The Atlantic Looks Forward to America’s Next Authoritarian

This post is a discussion on and response to Tufekci’s “America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent”.

I said four almost exactly four years ago that it wasn’t Trump people needed to worry about but what came after.  On this Tufekci and I agree – but not much more.  I shall begin with a distinction the author does make, consider the Trump presidency using a couple of distinctions she does not make, and go from there.

She makes a useful distinction between Trump and Trumpism.  The former she is not particularly concerned with:

“In contrast, Trump is a reality-TV star who stumbled his way into an ongoing realignment in American politics, aided by a series of events peculiar to 2016 that were fortunate for him: The Democrats chose a polarizing nominee who didn’t have the requisite political touch that can come from surviving tough elections; social media was, by that point, deeply entrenched in the country’s politics, but its corrosive effects were largely unchecked; multiple players—such as then–FBI Director James Comey—took consequential actions fueled by their misplaced confidence in Hillary Clinton’s win; and Trump’s rivals in the Republican primaries underestimated him. He drew a royal flush.”

Trumpism itself, however, she fears the Democrats are preparing to forget about, concluding with, “At the moment, the Democratic Party risks celebrating Trump’s loss and moving on—an acute danger … the real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has completely entrenched its power over every other branch of government.”  Yet Trump has been very much a weathervane, fickle in policy and inconstant in follow through, and so has left only a little rhetoric and a vague outline of a political legacy for future ‘Trumpists’ to build on.  Contrary to the article, then, ‘Trumpism’, too is a very poor guide to use in watching for ‘future Trumps’.

On the Character of Trump’s Legacy

Tufekci’s article takes it for granted that Trump’s legacy is as of an incompetent white-nationalist authoritarian who will either be forgotten (as she claims Democrats are tempted to believe) or previews more competent bad leaders later on.  Yet as neither Trump the person nor Trumpism the political philosophy are big on clarity, it requires more careful thought than Tufekci has done to define a legacy to which we could even say Trump will have a successor.

I begin with a distinction that the author does not seem to make and yet clearly should have by her own words.  Midway through she states that, “I suspect that the Republican leadership is sanguine, if not happy, about Trump’s loss. … They know that Trump is done, and they seem fine with it.”  Yet her entire cautionary conclusion is premised on the idea that the Republican Party is ‘his’, that is, Trump’s party, that the party’s success warns of Trumps to come!  It is a glaring flaw.

Now it is true that the never-Trump Republicans were exiled – or, perhaps more accurately, exiled themselves – to remunerative cable news punditry and Democratic think-tanks.  The Republican leadership that remained took a more nuanced approach that used Trump while maintaining a degree of separation.  Everywhere Trump was a boon, there were joint rallies and mutual compliments and headline grabbing events and candidates ran as ‘on his side’. [1]  Much more quietly, but just as successfully, where Trump was a millstone candidates ran as … Republicans.  The RNC used Trump where they could and stayed out of the line of fire as much as possible where they couldn’t.

It required the party discard the leadership that could not keep their mouths shut and it wasn’t particularly principled, it was smart and effective and I would pay good money to read an account of the 2017 backroom deals and infighting that resulted in the selection of this strategy.  Suffice to say that Trump is not the Republican Party as a whole and never was.  Maybe with another four years that could change, but not yet, not now.  As it stands, Trump faces a legacy of being as close as America has to a third party president, and I don’t think it is possible to understand Trump without understanding the desire for a president to stand against the entire system, left and right.  This emotion, this kind of support is the origin of the belief in Trump’s authoritarianism.

Tufekci’s article makes little to no distinction between populism and authoritarianism.  She switches between the two words often, even carelessly, and uses as examples of authoritarianism places where elections are held, held regularly, and widely accepted to be fair along with places where none of those things are true. [2]

So, armed with more of a distinction between the two than Tufekci has, is Trump a populist?  Of course he is.  He loves being in front of crowds, and by all accounts he really knows how to make the crowd love being there.  He loves talking directly to the public at large, skipping all the usual interfacing with the press and (often) speechwriters.  Irrespective of whether such tendencies are good ideas, they are populist ideas, and they actually do explain much that has been different with Trump’s presidency, as one of the few things more fickle than Trump’s policymaking is the attention, focus, and priorities of the American public.  He reflected that, for better and worse. [3]

