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Beware a cornered Trump...
Yesterday’s January 6th hearing with Cassidy Hutchinson was revelatory for many things, perhaps the most important being to show just how completely untethered Donald Trump is from the norms of humanity. Basic things like empathy, compassion, decency, character, self awareness. Needless to say, the things most of us expect of leaders - courage, curiosity, responsibility etc. - are clearly pathologically absent from the 45th President of the United States. It’s hard not to see in his dead eyes, evil.
Since February of this year, the world has been asking the question - what does a cornered Vladimir Putin do? Yesterday raised the stakes considerably. The more pressing question surely is what does his ‘useful idiot’, a literally untethered Donald Trump do when his legacy is existentially threatened, either by indictment or worse perhaps, irrelevance?
To make an obvious point, this soulless person is still the commander-in-chief of an army of scores of millions people that journalist Paul Krugman most helpfully described as “zombies”. To give 45 his due, great care has been taken by he and his minions to nurture and animate this army with a steady stream of grievance, ignorance and rage. Too many pundits to name now see violence as inevitable. Once mobilized, it’s very difficult to send an army back to it’s barracks.
Normally (a concept that is itself now forever quaint), one leads - and employs - an army for some sort of greater purpose. Even history’s worst antagonists likely did what they did for ‘the nation’ or their ideology. Not so Trump. His army exists to serve him and his very personal needs, and is thus only useful as long as he has the capacity to leverage it. Devoid of character, he is no Alexey Navalny courageously exhorting his followers from a jail cell, nor is he stupid enough to find himself in an orange smock, like his too-close friend Jeffery Epstein.
No, a cornered Donald Trump would do everything he can to ‘look good’ to his army and destroy the nation in the process - especially the socio-political elites that have always mocked him and eluded him. It’s a certainty that he won’t leave this army for anyone else to deploy, anyone else by definition being a nemesis. Can you imagine a jailed and/or humiliated Donald Trump endorsing Ron DeSantis, and asking his followers to behave peacefully? I can’t.
Instead, we all need to be braced for what likely will come next. The host of the Apprentice will not be subtle. What might he do? Speculation these days is often - almost always - unhelpful. Yet it’s important that we all understand that that the greatest damage he can do is not behind us, but very likely lies ahead of us.
Imagine that it’s October, and the January 6th committee has concluded its investigation with a historic and definitive condemnation of Trump and his role in subverting democracy. Whether Congress makes a criminal referral to the DOJ will be irrelevant, for the now-known facts will demand the attention of Merrick Garland. This will provide an opening for DeSantis and the other aspiring MAGATs to attempt to squeeze Trump out of the race for 2024. But we all know Trump is not squeezable. He is nothing if not a fighter.
Imagine now that Trump preemptively declares his candidacy for President, perhaps the day after the New York Attorney General hints at an imminent indictment. The evidence is now clear that Trump will tell his followers whatever he believes they need to hear to mobilize in his defense - of course depicted by right wing media as an act of ultimate patriotism. He and his generals will choreograph a growing crisis leading up to the midterms, pitting he and his army against the deep state - the ‘real’ opposition. They were good at it before, there is no reason to think that they haven’ learned from their mistakes.
And then one day, what happens if we wake up and he is simply gone? Avoiding ‘unlawful’ and ‘vengeful’ persecution in the US, it’s only logical that he would seek refuge in a country from which he could continue to exhort his army to fight in the name of freedom. A country that has a very special reason to provide such sanctuary, and the support of a nation state. To say it out loud - Russia. That it’s a crazy idea means nothing now. Crazy is as crazy does.
The United States - and with it democracy - is in an exceptionally fragile state. The leadership structures and the institutions they lead have the agility of crystal. And Donald Trump is holding a great big hammer, and we now know that he will use it. The only question is when and how?