Editor’s note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 24 books, including “The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical ReviewFollow him on Twitter. @julianzelizer. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. See More feedback On CNN
On Thursday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has tended to stay out of the political spotlight, defended The FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on Monday, saying he personally approved the decision. Garland also announced that the Justice Department would move to unseal the search warrant and the property receipt, saying it “has been authorized by a federal court to conduct the required search of probable cause.”
The attorney general effectively turned the tables on Trump, who has tried to frame the search of his Palm Beach, Florida, home as politically motivated.
And despite indicating that he would not oppose the release of the documents before Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline, given the way Trump has attacked our agencies and institutions, the FBI and the Department of Justice have no Even time is unlikely to stop its full attack. Raging against everything that stands in its way.
In fact, Trump hasn’t lost since the Washington Post Reported Thursday FBI agents searched his Florida resort for classified documents Regarding nuclear weapons. He hit back with a statement on Truth Social, writing“The nuclear weapons issue is a sham,” and criticized the involvement of “trick people.”
Trump supporters have already followed suit, some of them even gone so far. to say That the FBI planted evidence at his house to frame him. The baseless theory quickly spread, with Republicans rallying the base with their fury.
This is nothing new. Assaulting the legitimacy of our institutions was a central pillar of Trump’s rhetoric as both a candidate and president. There was a “swamp” that was the federal government, “fake news” media, “radical” Democrats, “witch hunts” and more. In fact, Trump attacked our election by making baseless claims. A “rigged election” before the 2016 presidential election – and repeated Claims of voter fraud Even after he won. This, of course, only escalated when Trump ran for re-election and lost.
Now down Multiple The investigationTrump seems to be finding his rhythm once again. Coming out of his political slumber, the former president is overwhelming investigators. He already began work on the “non-selective” committee on January 6, but recent FBI operations have given him the cover he’s been looking for. The drama of the search, combined with the DOJ’s “no comment” policy (which Garland broke on Thursday, citing the public interest and Trump’s own decision to confirm the search), made it the immediate aftermath of the narrative. It provided a golden opportunity to give.
Why does Trump focus on defaming institutions? After all, he was at the top of the most powerful institution as the President of the United States. It also thrives because of the institutions that make up our society. Without mainstream television – from reality shows to cable news – he wouldn’t have gotten the attention that catapulted him to the national stage. Without the Electoral College, that He could not win the election in 2016. Without the power of the Republican Party behind him, he would not have survived two impeachments. Excluding financial and real estate institutions – And family money – He would not have amassed the wealth that has been central to his identity.
Attacks on government and media organizations have two main objectives. For a public figure often embroiled in scandal and accused of wrongdoing, it has been a way to turn the tables on investigators, focusing national attention on those who have to ask questions. Work is assigned.
Whether filing a lawsuit or making wild accusations, Trump can always play the victim and take advantage of attacks against him. As Yale historian Beverly Gage examines in a chapter for I edited the book On the Trump presidencytheir pivot away from the “law and order” mentality that has been central to Republican politics since President Richard Nixon became a defining factor in his four years in office.
“Before Trump, most Republicans and conservatives held the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies in high esteem, and viewed them as vitally important to national security,” Gage wrote. Democrats viewed these institutions with concern. “Trump,” she continues, “has flipped that equation, sending Republicans scrambling to denounce a disloyal and aggressive ‘deep state’ while Democrats scramble to hold the White House accountable. Looked at the BI and other intelligence services.”
Denigrating institutions is also a way to paint yourself as an outsider – even when this is far from the truth. And by positioning himself as an adversary, he can create distrust in the establishment and make the case to his supporters that he is still one of the establishment rather than part of it. The billionaire businessman and former president of the United States is still at odds with “the system,” or at least he claims to be. This plays particularly well among supporters who believe in conspiracy theories about “elites” who hatch nefarious plots, or people who fear government encroachment on their rights.
The damage done by the former president’s strategy will not be easy to undo. As the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate in the 1970s demonstrated, a deep distrust of our democratic institutions can boil over, making it extraordinarily difficult to regain voter confidence and enthusiasm over the long term. .
To be sure, a healthy skepticism about institutions is not always a bad thing. One of the lessons of the 1970s was this. They are sometimes at odds With what is better for democracy.
But in the current situation, we are seeing the results of the political strategy adopted by the former President of the United States and his allies in the GOP – which is not so much about strengthening our country as it is about blinding the people. Loyalties are to be exploited. regaining power and undermining the norms and rules that are essential to a healthy democracy. Future generations will have to bear the consequences of this kind of extremism.