“LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Thus declared Donald Trump, unhinged occupant of the White House and play-acting President, earlier this afternoon, in a 63-character Tweet.
The declaration punctuated a brief rapid-fire Twitter rage that also included these pronouncements:
“Crazy ‘Nancy Pelosi, you are a weak person. You are a poor leader. You are the reason America hates career politicians, like yourself.’ @seanhannity She is totally incompetent & controlled by the Radical Left, a weak and pathetic puppet.”
Trump often goes on such Twitter rants. But these Tweets exhibit a new level of dangerousness.
The Pelosi Tweet, otherwise pretty standard fare, takes on added gravity when considered in the broader context of Trump’s recent threat to adjourn Congress, itself uttered in the broader context of Trump’s recent declaration that he has “total power” and that as President “I can do whatever I want.” Trump has clearly escalated his attacks on Democrats, the media, China, the World Health Organization, Democratic Governors, and anyone else he can blame. He is behaving more like an autocratic bully every day. And we have every reason to fear for the November election.
But the “Liberation” Tweets raise an even greater danger: the danger of civil violence. Trump is deliberately inciting those small, right-wing, armed groups currently descending on state capitols in Michigan, Minnesota, and even Indiana, to protest the “infringements on liberty” imposed by the broad “social distancing” measures required by sane Governors everywhere. To speak of “liberation” is clearly to imply that these governments are illegitimate and ought to be resisted. To speak about the Second Amendment, as he does in the Virginia quote—Virginia, home to the Charlottesville violence—is to raise explicitly the question of guns, “militias,” and armed resistance.
Trump has done this before, but never at such a moment of crisis, and never at a time when his followers were in the process of actually taking to the streets with arms.
Back on April 28, 2019, I published a piece in Public Seminar: “Trump and the San Diego Synagogue Shooting: The President Plays with Fire, and the Rest of Us Get Burned.” The piece discussed the rise in hate crime and racially-motivated shootings under Trump, and documented his rhetorical and thus moral complicity in this criminality. But it centered on a speech that Trump had recently delivered at a NRA meeting in Indianapolis, in which he delivered one of his regular denunciations of the Mueller probe as a “coup” and incited his supporters to rally to his cause. Here is what he said:
“. . . Far-left radicals in Congress want to take away your voice, your jobs, your rights, and they especially want to take away your guns. You know that. They want to take away your guns. You better get out there and vote. You better get out there and vote. It seems like it’s a long ways away. It’s not. . . We’re getting ready to start up the campaign again. Start up the campaign again. I never want to do anything with MAGA because MAGA country and MAGA — “Make America Great Again” has been great, but we’ve really made it great. We’ve made it great. We’ve brought it back. And we’re thinking about — slogan: “Keep America Great.” Because you have socialists and far-left Democrats that want to destroy everything that we’ve done.”
Trump ended by invoking the memory of the Minutemen who fought the British at the start of the American Revolution:
“Two months before the American Revolution broke out, with the shot heard around the world, a group of patriots gathered along a bridge in Salem, Massachusetts. In the preceding months, British soldiers had confiscated muskets in Boston. You know the story well. Gunpowder was seized in Somerville. And the patriots in Salem knew that the Redcoats would soon come for the town’s cannons. But the Americans were prepared — they already loved our country — and they were determined to defend their rights to the death. When hundreds of British soldiers arrived at the bridge, the Americans stood firm, blocking their path. When swords were drawn, they didn’t flinch. . .
In the courageous actions of those early Americans, we see the defiant and determined spirit of patriotism that has always willed America to its greatest victories. It is a spirit that is passed down from generation to generation, from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. It is the spirit that lives in each and every one of you. Our duty, our responsibility, our sacred charge, is to preserve the freedoms that our ancestors gave their very lives to secure. Because no matter how many centuries go by, no matter how much the world changes, the central drama of human history remains the same.
One one side are those who seek power, control, and domination. And on the other side are patriots like those in this hall who stand upright and plant their feel in eternal defense of our liberty.”
I remarked then that “this is not an appeal to Jeffersonian democracy. It is an endorsement of and incitement to the militia movement and to the spirit of vigilantism. . . Trump is poisonous to public life, and he must go.”
Trump, alas, is still with us, subjecting us to a disease far greater than any flu.
Today’s “Liberate Virginia” Tweet crosses a new threshold because of its call to arms against Democratic (and some Republican) Governors and its simultaneous call to arms against a sane response to the pandemic. Trump is inviting an escalation of political conflict bordering on violence, and he is also inviting a defiance of public safety measures that will only intensify the danger of mass infection. And he is doing so in a way that can only cause chaos, disorder, and fear.
This should surprise no one who has been paying attention to Trump and to the danger he long has posed to liberal democracy. But each day that the pandemic persists, and that Trump remains in office to use and abuse the virus as a means of his own malevolent aggrandizement, the danger grows. That the plague that is Trump now threatens not simply the health of democracy but the very lives of us all simply raises the stakes immensely. That so many fellow citizens are willing to dismiss scientific and medical truths, and to believe manifest absurdities that place their own lives at risk, accentuates the gravity of the situation we face.
Our democracy is in utter disarray. And we must defend it, now more than ever, so that we can defeat the plagues that are laying waste to all that is valuable, and restore some sense of sanity, lawfulness, and intelligent and progressive self-government.