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You can either support US democracy or back Donald Trump

But you can’t do both.

Donald Trump is seen talking on a news monitor during the Save America rally in Conroe, Texas, on Jan. 29.Brandon Bell/Getty

It’s a simple, small-d democratic dichotomy — and thanks to the truth-sleuthing House select committee on Jan. 6 and a lie-plying former president, a divide is becoming more obvious with each passing week.

One can be a patriotic citizen who cherishes our democracy. Or one can be a diehard Donald Trump supporter.

You can’t, however, be both.

Trump is making that ever clearer as he gambols about the country spreading falsehoods and rallying the faithful on his Authoritarians-R-Us tour. He’s now saying things that even the GOP’s sad array of excusers, accommodationists, and craven mutes can’t rationalize or wish away.

In Conroe, Texas, on Saturday, Trump declared that if he retakes the presidency in 2024, he would pardon the MAGA mob he incited and then directed to the Capitol on Jan. 6. There, hundreds stormed the Capitol, swarming through barriers, smashing windows and battering doors, some assaulting police officers, and forcing the emergency evacuation of lawmakers trying to fulfill their constitutional duties to certify the election.

Those MAGA marauders, Trump claimed, “are being treated so unfairly.”


Spare us.

Even as Trump dangles the prospect of pardons for the Jan. 6 criminals, he’s engaging in a type of armies-of-the-alt right incitement similar to that he used on that infamous day. This time, it’s directed at the two investigations in New York into his dodgy real estate maneuvers and one in Fulton County, Ga., into his attempt to overturn that state’s election returns. In the classic fashion of an authoritarian contemptuous of the rule of law, Trump called for massive nationwide “protests” if prosecutors “do anything illegal” (read: move against him). And, since the top law-enforcement official in each instance is Black, Trump lit some racial tinder, calling them “radical, vicious, racist prosecutors” and claiming that their real target was his supporters.


This is not a dog whistle. It’s a mob whistle.

The next day, Trump unwittingly told the (already obvious) truth about the post-election pressure campaign he led against vice president Mike Pence. That came in a statement concerning congressional efforts to tighten the 19th-century Electoral Count Act, a statute meant to provide for the orderly resolution of an electoral dispute.

“Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away,” Trump wrote, adding: “Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”

Apply Trump’s own form of analysis here: Actually, what Trump is saying is that his true aim was to subvert the election results and, with it, the Constitution.

All this comes even as we’ve learned, through the work of the Jan. 6 committee as well as investigative reporting, that Trump and his team wanted to seize voting machines in disputed states and that (unissued) executive orders had been drafted to direct the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security to do just that.

It’s been diverting indeed, watching the reaction of some Trump allies as the Jan. 6 committee has gone about its work. Take Newt Gingrich, who after an ethically challenged four-year stint as House speaker, long ago reverted to his true calling as a democracy-poisoning provocateur. If Republicans regain control of Congress, members of the Jan. 6 committee are “going to face a real risk of jail for the kinds of laws they’re breaking,” he declared on Fox a week or so ago. For what? Naturally, Fox host Maria Bartiromo didn’t ask. But there is no basis or rationale — beyond, that is, the abuse of power for revenge — for that ever happening.


Gingrich, of course, is last century’s rancid leftover, free to rave as he likes. But interestingly, some Trump enablers who are still in office actually felt a need to raise a mild objection about his latest comments. Pardons would send the wrong message to other potentially violent protesters, noted Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Still, it was left to John Dean, of Watergate fame, to tweet and speak the unvarnished truth about Trump’s recent declarations. Trump is not just making the pardon power transactional, but promising to apply it to an entire group of his supporters, Dean noted in an interview.

“That goes way beyond being a demagogue and into the land of dictatorial thinking,” Dean told me, adding that Trump’s thinly veiled threat to rally his supporters to cause disruption if prosecutors move against him “is just a pure dictator’s trick.”

That’s exactly right. And that’s why, until Trump exits the scene or is exiled from the Republican Party, American politics shouldn’t be considered primarily about choosing between rival sets of policies. Rather, it should be framed as a choice between those who believe in democracy and the rule of law and those who put holding power above upholding our constitutional values.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.