The trickier question is whether Trump is an authoritarian.  After four years my answer is no more certain than ‘probably not’, or perhaps more accurately, ‘no more than any other recent president’.  The great obstacle to the thesis that Trump is an authoritarian is a distinct lack of clear authoritarian procedures enacted.  The usual rejoinder is the one Tufekci uses – that Trump was too incompetent to actually achieve his dreams of authoritarianism.  Or, alternatively, that he didn’t have the support of ‘his’ party to make anything stick – but Tufekci’s conclusion, as argued above, seems built on the idea that the Republican Party is Trump’s party and so she really has to put a lot of weight on the incompetence hypothesis.  In any case, doing an analysis of authoritarianism when even critics admit there’s not a great deal of successful authoritarianism to point at is somewhat tricky.

He has a personal brand, upon which an authoritarian might build a cult of personality – but with the democratic process being what it is, every president needs that to be elected.  Trump’s is just more flamboyant and, frankly, lower class.  Obama also had (has?) a significant personal following, and populism was not a dirty word in the Atlantic during his presidency.  Americans do not typically elect weak men (however currently defined) to be president – but a strong man doesn’t have to be a strongman.  Trump was elected to be strong enough to face down ‘the Swamp’ on his own, but Reagan was elected to face down Russia and frankly I’m happier to have a president at odds with the levers of domestic power than I am to have one at odds with foreign powers.  Perhaps more to the point, while there are blustery authoritarians like Erdogan, there are also quiet and reserved ones like Putin.  Tufekci argues Trump is not a good indicator of Trumpism, and similarly he is not some definitive prototype of the authoritarian either.

The handling of the pandemic is, to me, example.  It was (and to an extent remains) a major national crisis, the kind of thing that tends to have voters falling over themselves to hand over power to leaders, in the old Roman tradition of the Dictator, which governors and mayors across the country have taken exceptional advantage of.  It was also after the long running distraction of the Russian collusion accusations [4], the shorter Ukrainian followup, and several smaller personal scandals had all been more or less wrapped up, so appeals to distraction are the weakest of any point in the term, and Trump had now three and change years of experience in wielding the office.  This was his chance to show his authoritarian tendencies.

Trump didn’t.

Or, as Tufekci put it, “And when the pandemic hit, instead of rising to the occasion and playing the strongman, rallying the country through a crisis that had originated in China—an opportunity perfect for the kind of populist he aspired to be—he floundered.”

Most accusations against Trump’s handling of the pandemic is that he did not grasp at that power and lay down the quarantine law on the states and populace. [5]  Biden’s most frequent line on pandemic policy is the desirability of a ‘national mask mandate’.  Trump’s desire to re-open and let people decide on their own, or at least at the level of local governments, what risks to take is apparently ill advised according to Trump’s critics – and maybe it is, but what it isn’t is a grasping of authoritarian power.  It’s not even incompetently wielding power which would at least fit the story.  Trump did invoke the War Powers Act in March, in theory to mobilize civilian industry to produce medical equipment, but it’s not clear the law was ever actually applied.  The companies seem to have fallen all over themselves to get in on the all but unlimited (and too rapidly vetted) government contracts without any need for a letter of coercion to ever be sent.  To put this more clearly, an authoritarian Trump, with War Powers Act invoked, could have demanded all domestic production among even non medical industries in the name of ‘insufficient quality control and severe contamination risks‘ or any number of things that would use the excuse of the pandemic to shape a new, isolationist, nationalist economy.  Yet none of that happened.

Trump’s critics can not have it both ways.  He can not be blamed for being an authoritarian and yet also limiting his use of expansive executive power that people seemed ready to give for the asking. [6]  The required combination of degrees and kinds of incompetence required to tell the full story of Trump’s presidency quickly become convoluted and Occam’s Razor finds the alternative hypothesis – that Trump is not, in fact, particularly given to authoritarianism – to be sufficient with much less complication.

I grant Trump has not had the full support of the Republican party, nor (and more important to unilateral executive power) has he had a good working relationship with the CIA and FBI despite the fact that such organizations are supposed to answer to him personally.  Still, the evidence that does exist is not strongly supportive of the theory that Trump is an authoritarian and so my position remains at ‘probably not’.

