Sunday, December 03, 2023


The New York Times and The Washington Post have stories today about Donald Trump's "I'm rubber, you're glue" response to charges that he'll destroy American democracy if he's elected president again. The Times reports on a campaign speech Trump delivered yesterday in Iowa:
At the Cedar Rapids event, aides and volunteers left placards with bold black-and-white lettering reading “Biden attacks democracy” on the seats and bleachers. At the start of Mr. Trump's speech, that message was broadcast on a screen above the stage....

Mr. Trump ... claimed the president and his allies were seeking to control Americans’ speech, their behavior on social media and their purchases of cars and dishwashers.

Without evidence, he accused Mr. Biden of being behind a nationwide effort to get Mr. Trump removed from the ballot in several states. And, as he has before, he claimed, again without evidence, that Mr. Biden was the mastermind behind the four criminal cases against him.
The Post reports that Trump
accused Biden “and his band of Marxists, Communists and Fascists” of trying “to crush free speech, censor their critics,” and “criminalize dissent.”
But here's some odd analysis from the Times story:
Mr. Trump’s speeches on Saturday reflected how sharply he is focused on the general election rather than the Republican primary contest, in which he holds a commanding lead.
Really? It seems to me that all this persecution talk is laser-focused on the Republican base. Trump is talking about Biden the way hardcore Republican voters talk about Biden -- not just as a totalitarian persecuting Trump, but as a totalitarian persecuting them. The claim that the Biden administration is "seeking to control Americans' ... behavior on social media" is the one that made Elon Musk a folk hero on the right. The notion that Biden and his team want to "crush free speech, censor their critics, [and] criminalize dissent” alludes to the widespread belief on the right that the January 6 insurrections were just innocent patriots who are now subject to a witch hunt, while evil Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters get away with all sorts of illegal conduct. It also refers to the belief on the right that the FBI categorizes right-wingers who speak up at school board meetings as "domestic terrorists" (it doesn't) and investigates them just for expressing opinions (it doesn't). And they fixate on stories of right-wingers being subjected to heavy-handed treatment by law enforcement, such as Mark Houck, an anti-abortion activist who in 2022 was charged with shoving an elderly protester outside a reproductive health clinic (which is a federal offense), an arrest Houck and his allies say involved a SWAT team (the FBI denies this); Houck was tried and acquitted.

None of this is being talked about in the mainstream media, but it's an obsession on the right. The notion that the government wants to prevent consumers from buying the cars and dishwashers they want is also an obsession on the right. Liberals and people in the middle aren't worried.

It seems to me that Trump is trying to roll up the score in early primary states -- but maybe this is also how he intends to run in the general election. If so, I don't think it will win over swing voters. I've said that all the talk about the very real threat Trump poses to democracy is probably not resonating with voters in the middle. As I wrote two weeks ago, "a president who threatens democracy might not frighten an electorate that thinks the democracy we have isn't doing a very good job for them." Trump's claims of Biden administration totalitarianism will probably also fall flat with swing voters. They weren't protesting on January 6. They don't make angry speeches about vaccines and transgenderism at school board meetings. And they're not Donald Trump either.

So I hope Trump keeps talking this way throughout 2024, because undecided voters will tune it out. And I hope President Biden will talk less about democracy and more about the concrete things Trump will do as president: attempting to repeal Obamacare, worsening climate change, appointing judges who'll further restrict abortion, separating immigrant families, allying himself with theocratic book banners, demonizing political opponents and vulnerable groups, giving the rich another massive tax cut. Everyone who sees Trump as a threat to democracy is already on alert. I don't believe most people in the middle care about what happens to democracy.

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