It took no time at all for Donald Trump to again begin attacking the law clerk of Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron after an appellate court stayed Engoron’s gag order against the former president in the ongoing case over fraud in Trump’s real estate business. The defendant assailed Engoron in personal terms, calling him “politically biased” and “a disgrace.”
Trump and his sycophants will hand-wave all this away as politicking or campaign rhetoric, but that’s not really what it is. Few people think political campaigns are about being polite. These are ultimately contests between people, which require one candidate to lay out in stark terms why they deserve to win, and the other person doesn’t. It’s expected that barbs will be thrown, people called liars and opportunists and crooks.
This isn’t that. For one thing, Engoron might have been elected, but he’s not now on the ballot, certainly not against Trump, and that goes double for his civil servant clerk, a private person who is — and it is shocking that this needs to be said — allowed to have personal political opinions. Even if they were, what Trump is lobbing aren’t points of political disagreement or even criticisms around specific actions the judge has or hasn’t taken in this case.
His contention, distilled down to its most basic elements, is that the judge and his staff are agents of some sinister partisan conspiracy to bring him down and are practically committing treason by daring to try him in accordance with the law. The leap from that to what he wants done about isn’t a big one.
At minimum, Trump believes that he should be above the law. At worst, he’s nudging his followers to take matters into their own hands, and regardless of his plausible deniability, that’s exactly how some of them will take it.
That this is the case isn’t something we have to speculate about. David DePape — who was just convicted of two federal charges stemming from his attack against former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul with a hammer at the couple’s San Francisco home last year — has been very open about the fact that his radicalization began with the former president’s own conspiracy theorizing about a mass conspiracy against him.
Even as DePape stood trial, Trump openly mocked his victim, telling raucuous rally crowd this September that he would “stand up to crazy Nancy Pelosi, who ruined San Francisco — how’s her husband doing, anybody know?” and laughing about the lifelong injuries caused by a man acting on the belief that his actions were sanctioned by Trump.
None of what the former president has done or said since has suggested that they really weren’t sanctioned by him. As the gag order was lifted, Trump reposted a post on Truth Social in which a follower fantasized about conducting a “citizens arrest” against Engoron and New York Attorney General Tish James.
Trump, like anyone else in this country, has a First Amendment right to free speech. He does not have a First Amendment right to be listened to, given any power or audience by those in power. By continuing to treat him as the standard-bearer of their party, they are signing off on political violence.
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