There is one last argument against accusations of Trump being an authoritarian, and I put it here at the end of the section because it is an odd one:  The claim is that Trump is an authoritarian and using presidential authority to do horrible things and the solution is invariably to get rid of Trump. If you’re asking what the point is, it is that the offered solution is almost never that the office of the presidency must be reined in.  This suggests that the complainants’ primary concern is Trump, and authoritarianism secondary at best, a convenient cudgel wielded by a partisan.

Excellent evidence of this can be found in the DACA mess.  DACA was an Obama ordered executive action built on the concept of prosecutorial discretion.  Without changing underlying laws, certain crimes would no longer be prosecuted, the actions ‘deferred’.  Trump, as president, issued an executive order that simply erased that deferment.  This was taken to the Supreme Court which ruled, 5-4, that executive orders could not be so cavalierly discarded – only, as the minority wrote, so cavalierly emplaced. [7]  This was reported as a major blow against Trump, and lauded by all the usual Trump critics, despite the fact that the decision gave Trump’s own executive orders significantly more weight going forward.  To spite the supposed authoritarian, authoritarianism was enabled, and the supposed critics of the authoritarian cheered.  So I say again, it’s not the authoritarianism the critics care about.

The Real Risks

Barring the incompetence that Tufekci believes will not be a feature of Trump’s successor, and the authoritarianism I have cast doubts on at length above, the last feature of Tufekci’s portrait of Trump as an “instantiation of America’s pathologies and sins”.  If this is too subtle, she goes on to reference ‘herrenvolk’ to invoke a Hitler comparison without being quite so crass as to use the name herself.  This accusation of racism and white supremacist ethnonationalism is so widely held as to be a truism, to go without comment, and yet exit polls have Trump doing significantly better among minorities than he did in 2016 or, indeed, than any Republican presidential candidate in over half a century. [8]  Tufekci does not mention the scale of the increase, and attributes glosses over the impact by suggesting the growth in minority support adheres entirely to the ‘Republican coalition’, not Trump.

Even better for [the Republicans’) long-term project, they have diversified their own coalition, gaining more women candidates and more support from nonwhite voters.

Given my prior statement on the distinction between Republicans and Trump it might seem I’m ready to agree – except the exit polls I linked specifically investigate minority support for Trump the candidate, not generic Republicans.   Thus, after about six years of claims that Trump is a racist and a xenophobe, and four years of coverage of how every other policy, decision, or statement President Trump made was either racist or a dog whistle to racists, we have a situation in which the Democrats still lost ground among minorities.

It is difficult to overstate just how big of a deal this is.  It’s an even bigger problem for the political institutions in this country than the fact that after four years of promising to do better, pollsters did if anything worse in predicting outcomes than they did in 2016.

With these exit polls in hand there are two options which can, with simplification, be called the positions of Democrats and Trump supporters respectively.  It is possible that the Fourth Estate has lost so much of its credibility to partisan attacks (and that the populace is so credulous) that no remaining effective investigative, journalistic, or electoral protections against would-be authoritarians reaching the office.  This is close to Tufekci’s argument about the ongoing risk of the ‘next Trump’, whoever that may be. [9]

Alternatively, as Trump supporters see it, the press in this country is somewhere between dishonest or delusional, willing and able to push narratives completely contrary to reality.  By this belief, Trump was only exaggerating a little to call the media ‘the enemy of the people’ and there exists no established institution able to honestly convert multi-thousand-page congressional bills into the sort of information voters can use to make good policy judgments.

The clarity of the problem is far stronger today, but I saw it even back in 2016.  Trump was already being called an unprecedented racist and ethnonationalist yet did better among minorities than Romney or, I believe, McCain before that.  So, something is wrong here and whether it’s the media or the people and politics that are wrong (or a combination), it is not a good sign for the ongoing healthy operation of politics. [10]

Building on this, I would like to call attention to a phrase of Tufekci’s in the previously quoted list of reasons why Trump won in 2016 that no longer apply, why he was an aberration: “social media was, by that point, deeply entrenched in the country’s politics, but its corrosive effects were largely unchecked“.  That is, corrosive effects were unchecked with the implication that they are now.

