There’s reason to feel a bit more secure about the strength of American democracy, notwithstanding Donald Trump’s escalating threats.
For one thing, a large bipartisan coalition in both chambers of Congress has beat back the House Maga Republicans’ attempt to shut down the government.
This was a major defeat for Trump, who had called a shutdown “the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other patriots”.
Americans should also feel encouraged by the tenacity of judges and prosecutors in holding Trump accountable, notwithstanding his threats.
Ever since his first indictment, Trump has attacked with increasing ferocity the judges and prosecutors who have tried to hold him accountable – calling them “deranged”, “thugs”, “hacks”, “corrupt”, “biased”, “disgraceful”, “radical”, “unAmerican”, and worse.
To their credit, judges and prosecutors have not wavered.
They have set strict timetables for Trump’s criminal trials. They have refused Trump’s many motions and appeals. They have ruled against Trump in the civil lawsuits against him and meted out tough penalties.
Last Tuesday, Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general, found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used to secure financing.
As punishment, Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded.
Trump lashed out: “The widespread, radical attack against me, my family, and my supporters has now devolved to new, un-American depths, at the hands of a DERANGED New York State Judge, doing the bidding of a completely biased and corrupt ‘Prosecutor,’ Letitia James,” Trump wrote.
As Trump’s attacks on judges and prosecutors have worsened, prosecutors and judges have responded forcefully.
On Friday, the Colorado district judge Sarah B Wallace, overseeing the first significant lawsuit to bar Trump from the 2024 presidential ballot – on grounds that the 14th amendment explicitly bars from office anyone who has sworn an oath to uphold the constitution and has taken part in an insurrection – issued a protective order prohibiting parties in the case from making threatening or intimidating statements.
Judge Wallace said the order was necessary to protect the safety of those involved – including herself and her staff.
Meanwhile, Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing the justice department’s prosecutions of Trump, has requested a gag order against Trump. Smith linked Trump’s ominous rhetoric to threats against prosecutors, judges and potential witnesses.
“The defendant continues these attacks on individuals precisely because he knows that in doing so, he is able to roil the public and marshal and prompt his supporters,” Smith said in the court filing.
One day after he posted “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING FOR YOU!” a woman called the chambers of the US district judge Tanya Chutkan, who has been assigned to the election fraud case against Trump, and said that if Trump is not reelected next year, “we are coming to kill you”. The woman was later charged with making the call.
The top prosecutors on the four criminal cases against Trump – two brought by the justice department and one each in Georgia and New York – now require round-the-clock protection.
Smith himself – whom Trump has described as “a thug” and “deranged” – has been a target of violent threats. His office is spending $8m to $10m on protective details for him, his family and senior staff members, according to officials.
Since its agents carried out the court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022, the FBI has seen the number of threats against its personnel and facilities surge more than 300%.
A Trump supporter wearing tactical gear and armed with an AR-15 tried to breach the FBI field office in Cincinnati. He failed, fled and later died in a shootout with law enforcement.
Trump is escalating his threats and provocations. Even if one or two of his followers act on them, the result would be tragic.
Merrick B Garland, the attorney general, recently told Congress that Trump’s demonization of judges and prosecutors threatened the rule of law. “Singling out individual career public servants who are just doing their jobs is dangerous – particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families,” Garland said.
Garland then added: “We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy.”
America owes a great debt of gratitude to the judges, prosecutors, grand jurors and prospective jurors who refuse to be intimidated by Trump’s threats, and who will not back down from defending our democracy.
While the mainstream media continues to treat Trump as a politician rather than a peril, normalizing his dangerous threats, the nation’s judges and prosecutors are protecting the rule of law.
They – along with Saturday’s bipartisan majority vote in Congress against Maga extremists – give some hope that the fever of Trumpism may be starting to break.
Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His newest book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a Guardian US columnist. His newsletter is at robertreich.substack.com
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