Evidence will not be the initiating impulse

The New Republic reminds us that what Trump is doing is not legitimate response to rivals but something else entirely.

The idea that Trump should pursue “revenge” and “retribution” for prosecutions is everywhere on the right. After a federal judge ordered Steve Bannon to surrender to prison, numerous MAGA influencers, including the MAGA God King himself, angrily vowed such payback. Republicans have said Trump should “fight fire with fire” (Senator Marco Rubio) and that GOP district attorneys should declare open season on Democrats (Stephen Miller). Trump, of course, has offered many versions of this, including to Dr. Phil and Hannity.

In the media, this story tends to be framed as follows: Will Trump seek “revenge” for his legal travails, or won’t he? But that framing unwittingly lets Trump set the terms of this debate. It implies that he is vowing to do to Democrats what was done to him.

Criminals don’t get to “seek revenge” for being convicted of crimes. That’s not how any of this works.

But that’s not what Trump is actually threatening. Whereas Trump is being prosecuted on the basis of evidence that law enforcement gathered before asking grand juries to indict him, he is expressly declaring that he will prosecute President Biden and Democrats solely because this is what he endured, meaning explicitly that evidence will not be the initiating impulse.

Nor will it be the ongoing impulse or the terminating impulse. It won’t have anything to do with it.

You might think this distinction is obvious—one most voters will grasp instinctually. But why would they grasp this? It’s not uncommon to encounter news stories about Trump’s threats—see herehere, or here—that don’t explain those basic contours of the situation. Such stories often don’t take the elementary step of explaining the fundamental difference between bringing prosecutions in keeping with what evidence and the rule of law dictate and bringing them as purported “retaliation.” Why would casual readers simply infer that prosecutions against Trump are legally predicated while those he is threatening are not?

Conclusion: don’t let Trump frame the subject this way. Correct it every damn time.

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