to refrain from prosecuting former presidents and political opponents. He declared his intention to appoint a genuine special prosecutor to target Joe Biden, whom he labeled as “the most corrupt president in the history of America,” along with the supposed “Biden crime family.”

These retaliatory promises bear resemblance to the infamous “lock her up” chants directed at Democrat Hillary Clinton during Trump’s 2016 campaign. However, the specificity and severity of Trump’s threats have alarmed numerous experts.

Lindsay Chervinsky, a presidential historian, expressed concern, stating, “If he did that, it’d be an authoritarian system, the end of a system of laws rather than of one man.”

Trump’s ongoing attacks on the justice system are merely the latest manifestation of an eight-year campaign by him and his allies against the institutions and traditions that underpin American democracy.

Throughout his presidency, Trump consistently complained about unfair treatment by the legal system. He criticized the judge in a lawsuit against his for-profit university, accused the FBI of bias during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and even assigned a special prosecutor to review the handling of the Russia investigation. Despite these grievances, only one conviction resulted from the investigation.

Given this track record, Trump’s vow of retribution carries a more menacing tone, according to Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. Wertheimer noted, “He has shown repeatedly during his presidency that he is perfectly willing to misuse and abuse his office to carry out purely personal activities.”

Stephen Saltzburg, a former top official in the criminal division of the Justice Department and current George Washington University law professor, argued that Trump’s actions indicate his willingness to settle scores through the department, the very thing he accuses others of doing.

The charges against Trump were brought forth by a grand jury in Florida following an investigation led by independent special counsel Jack Smith. Smith emphasized that investigations are driven by facts and the law, not political vendettas.

Experts from across the political spectrum argue that the charges against Trump are the result of a properly functioning legal system, rather than a political witch hunt. Even William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations in the indictment and stated that any attorney general, regardless of party affiliation, would have pursued similar charges.

According to the indictment, Trump retained classified documents after leaving the White House. He openly admitted that the documents were classified and that he lacked the authority to declassify them. When the government demanded their return, Trump refused.

Trump’s complaints of persecution, though not his retaliatory threats, have gained traction among a broad range of Republicans, including long-time supporters in Congress and self-proclaimed moderate governors. The influence of Trump’s worldview was evident when Fox News briefly displayed a caption referring to Biden as a “wannabe dictator” after Trump’s court appearance. The network later removed the chyron without providing further details.

Victor Menaldo, a political scientist at the University of Washington, explained that former political leaders facing criminal charges often employ a strategy of portraying themselves as persecuted. This approach can prove effective when the leader enjoys a fervent support base, similar to Trump. However, Menaldo highlighted that in other countries, these leaders are typically successfully prosecuted, and democracy endures.

The federal charges against Trump follow previous charges filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and ongoing investigations in Fulton County, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. Critics of the Manhattan charges argue their legal validity, while Trump’s defenders condemn all investigations into the former president. Republicans, having gained control of the House of Representatives, established a committee to investigate the alleged “weaponization of government” against conservatives, which aims to highlight perceived injustices in the Trump probes.

The convergence of the new federal charges and the Republican presidential primary has amplified complaints about scrutiny directed at Trump. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy publicly voiced support for Trump, denouncing the alleged misuse of power.

Roscoe Howard, former U.S. Attorney, expressed confidence that the public would see through these protestations by examining the indictment itself. Howard stated, “You can read it and make a determination of whether he’s violating the law. And anybody who does the same thing, we treat them the same way.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University specializing in authoritarians, noted that Trump’s current situation aligns with a pattern seen in other strongmen. She stated, “What strongmen do is, if you are corrupt, you need to get back into power to shut down all the institutions that can harm you.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about retaliation threats

What charges does Donald Trump face?

Donald Trump faces charges of obstruction, illegal retention of defense information, and other violations. In total, he is facing 37 charges.

Why is there concern about Trump’s retaliation threats?

There is concern about Trump’s retaliation threats because they escalate the erosion of democratic norms and the rule of law. Experts warn that such actions could undermine the integrity of the justice system and establish an authoritarian system centered around one individual.

Are the charges against Trump politically motivated?

No, the charges against Trump are not politically motivated. The special prosecutor leading the investigation is nonpartisan and independent of political appointees. Many experts from different political backgrounds argue that the charges stem from a proper functioning of the legal system rather than a political vendetta.

How do Trump’s threats compare to previous attacks on democratic traditions?

Trump’s threats to retaliate against President Biden and his claims of being persecuted follow a pattern of attacks on democratic traditions that he has engaged in throughout his presidency. His continuous criticism of the legal system, attempts to discredit investigations, and misuse of office raise concerns about his willingness to abuse power for personal gain.

What legal jeopardy does Trump face in addition to the federal charges?

In addition to the federal charges, Trump also faces legal jeopardy in the form of charges filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and investigations in Fulton County, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. These various legal proceedings contribute to the heightened scrutiny surrounding the former president.

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LegalEagle June 17, 2023 - 12:05 am

The concerns raised about Trump’s retaliation threats are valid. It’s crucial to uphold democratic norms and the rule of law. The justice system must operate independently and without political interference.

PoliticalJunkie123 June 17, 2023 - 10:42 am

Trump’s attacks on democratic traditions are nothing new. He’s always been quick to criticize and undermine institutions that don’t align with his interests. It’s troubling to see a former president resort to such tactics.

LegalExpert77 June 17, 2023 - 4:27 pm

It’s essential to remember that the charges brought against Trump are based on a thorough investigation by an independent special prosecutor. The allegations should be evaluated based on evidence and legal principles, rather than personal biases or political affiliations.


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