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Haake: Weaponizing ignorance is a dangerous game

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Donald Trump’s felony convictions are fueling another disinformation campaign, this one equal in destructive force to his Big Lie. Orchestrating a unified response reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s, House Speaker Mike Johnson and his Trump acolytes are weaving Trump’s criminality into a false indictment of the American legal system.

Republicans are blaming President Joe Biden for outcomes over which a sitting U.S. president has no control: convictions pursued by an independently elected District Attorney, pursuant to a state criminal code, as determined by 12 independent jurors, who were selected with the help of Trump’s own trial team.

The GOP’s target? Low information voters. Their weapon? Blatant disinformation. Their allies? Fox News and the right-wing propaganda machine. Their illiberal objective tracks the geopolitical strategies of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and strongman dictators adversarial to democratic systems in general: Weakening institutions through chaos that exhausts voters, allowing oligarch-backed extremists to seize power, peacefully or otherwise, from the mayhem.

Serving up feigned outrage to entertain the masses

The performative outrage in this week’s program includes eight Republican Senators vowing retaliation for Trump’s convictions by opposing any legislation authored by Democrats; they also promise to withhold Senate confirmations.

Meanwhile, Johnson revealed his “three-pronged approach” to retaliation including withholding Congressional appropriations for the DOJ. Declaring that Republicans would “do everything we can” to extract revenge for Trump, Johnson and his Republican colleagues are currently pursuing legislation that would allow Trump to pardon himself of state crimes if he retakes the Presidency.

Johnson has also suggested a Supreme Court sympathetic to Trump would “step in” to overturn his state convictions, the irony of simultaneously claiming that Biden controls the judiciary apparently over his head.

Advocating illegal acts is itself illegal

Trump strategists Stephen Miller and Stephen Bannon — headed to prison soon himself — are openly urging Republican officeholders to use their offices to attack Democrats. They clearly need reminding — almost as much as they need fast, effective counsel — that using public resources for partisan purposes violates federal law.

Demanding that Republican District Attorneys open investigations into Democrats, they urge attorneys general in Republican-controlled states to target Democrats for unspecified crimes. Jeffrey Clark, the former Trump Justice Department official indicted in the Georgia election case, has broadened the call, urging “brave” district attorneys in conservative areas to file lawsuits in federal court against anyone involved in criminal cases against Trump.

Openly advocating illegal acts, and doing so in writing no less, suggests these fools have themselves for clients.

Republicans’ gaslighting campaign is reckless

Trump, for his part, is priming Fox viewers to get ready for violence if he is given jail time, saying, “I’m not sure the public would stand for (my potential prison sentence)… You know, at a certain point, there’s a breaking point.”

The right’s gaslighting-of-the-uninformed campaign is working, as evidenced by online demands for bloody revenge. Trying to dox the jurors, one of Trump’s supporters posted, “Hang everyone. 1,000,000 men (armed) need to go to Washington and hang everyone. That’s the only solution.” A Proud Boys writer chimed in, “Now you understand. To save your nation, you must fight. The time to respond is now. Franco Friday has begun.”

Without considering what comes next when the rule of law is hobbled — paramilitary hillbillies rounding up foreigners come to mind, as do drug cartels dropping bombs from roadside drones — Republicans are defending Trump by viciously attacking the judge, jurors, prosecutor, evidentiary rulings, jury instructions, the Attorney General, the Department of Justice and mainstream media. They also have threatened to end the career of any GOP candidate who dares to voice respect for the American legal system.

Like a man blaming his wife as he kicks her down the stairs, Trump tells anyone who will listen — which apparently includes most media outlets — that Democrats have “forced” him to “take revenge” against government adversaries. Salivating over the possibility that he will finally get to imprison his political foes, brandishing his prison shiv, Trump told Newsmax, “It’s a terrible, terrible path that they’re leading us to, and it’s very possible that it’s going to have to happen to them…”

One is very nearly almost tempted to have compassion for Melania.

From whence does the GOP’s amnesia come?

Republican outrage is overplayed, as if everyone has forgotten about Trump’s well-documented criminality, played out over decades. In 1998, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed the then-largest fine of $477,000 on Trump Taj Mahal casino for money laundering; Trump admitted that he pocketed millions of dollars raised from charity; he was ordered to pay $2 million for diverting donations from a televised fundraiser for veterans; in 2023 a civil jury adjudicated him a rapist; and he was previously found to have engaged in business fraud to the tune of $354 million.

Despite his consistent criminality and organized crime connections, Trump’s felony convictions hit differently, triggering the GOP’s kamikaze declaration of war.

It is clear that the U.S. is under siege by illiberal forces, aided by a relentless propaganda machine committed to fomenting violence. My money is on the justice system, and on voters being smart enough to detect the ruse.

The politically moderate sports talk show host Colin Cowherd recently summed it up: “If everybody in your circle is a felon, maybe it’s not rigged. Maybe the world isn’t against you… Trump’s campaign chairman was a felon. So is his deputy campaign manager, his personal lawyer, his chief strategist, his National Security Adviser, his Trade Advisor, his Foreign Policy Adviser, his campaign fixer, and his company CFO. They’re all felons… It’s a cabal of convicts.”

Here’s to slapping back.

Sabrina Haake is a Chicago attorney and Gary resident. She writes the Substack newsletter The Haake Take.

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