Democracy Already Damaged

Yes, the indictment of Donald Trump is important. However, he and his supporters worldwide have long since succeeded in undermining state institutions.

It is the third indictment filed against former President Donald Trump — and the most significant. Not only because a conviction on conspiracy charges would come with a heavier sentence than conviction of concealing hush money payments, charges he faces in New York, or conviction of illegally taking classified documents, charges filed by Special Counsel Jack Smith in June.

The new indictment criminalizes Trump’s effort to reverse the outcome the November 2020 presidential election up to and including his supporters’ violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In doing so, the indictment targets the core of Trumpism and those that imitate it around the world: The undermining and destruction of democracy from within, from the position of power.

Antisemitic Conspiracy Lies Fuel the Flames

It wasn’t the floundering of a pathologically sore loser that caused Trump to sow accusations of fraud and distrust of the mail-in voting system months before the election. Rather, Trump followed the playbook that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon publicly outlined in 2017: The goal of destroying — Bannon called it “deconstruction”— state institutions to build something else from the rubble. In order to achieve this in the open with the public’s help, it is necessary to direct anger and distrust at the existing system (this is facilitated by rumors of a deep state controlled by the elite), sentiments that may be further enriched by recycling ancient antisemitic conspiracy myths spread by QAnon, about liberals who drink the blood of children.

Thus, the destroyer becomes the liberator, rules and laws become instruments of oppression, judges and prosecutors become their agents. This is exactly the discourse that Trump nourished throughout his entire presidency. Whenever a court stopped an evidently unlawful executive order, Trump took the opportunity to delegitimize the judiciary.

The events surrounding the 2020 election were the high point in that attempt at “deconstruction,” and it didn’t take much to be successful.

Trump Already Ingrained Distrust in People’s Minds

Congress tried to prosecute what Trump wrought in two impeachment proceedings, but that response remained in the political sphere, and Trump’s success in subjugating the Republican Party prevented his conviction. That’s why it is crucial for the criminal courts to deal with Trump now.

However, it is also clear that Trump and his accomplices have long since managed to embed this distrust so deeply in the minds of his supporters that even this indictment will hardly cost him any approval and possibly do just the opposite.

Bannon – who was later ousted but whose program lived on – and Trump thus created a political model that far-right parties have since copied around the world. The ethnic-nationalist-authoritarian revolution they are striving is incompatible with the democratic constitutions under whose rules they win elections and come to power. So, as long as their power is not absolute, they must discredit those corrective types that oppose them.

It’s no accident that what Trump says about Special Counsel Smith hardly sounds different from statements made by leading Alternative for Germany* politicians about Thomas Haldenwang, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. It’s no coincidence that the newly elected AfD* top candidate for the European elections, Maximilian Krah, is sharing selfies of himself with Bannon.

This is transparent, but unfortunately pretty effective. The answer cannot lie with the judiciary alone, but it will be called upon, nevertheless.

*Editor’s note: Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland in German or AfD) is a far right-wing populist political party in Germany founded in 2013.

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About Michael Stehle 104 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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