After Mar-a-Lago: Historians Among Experts on the Meaning of the Search and the Danger AheadHistorians in the News
tags: espionage, Donald Trump, Presidential Records
Last week the FBI conducted a lawful search of Donald Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach. There they discovered highly classified and other top secret documents, which reportedly may have included information about the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Trump could face a variety of criminal charges, including violations of the Espionage Act.
Predictably, since the FBI search, Trump has been using social media and other means to encourage his followers to defend him, perhaps through violence if need be. Trump's cultists are already acting on his commands: Last week a Trump supporter who was apparently at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, attacked the FBI headquarters in Cincinnati. After a standoff, a chase and failed negotiations, he was shot dead by law enforcement.
It is abundantly clear that Donald Trump will engage in acts of revenge and retaliation against public officials and others who support the rule of law, democracy and the Constitution if he manages to regain power in 2024. He thought he was a king during his first term; now he will be a mad king, unleashed and unrestrained.
To better understand the context and significance of these escalating threats of violence and terrorism, I asked a range of experts to share their insights on America's current democracy crisis and what may happen next.
Federico Finchelstein is professor of history at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York. He is the author of several books, including "From Fascism to Populism in History." His most recent book is "A Brief History of Fascist Lies."
Trump never desists with his slow-motion march towards a failed form of fascism. This is a wannabe fascism that is constantly checked by his many defects as a leader as well as by legality itself. If fascism clearly destroys legality, Trump merely tries to escape from the law. This escape is by whatever means necessary: lies, manipulation, enabling, prompting his followers into violence and even domestic terrorism (as in the violent attack against the FBI). As in fascism, Trump's politics do not care about the wellbeing of their own society, and they rely on constantly demonizing others, spreading violence and disrupting legality and institutions.
His threats of violence should be taken very seriously, because dictatorship and even fascism seem to be the endgame of Trumpism. In Nazi Germany, the "truth" of the leader was judicially constructed to the full extent as a replacement for more rational forms of law. Juridical truth was equated with the transcendental nature of the leader. Hitler famously represented himself as "the supreme judge of the Nation." The result was the destruction of legality.
As I argue in my book, it is highly probable that Carl Schmitt was insincere when, in 1934, he claimed that the Führer was the embodiment of the "most authentic jurisdiction." But Schmitt, a latecomer to Nazism who had a perceptive and sympathetic take on its mythical connotations, fully understood the Nazi notion of truth when he stated that Hitler was "not subjected to justice" but rather constituted the highest form of justice.
It is clear that Trump conceives of himself as a supreme judge in that specific fascist sense, which replaces justice with the leader's corrupt and narcissistic sense of legality.