Shortly after the August 8, 2022, FBI raid on Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Fox News host Jesse Watters said, “I’ve never seen the base more energized. I’ve never seen the base more angry. I’m angry. I feel violated. The whole country feels violated. This is disgusting. They’ve declared war on us, and now it’s game on.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who will be Speaker of the House if the Republicans win the majority in this year’s elections, had this to say: “I’ve seen enough. The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization. When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned.” Lavern Spicer, who is running for a seat in Congress from Florida, tweeted: “Biden’s FBI is no better than Hitler’s Gestapo at this point,”
Let’s step back a bit and consider what they are reacting to. Former President Trump, when he left office in January of 2021, took many boxloads of government documents with him to Mar-a-Lago rather than leaving them to be deposited in the National Archives. After some negotiations, he returned some of the materials. When National Archives personnel examined what he had returned, they discovered that it included some highly sensitive and classified papers–and he obviously still had possession of a lot more. So on the morning of August 8, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago–with a search warrant–and recovered those documents.
By even the most minimally normal, reasonable standards, the shock and outrage would be over Trump’s behavior, not that of the FBI. True, it’s the first time a federal raid has been made on the home of a former president, but it’s also the first time a former president has done what Trump did. Given the fact that police at the federal, state, and local levels get search warrants and raid people’s homes all the time, being outraged that it was done to Trump is saying that Trump (for whatever reason) should be above the law. And comparing the FBI to the Gestapo–the secret police of a regime that was mass-murdering people for belonging to certain groups that Hitler had marked as undesirable–is wild.
I want to take a moment to consider Kevin McCarthy’s remark. Unlike a Fox host or a mere candidate for office, Kevin McCarthy actually holds a position of responsibility in the government, a position that would normally be expected to have some obligations of dignity and propriety. Learning that there’s an investigation going on and that legal action has been taken, it’s highly bizarre behavior for someone in Representative McCarthy’s position to take sides and condemn the action. He might well say that no conclusions against Trump should be jumped to, that Trump is entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and so forth. But he’s not doing that. Rather, he’s declaring Trump innocent, at least innocent of having committed any crime that would make an FBI raid appropriate. And he’s also declaring that the FBI and Merrick Garland’s Justice Department aren’t entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty of conducting a frivolous, politically motived investigation.
And now, let’s turn to Jesse Watters’ remark, specifically the words “They’ve declared war on us, and now it’s game on.” Who’s “they,” and who’s “us”? Apparently, “they” in his view means the Democratic Party, or maybe the quote-unquote “Left,” or maybe that entity that Trump loved to rail against, “the Deep State.” In any case, “they” means an entity outside of the realm of “the American people,” outside the realm of anything legitimate or respectable–an adversary. An enemy. And who’s “us”? That would appear to mean “the American people.” He does, after all, also say it’s “the whole country” that “feels violated.” But obviously the whole country doesn’t feel violated; obviously it’s only Trump’s base that feels violated. So what’s he really saying? To me, what he’s really saying is that it’s only Trump’s base that’s worthy of being considered “the American people.” Only Trump’s base matters.
He is, moreover, talking the language of civil war. Now sure, there will be some who will insist that no, he just means the Republicans are going to try harder to mobilize voters to defeat those dirty rotten Democrats in the next election. But the man who attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati very soon after apparently had other ideas. So did the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6. Clearly, Trump’s base includes those who would do a lot more than just knock on people’s doors and tell them they should vote Republican.
It’s well known that Trump’s base includes members of extremist groups, white nationalists who feel threatened by the growing proportion of non-white and non-gentile citizens and who fear being “replaced.” “The Jews will not replace us” was one of the chants at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. But the hard-core racists are just one subset. For a lot of other Trump supporters, it’s more about ideology and cultural conformity than race. What they have in common, though, is that they feel under siege by all manner of sinister, conspiratorial movements and forces, and they regard Trump, not just as their candidate running against a party of an alternative ideology, but as the strong leader who will stand up for America in the face of its enemies who want to bring it down.
Paradoxically, even when things are normal, it’s usual for the competing parties to try to make each other look extremist, even sinister. But we’re on an extreme here. What we have is a cult of personality, a subset of whom are willing to resort to violence to stand up for their leader. But even in the mainstream, we have political leaders like Kevin McCarthy who are willing to pander to the fallacy that the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago represents, not a legitimate law enforcement action by a nonpartisan law enforcement agency (which is, in fact, what it was), but rather, a political move by a political party to discredit an innocent, persecuted, and heroic leader who just wants to make America great again.
We are living in bizarre, dangerous times. There are some who fear that we may actually have civil war in this country. What’s beyond dispute is that there are people and groups with a civil war mentality–and politicians who play to them to stay in office.
NOTE: There will always be those who will try to tell me “You’ve got to be objective, you’ve got to be balanced!” Answer: I’m very objective and balanced when we’re talking about issues where there really is legitimate room for difference of opinion, as is the case for me with just about every issue concerning what the laws and the policies should be. But there are not two legitimate sides to whether the 2020 election was stolen, there are not two legitimate sides to whether Trump on January 6 acted the way that any responsible public servant would have acted, and there are not two legitimate sides to whether the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago represent the Left making war on “The American people” or Gestapo tactics or anything other than a law enforcement investigation by a law enforcement agency. For me, trying to find a balance between two sides to any of those questions is not being objective, but rather, being dishonest. And I hope there’s nobody in my classes who wants me to be dishonest.
Article in Politico Magazine, August 19, 2022
Article in Politico, August 26, 2022
The redacted affidavit that preceded the search
Discussion on WNYC of whether we’re headed for civil war, August 26, 2022