Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series, that serves to remind us all of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.
This week’s Trumptastrophe brings into focus the dangerous game Trump plays when he “jokes” about very serious matters (that sometimes end up with harmful real-world consequences) and the hostility he shows towards those who refuse blind loyalty to him:
Trump delivered his first official State of the Union address on Jan. 30, 2018. Not surprisingly, Trump gushed with praise for his own greatness, celebrating the “extraordinary success” of his first year in office and the “incredible progress” he said the country had made toward his campaign pledge to “make America great again.”
Trump made an uncharacteristic and ultimately unconvincing call for unity, urging members of Congress to set aside their differences and extending “an open hand” to work with members of both parties.
Trump’s call for unity didn’t last long, of course. Speaking in Ohio the next week, Trump mocked Democratic members of Congress for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about his State of the Union address:
“They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘Treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not,” he said to laughter. “Can we call that treason? Why not?”
CNN noted it was the second time in a week Trump had complained about Democrats not cheering enough for him, and he added that it would make it much harder for him to work on legislation with Democratic lawmakers.
Of course, figures in the MAGA movement Trump leads regularly charge their political opponents with treason—sometimes calling openly for execution of those who stand in Trump’s way—accusing Democrats of being “communists” who are intentionally setting out to destroy the country.
Trump demands unconditional loyalty for himself. While his supporters responded to criticism of his “treason” remarks by saying, “hey, he was just joking,” several commentators noted that Trump’s “joke” revealed something more significant.
In The Atlantic, David Graham wrote that Trump’s remarks reflected his “Sun King-esque conflation of himself with the government”:
This leads Trump to believe all American successes are reducible to him, all criticism of the government is a personal attack on him, and, most dangerously in this case, that any personal attack on him is therefore an attack on the United States.
Usually when Trump makes an outrageous statement like this, his aides try to walk it back by insisting it was a joke. … On some level, this is probably true—the nonchalance with which he accused Democrats of treason is a sign of his unseriousness.
The nonchalance, the sort-of-jokiness, is part of what makes it so chilling, too. Treason is one of those terms, and crimes, that loses its power from overuse, not unlike accusing people of Nazism.
Journalist Chris Cillizza wrote:
What Trump is saying is that dissent – which is what Democrats are doing when they choose not to clap for a line in his speech – is traitorous and/or un-American. … Even the suggestion of criminalizing dissent should send a chill down the spine of anyone who counts themselves as a fan of democracy. The right to dissent – without fear of retribution – sits at the heart of what differentiates America from authoritarian countries around the world.
During the State of the Union address, Trump also waxed eloquent about the Capitol dome and the statue of freedom who stands atop it, citing the many memorials and monuments on the National Mall and adding, “Freedom stands tall over one more monument: This one. This Capitol — this living monument to the American People.”
As for Trump’s supposed reverence for the U.S. Capitol, it was nowhere to be seen on Jan. 6, 2021, when the supporters he called to Washington to try to keep him in power after he lost the election vandalized the Capitol and violently attacked the Capitol Police who were defending it. On that day, Trump acted as if the Capitol was enemy territory, watching the violence for hours while ignoring desperate pleas from his own allies and family to call off his troops.
It is a well-documented reality that Trump’s speeches are filled with lies, which points to one of the most damaging things about Trump and his MAGA movement: they inspire contempt for the truth, they rely on lies and deliberately divisive and inflammatory rhetoric to fire up their base, and they use social media and right-wing media to smear anyone who stands in their way as America-hating traitors—all of which poisons our political culture and undermines public confidence in and support for democracy.
These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back THIS week, this MONTH, this election cycle.