At a weekend rally, President Trump launched a riff that, even by the feverish standards of his closing campaign argument, stands out for its brutal authoritarian overtones. The president mocked Antifa demonstrators: “You see these little arms, these little arms,” he shouted, forming his fingers into tiny circles to illustrate their puny biceps. And then he invited his supporters to imagine these weaklings having to fight against Trump’s own militant cadres. “Where are the Bikers for Trump? Where are the police? Where are the military? Where are — ICE? Where are the border patrol? No,” he continued, lamenting the restraint his sentries have displayed, “we’ve taken a lot, we’ve taken a lot.”
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 4, 2018
This is a revealing setpiece of authoritarian theater. There is, first of all, the evocation of strength as a moral signifier. Trump’s people are strong and good, and his opponents weak and bad, a classically fascist ethos. Second, he conflates his private political militia, “Bikers for Trump,” with government agencies that are not supposed to operate as a political arm of the president (police, military, ICE.) Trump, of course, has always believed the government’s law enforcement apparatus should be at his personal command, and has in fact deployed the military to the border for the benefit of his party’s campaign messaging.
Third, as he has done throughout his presidency, he also conflates Antifa (the miniscule faction operating totally outside of, and frequently at odds with the Democratic Party) with the opposition as a whole. “If the radical resistance — and that’s what they are, radical resistance — they will move immediately to reverse America’s progress.” The term “radical resistance” treats the political opposition writ large as a dangerous, violent, and essentially illegal movement.
And finally, Trump is tantalizing his supporters with the prospect of bloodshed. Their side has been set upon, and yet despite all their strength, he imagines some form of excessive restraint has held them back from administering to their tormentors the beating they so clearly deserve. He is wafting into the air the scent of blood. [Continue reading…]