Social media was blamed for Trump.  Based on leaked internal messages and similar, they somewhat blamed themselves.  To be guilty is to have had a responsibility.  To be responsible is to have a duty.  Significant and influential portions of social media came to the conclusion that they had a duty to prevent another Trump victory.  One consequence is that their recent actions put them at risk of vast legal punishments beyond the scope of this article (not that any Democrats are presently willing to prosecute, but Trump supporters are not going to forget anytime soon).  However, my expertise is not on the law, but on media and public opinion, and what the social media companies have done in the last year to society is even worse than what they have done to themselves legally.

Social media by itself produces bubbles, or subgroups, as the platforms’ global reach allows ever more peculiarly feathered birds find their flocks.  What this does to society in the long run is not yet clear, but the subgroup formation is organic.  What the social media companies have done over the last half decade has been increasingly artificial.

First there were the bans and blocking, and then the shadowbans, viewer throttling, and algorithmic meddling.  Finally, just this year, came the editorializing with clickthrough warnings of fake news before allowing users to view certain anything from disfavored accounts – or posts containing certain key words.  They began appending links to government-approved sources – and worse, corporate approved sources – whenever coronavirus or the election were mentioned.  At the beginning the stated goal was to get rid of racists.  Now the goal is the infinitely more expansive war on fake news.

However, what the platforms put pressure on Trump supporters with suspensions and bans (expanded to certain other conservatives and a surprising number of classical liberal moderates and uncategorizable freethinkers), they didn’t make them disappear.  There were simply too many.  The social media companies wanted to put Trumpism, whatever that is, outside the Overton Window, but half the country voted for him and in the end there were just too many to simply sweep under the rug.  The result was a new set of competitors.

The Left has Twitter, the Right has Parler, and never the twain shall meet.

The Left has YouTube, the Right has BitChute, and never the twain shall meet.

The Left has Google, and the Right seems to be gravitating to DuckDuckGo, and you get the idea. [11]

The arguments on social media circa 2010-2016, heated though they may have been, were at least some form what might be charitably called civil discourse, and even that is increasingly not possible.  The administrators of the social media platforms have succeeded in turning a multiplicity of subgroup bubbles into a far more fundamental binary cleavage, because more polarization is exactly what this country needed.

From this specific example, let me back up to the big picture.  Trump was not supposed to win, so all the demonizing rhetoric aimed at him was ‘safe’ – it got TV viewers watching, the base activated, and would dissipate along with Trump’s hopes of a political career.  Except he won.  There was a brief moment of introspection that I noted, discussed, encouraged, and complimented in a blog post nearly four years ago.

This, then, is my prescription for the Democratic Party, that with your predominance in national media you can change the narrative.  The message should be: Trump is an economic revolt by the workers who are left behind.  We, the Democrats, are sorry for having overlooked these costs in our overall successes. We, the Democrats, the party of the welfare net can help you re-enter the global economy now that we’ve realized our mistake.

The groundwork has already been laid with such elements as the Atlantic’s unofficial series (strongly recommend reading the first link) on the ignored plight of rural America.  Since the election, the Atlantic has added an interview that encourages this more empathetic approach to the Trump presidency, and the first four paragraphs of Sander’s NYTimes editorial likewise.  This approach achieves two things.  First, it regains a portion of the vote for Democrats, and second, by stressing economics the Democrats can severely limit the extent to which Trump’s presidency can be seen as a vindication of racism.

But by mid 2017 the Democratic strategy solidified once again around the narrative of Trump as a uniquely horrible person supported by people almost as bad as he is.

I can’t be certain my proposal would work, but I do know what this alternative looks like.  It looks like Clinton’s “deplorables” comment.  It looks like that time when Obama said, “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” a quote that clearly puts religion and guns on the same moral and rational (or lacks thereof) level as racism.  It looks like people abandoning your side in blog posts like this one . It looks like ignoring the perception of liberal paternalistic condescension as has been discussed at both Vox and, more respectably, at the New York Times.  It looks like more of your own party faithful, not just disconnected and naturally critical independents (like myself), creating massively popular YouTube rants like this one.  It looks like, after having every Republican candidate in my memory (and likely beyond) being called racist and sexist, Bill Maher admitting Democrats have cried wolf too often to be able to easily call out and sanction racism anymore. It looks like this protester who must take the effort to declare Trump a ‘literal racist’, suggesting that previous accused were actually, I don’t know, metaphorical racists?

