Oh how the powerful wail and whine
Former United States president Donald Trump is on a tear. He has declared himself a victim of government overreach. He has argued that he is being persecuted by his political enemies. He lamented the desecration of his sprawling Palm Beach home at Mar-a-Lago. Poor him.
As the FBI was searching his Florida residence on Monday evening, Trump reeled off a missive to anyone who would listen, which is to say millions of people on his e-mail list, that his “beautiful home” was “under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents”. He chalked this up to “Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for president in 2024”.
He peppered his statement with randomised capitalisation. He made liberal use of exclamation points. He spoke of himself in the third person. Trump’s description of his persecution began with the political: “What is the difference between this and Watergate, where operatives broke into the Democrat National Committee? Here, in reverse, Democrats broke into the home of the 45th President of the United States.” Then he shifted to the personal: “They even broke into my safe!”
The search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence is linked to the long-running investigation of his possible mishandling of classified documents. This year, the National Archives and Records Administration collected more than a dozen boxes of papers and other items from Trump’s home — items that the law required the former president to turn over to the National Archives when he left office.
An unannounced search for evidence of a crime at a former president’s home is highly unusual. But Trump was a highly unusual commander-in-chief. He was a constant reminder that many of the practices and procedures of American democracy were not a matter of law but rather tradition and civility. Trump torched many of those norms, most notably the one that ensured a peaceful transfer of power.
Yet he remains the substantive head of the Republican Party and, for some members, its very soul. He remains their president in an alternative reality. And so the notion that he is a powerless man at the mercy of almighty elites is foolery. He is a man with legions of devoted followers, countless office-holding sycophants and the capacity to be heard by the multitudes whenever he chooses to speak. Declaring himself a victim is not just hyperbole or balderdash. It is mean. It is a mockery of true struggle. It devalues the good fight.
While Trump may some day be found guilty of a tax crime, a document destruction crime, a crime against the republic, for the moment, he remains unindicted. He sits above the law. The law does not weigh him down. It does not afflict him. It does not constrain his ability to move through his life without fear. Trump carries on at his Bedminster golf club.
No one stormed into Trump’s home unannounced with guns blazing, awakening him from a sound sleep and scaring him into paralysis. No shots were fired without regard for human life. His private quarters were not riddled with bullet holes. No one was carried out on a gurney. His outrage has not gone unheard. That is what happens when a person is at the mercy of the law. That’s what happened to Breonna Taylor.
She came to mind because last week the Justice Department filed charges against two former detectives and two active police officers for violating her Fourth Amendment rights, which protect a person from unreasonable searches. In 2020, police officers raided Taylor’s home in Louisville in the dark of night. They came in with a search warrant — one that is under suspicion. They startled her awake. The law shot her.
Taylor was under siege. She was a victim. It has been more than two years since Taylor’s death, and no one has been held responsible.
Trump has a bird’s-eye view of the law and pretends that he is oppressed by it. This fantasy is amplified by elected officials, leaders of the Republican Party and privileged souls who see torment and ridicule around every corner. Even Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, had “concern” that his former boss, the one who threw him to the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021, was “subjected to a raid”. Poor Trump. He wasn’t even in Palm Beach when the FBI executed its search warrant. But still, poor Trump.
This is not a new stance for Trump. He is a champion victim. He has countless tormentors. And the men and women who surround him feast on their own grievance. They will happily suffer a little in their daily lives if it means making sure their enemies suffer even more. Still, it is a remarkable thing to watch the powerful deny what they so obviously possess. It’s quite something to hear a former president, one who is surrounded by legal counsel who negotiate his terms of engagement with anyone who dares confront him about possible wrongdoing, fume about being at the mercy of an out-of-control legal system when lesser men go grey in jail because they don’t have the money for bail.
Trump holds forth about the endless “witch hunt” that has dogged him: the Russia investigation, impeachment one, impeachment two. He is like the Wall Street banker who blew up the economy back in the 2000s, made off with millions and never saw a day in jail but who is still complaining about his legal bills and that some people resent him for his perfidy and deceit.
Trump encourages the belief that the Government is out to get him and therefore is out to get those who support him. (Marjorie Taylor-Greene, the Republican representative from Georgia, wants to “defund the FBI!”) He insists that the law is politicised and weaponised. He tells everyone that he is great and that everything he did as president was great. “The establishment hated it,” his statement read.
But now he’s the Establishment. He’s the one endorsing candidates and watching them win. He’s the shadow looming over Republican presidential hopefuls. He’s the man with the megaphone. His power is built on grievance and whining and bellyaching.
He is the victim-in-chief. His pain is all that matters.
• Robin Givhan is senior critic-at-large writing about politics, race and the arts. A 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, Givhan has also worked at Newsweek/Daily Beast, Vogue magazine and the Detroit Free Press