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Trump’s garden path to violence

There’s too much important news, but everything depends on elections working properly. And I felt sick listening to the hearings last Tuesday. Trump and his team publicly spread rumors about election workers and skipped any process, due or otherwise. Their rumors led to vicious threats. At the hearings, a Georgia election worker told us neither she nor any of her colleagues will work the next election. She, her family and neighbors were continuously harassed. She described constant interference, phone calls, being staked out, her home invaded by force, racial epithets hurled at her, and told ominously she was lucky this is 2022, not 1922, referring to the lynchings that the Ku Klux Klan and similar lawless mobs of thugs would have done in 1922. The FBI told her and her family to go into hiding – for months. So vicious have the mobs been that she’s afraid even to go to the grocery store. Trump should be known by the thugs he keeps as friends. No self-respecting American has any business supporting this kind of thuggish lawlessness.

What we’re seeing is reminiscent of the racist groups that ruled the segregated states by violence, intimidation, and murder. Afraid for themselves, sympathetic whites kept their mouths shut when Blacks were attacked or when wrongdoing implicated thugs and their ringleaders. Everyone tried to abide by racist rules for self-preservation. Even the future Justice Hugo Black joined the KKK as a young lawyer to expand his contacts and clients. The Klan and the racism it enforced dominated the segregated states, subjugating Blacks and white sympathizers alike. The lack of freedom there wasn’t much different from what we rightly condemn in places like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Putin’s Russia or Xi Jinping’s China.

In American states dominated by racists, Blacks were lynched in front of large crowds as a spectacle that often included burning as if they were bar-b-que. Onlookers took home charred body parts as souvenires. If people were lucky their homes were burned and they were merely driven out. That’s where lawlessness goes. A lecture describing one such lynching is permanently seared into my brain.

Mob violence affects us all because it establishes rule by the sword. The U.S. and states like New York passed laws to protect people from the Klan. Mobs don’t respect due process. They feed on each other heedless of factual or legal limits. There were over 6,400 lynchings between the Civil War and 1950, and more since. People were yanked out of jails lest they be acquitted. We know the innocence of some but it’s impossible to establish the guilt of any, given the complete absence of due process. Fourteen year old Emmett Till, visiting from up north, was murdered for a conversation with a white woman – he was accused of flirting or whistling at her – “guilt” hardly matters. Rule by the sword knows no bounds.

Trump and his minions use weapons the way no self-respecting gun-owners would. They substitute his hunch or belief for election numbers. There’s no democracy without counting ballots. There’s no freedom if rulers are imposed by hunch or belief. There’s only egotism, greed and self-interest. It leaves the rest of us as servants, serfs or slaves of the rulers. Trump’s encouragement of violence and intimidation have one end – the destruction of everything we admire about the country we’ve called home.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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