Trump's rhetoric following his conviction is aimed toward distracting, stoking fear and paving the best way for an anti-democratic ruler.

According to a jury sentenced Donald Trump from 34 charges of falsifying business documents to cover up a politically damaging relationship, he responded with Warning to viewers his press conference after the decision: “If they can do that to me, they can do that to anyone.”

This statement concurrently invokes the perfect of an independent judiciary and attempts to delegitimize it.

As a scholar of political communicationI study how rhetoric strengthens or undermines democratic institutions and might prepare an audience to expect or accept violence. Regardless of what anyone thinks of the legal arguments made during Trump's trial, Trump's attempts to prevail within the court of public opinion proceed his campaign to discredit democratic institutions and threaten anyone who stands in his way.

Demagogy is a political communication used as a weapon, which, as communication scientists Jennifer Mercieca explains“undermines both democratic decision-making and democracy itself.” Demagogues use rhetoric to dominate an electorate quite than persuade it. One of their key characteristics is that they evade responsibility for his or her claims and scapegoat anyone who’s disloyal to the demagogue.

Demagogic communication includes a number of of the terms defined by scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt as “Key indicators of authoritarian behavior.” These include rejection or weak commitment to democratic rules and norms, denial of the legitimacy of political opponents, tolerance or promotion of violence, and willingness to limit civil rights and freedom of the press.

After Trump's conviction for a serious crime, Trump and his Republican allies delegitimized democratic institutions with their demagogic rhetoric and fueled threats of violence.

“Designed to distract”

When Trump declared, “If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone,” he was in fact right. Ideally, that's how laws work. They should apply equally to an bizarre citizen and a former president.

Trump’s case is phenomenal given his status as a former president, and the legal theory utilized by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has been called “novel.” Nevertheless, within the legal and national security publication Just Security, Siven Watt and Norman L. Eisen document a long history of prosecutors pursuing politicians who violate laws to support political campaigns in the same way.

Trump's social media posts aimed to distract from these facts by undermining the independence and trustworthiness of the judiciary and scapegoating anyone who will not be a Trump supporter, including President Joe Biden, Court officialsImmigrants and even a Fox News host who’s seen as not being sufficiently supportive.

As the jury deliberated, Trump set the stage and described the proceedings as “Biden witch hunt,” The “Use the justice system as a weapon!” And “Election interference.” Later claims that the news blackout imposed by Judge Juan Merchan was “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” and called members of the “Justice Department and the White House” “criminals and monsters who are destroying our country.”

Immediately after the jury announced its verdict, Trump stepped up his delegitimization of the American legal system. claim “The real verdict will be made by the people on November 5,” adding: “Our whole country is being manipulated right now.”

Stirring up fear

A very necessary aspect of Trump's response to the ruling is that in his comments he combines the delegitimization of democratic institutions with personal attacks – name-calling – and scapegoating strategies. This strategy is textbook demagoguery.

The day after the decision, Trump began his 33 minutes public comments with an apparent non sequitur that leads from the case to non-public attacks, to immigration and back to non-public attacks again:

“If they can do that to me, they can do that to anyone. They're bad people. In many cases, I think they're sick people. When you look at what's happening in our country, where millions of people are pouring into the country from all over the world – not just from South America, from Africa, from Asia, from the Middle East – and they're coming from prisons and detention centers and they're coming from mental institutions and asylums. They're coming into our country from all over the world. And we have a president and a group of fascists who won't do anything about it. Because they could, right now, today. They could stop it, but he's not. They're destroying our country.”

Voters are being made to consider that the federal government – ​​made up of “sick people” and “fascists” – is targeting them just as much because it is targeting immigrants.

Although Trump's confused approach makes his rhetoric sound disjointed – even chaotic – it’s fastidiously designed to stoke fear and create an environment more amenable to an anti-democratic ruler. Trump's snappy 2016 campaign promise was: “I alone can fix it”, and his newer, alleged “joke” that he was “Dictator for a day”, are a terrible Trump’s comments about his fellow residentslike this statement from late 2023: “The threat from external forces is way less ominous, dangerous and serious than the threat from inside. Our threat comes from inside.”

The strategy could be less effective if Trump were the just one implementing it. But following a well-known pattern The Republicans reliably repeated his formulation.

The Associated Press reported “The intensity of the outcry was remarkable. It pushed aside the usual reticence that lawmakers and politicians have shown in the past when it comes to anticipating criticism of judges and juries.”

The guard summarized the answers of the Republicans: “A shameful day in American history. A sham show trial. A sham court. A veritable witch hunt. Befitting a banana republic. That is how senior Republicans who once claimed the mantle of the party of law and order reacted to the news that Donald Trump is the first former U.S. president to be convicted of a crime.”

The passionate attack on the judiciary by Republican Senator and vice presidential candidate Tim Scott was emblematic of the response. He called the decision a “hoax,” a “farce,” and a “totally unjust justice system.” He then addressed Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, directly, saying, “DA Bragg, hear me carefully: You cannot silence the American people. You cannot stop us from voting for change.”

GOP Senator Tim Scott on Trump's conviction.

“Hang everyone!”

Instilling fear through personal attacks and scapegoating is commonly a precursor to violence. The attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 followed Trump’s complaints a couple of “rigged” election.

NBC News reported that following Trump's criticism a couple of “rigged” jury trial, social media posts have been circulating that include doxxing, intimidation, and even death threats against Judge Merchan, Bragg, and the jury.

NBC quoted one poster as saying: “We have to identify every juror. Then we'll make them unhappy. Maybe even suicidal.” Reuters quoted user who said: “A million (armed) men must go to Washington and hang them all. That is the only solution” and “Trump should already know that he has an army ready to fight and die for him if he says so. … I will take up arms if he asks me to.”

Not everyone who supports Trump politically is able to “take up arms”, but Video posted on X by Donald Trump Jr. with the slogan “F— JOE BIDEN” shows an arena filled with Fans are waiting for the UFC lightweight championship They chanted “F— Joe Biden” and cheered for Trump as he smiled and raised his fist.

Video of the event was posted on YouTube and spread by right-wing web sites akin to Daily caller And Breitbart.

In her book “Demagogy and democracy”, explains communication scientist Patricia Roberts-Miller: “Demagoguery does not exist in our culture because a demagogue came to power. When demagoguery becomes the normal way of participating in public discourse, it is only a matter of time before a demagogue appears.”

A demagogue has emerged.

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