I give myself full credit to predicting what the alternative would look like, and the Democrats none at all for going with it.

For this final point I need not make any claims on the which accusations against Trump are accurate and which are not.  Only two points are actually important.  First, that Democrats as a whole built a narrative on Trump being easily comparable – and perhaps even worse if only because less competent – than the twenthieth century’s favorite villain.  Second, that half the country could not see that.  To Democrats, Republicans were willfully enabling the worst of the country and risking democracy itself.  To Trump supporters, Democrats looked increasingly deranged and disconnected from reality.  From these beliefs, whatever the truth, both sides began to see compromise as fundamentally, personally dangerous – no longer just politically, but in terms of lives and livelihoods.  Democrats fear the irreversible oppression of a fascist regime, Republicans fear ‘cancel culture’ Democrats who want to exile Trump affiliates and supporters from society and the ability to make a living. [12]

That is what I feared would be the legacy of the Trump presidency, and that is why I feared what was coming next.  It’s not even because it’s TRUMP’s presidency really.  He just happened to be the lightning rod that stuck up a little higher, and at the rate the country had already been polarizing then some slightly lower profile fixture would have eventually attracted the same charge.  Maybe without Trump it would have been this 2020 election, maybe the 2024, maybe it would have been the Republicans leading the accusative attacks, but eventually there would be an attempt to define a figurehead of the otherside to be beyond polite society.  Even if you doubt that, the push for more direct management of social media in particular has been growing for nearly a decade, the end result of the long, long shift of the internet from the Wild West to a corporate managed garden combined with Silicon Valley sensibilities.

Returning to the 2020 we face in reality, we have found ourselves in the worst position.  A clear Trump victory would have, hopefully, forced Democrats to revisit and maybe actually complete their introspection from four years ago.  A clear Biden victory would have, similarly hopefully, forced some degree of rethinking (if only on tone and tactics) among Republicans and maybe given the Democrats the confidence to be magnanimous and actually reach out to the voters they have been losing instead of continuing their own equally divisive (if more articulate) narrative.  Now, almost a week after the nominal election it is already too late for either of these de-escalating outcomes.  Whoever wins, the results were too close, the summer’s procedural changes too poorly understood and explained, the courts’ impending judgments too undemocratic.  The divide will deepen.  And worst of all, strategists on both sides might decide Trump’s flaw, his weakness going into 2020 was his inability or unwillingness (it matters little which) to leverage an imperial presidency, that what the people wanted but did not get was an Emperor Trump.

It’s even possible that those strategists could be right.

I am still, and once again, afraid of what comes next.

Footnotes

[1] I would say the noisiest example of this is the New Jersey Democrat Jeff van Drew who defected to the Republican party amid mutual compliments with Trump – and won his re-election last week.

[2] Her selection of cases, however, is a little weird.  Erdogan and Putin are current-literature-standard examples of elected strongmen, but Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Modi’s India are still considered a stable and functioning democracies by the most popular metric.  Polity IV has its issues to be sure, but Modi is a very odd inclusion next to Erdogan and Putin.  Orban is an unpleasant populist it is true, but the clearest accusations I’ve heard about Kaczynski’s Poland is a series of legislative attacks on the freedom and independence of the courts and if Polish courts are as activist as US ones then I’m probably on Kaczynski’s side.  In the end Tufekci seems more concerned with the populism – or perhaps the conservatism – than the authoritarianism.  If that is the case then her thinking (or at least word choice) is too fuzzy to deserve a spot at the Atlantic, but her article is a single-source springboard to cover a lot of ground I feel like covering.  So I persist.

[3] Also, I firmly believe that his tendency to announce things on Twitter was what the business world calls ‘trial balloons’ – make an announcement, gauge the response, and then either proceed or bury it accordingly.  People expect businesses to operate on a ‘customer is always right’ approach that makes them deeply inconsistent in their publicity, but it doesn’t fit with politics as usual.  Politicians usually restrict themselves to the much more private ‘focus groups’ so they can pretend to be decisive.  But, of course, Trump is a populist and wants something more ‘authentic’ than the focus group method.  Twitter users, even those remaining rebellious conservative Twitter users, are not representative of anything.

[4] Which I predicted would fall through based off of the technological record and evidence available to me by February of 2017.  The leaked emails were by all available evidence downloaded locally, not hacked from Russia, WikiLeaks consistently claimed they had the source and that it wasn’t Russia and had the credibility to back it up, the salacious dossier was clearly ridiculous from the beginning, and the private investigation firm that claimed to have clear evidence never made any of that public – nor did it ever turn over anything solid to the government investigators.  The truly unforgivable part of the whole proceeding is how the Russian collusion narrative somehow got stretched out to three years of headlines on such a flimsy basis.

[5] Which has not stopped Governor Cuomo from blaming various negative outcomes of his own policies and mandates on the federal government in general and Trump in particular.  It’s not like Cuomo had given any prior signs of believing the Trump administration was a credible source for his own policy.

[6] Another argument in favor of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies is his turbulent staffing, framed as firing people who didn’t agree with him.  This accusation is highly overblown.  Trump was elected by himself.  Every other president in my memory has entered the white house with a cabinet and especially staff mostly decided.  Obama in particular had a staff that was comprised of known quantity lifelong democrats with a heavy dose of those with deep personal loyalty.  Consider as an example Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, a fellow product of the Chicago political machine, and a man whose viciousness and pettiness make Trump look morally upstanding.  Trump’s staff, on the other hand, picked rapidly and on the fly after election, was deeply disloyal, leaked negative information like a sieve, and generally seemed characterized by ambitious people who believed Trump was dumb enough they could use some position or other to manipulate him and secretly run some or all of the presidency from the shadows.  Such a staff increases the temptations to personal authoritarian rule, but it makes such rule more difficult to execute.  For now I say it’s a wash and neither helps nor hinders the broader ‘authoritarian but incompetent argument’ – but given context Trump’s staffing turnover doesn’t indicate any particular authoritarian tendencies itself either.

[7] The decision technically claimed Trump could try again with a clearer, better worded, and more thoughtful order, but as best as I can tell the requirement is that the repeal had to be made with full regard to the disruption of the bureaucracy set in place to deal with DACA beneficiaries who are, after all, technically without proper documents but supposed to no longer be counted as illegal immigrants for all practical purposes, as well as the disruption of the lives of those beneficiaries.  Thus, while the Supreme Court said Trump could try again (as they had to given the subject was ‘only’ an executive order, they in practice set the bar very high indeed and the Trump administration has apparently given up and set a pathway to citizenship for current beneficiaries, to the anger of his supporters and, it must also be said, in another contravention of his supposed dedication to white ethnonationalism.  Possibly a more competent President could have made that second attempt but my reading of the legal analysis doesn’t make me confident in the chances.  That being said, I am not a lawyer and my confidence here is not particularly high.

[8] The Proud Boys, a militant group of nationalist street brawlers and protesters that have been widely painted to be Trump’s private militia and/or brown shirts, are currently led by a gay hispanic and they have had minorities of various kinds in the leadership more or less from their founding.  Or, as popular internet tabloid The Daily Beast put it two years ago, “Why Are Young Men of Color Joining White Supremacist Groups?”  I still can’t believe that headline got published, and it shows a depressing triumph of narrative over all available facts.  The Proud Boys and similar are nationalist, yes.  Radical, maybe.  Cultural chauvinists of one stripe or another, often by admission.  Socially conservative and anti-gay, generally no.  White supremacist, no, just no.

[9] Interestingly enough, Tufekci is the first non-Trump partisan I’ve seen to float the name of Tucker Carlson as a plausible 2024 candidate.  Possibly bears watching.

[10] As per [7], I am increasingly sure that the media is at least delusional on the claim that Trump is a white supremacist and/or that his core support is from white supremacists.  On other topics it is more of a mixed bag, but white supremacy is very, very big topic these days.

[11] Incidental and humorous note, my WordPress editor considers YouTube and Google to be valid words, but not BitChute, Parler, or DuckDuckGo.  Hmmm…  Granted the ‘mainstream’ versions are older and bigger, but it’s still amusing.

[12] Depending on whether one reads things like this Washington Post OpEd as applying to all Trump supporters or just officials who worked in the administration, it’s not hard to see where the impression is coming from.  Suggestions of punishing defeated political opponents (i.e., Hillary Clinton) were one of the truly valid criticisms of Trump prior to the 2016 election, but apparently this matter, like far too many others in the last four years, is not one Democrats were happy to maintain the moral high ground on.

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