Did the FBI just re-elect Donald Trump?

Why is Donald Trump so powerful?

How did one of the two main parties come to dominate and be elected president?

Is it your hair? your waist?

No, they are their stories.

trump counts powerful stories that ring true for tens of millions of Americans.

The main one is that the United States is being ruined by corrupt coastal elites.

According to this narrative, there is an interlocking network of highly educated Americans who make up what Trumpians have come to call the Regime:

Washington power players, liberal media, big foundations, elite universities, savvy corporations.

These people are corrupt, condescending and immoral and they only seek their own benefit.

They are willing to get Trump because Trump is the person who is taking them on.

They’re not just looking for Trump; they are out there to catch you.

This narrative has a kernel of truth.

The highly educated metropolitan elites have become a kind of inward-looking Brahmin class.

But Trumpian propaganda turns what is a unfortunate social abyss in a poisonous conspiracy theory.

It simply assumes, against a great deal of evidence, that the main institutions of society are inherently corrupt, malevolent and partisan and are acting in bad faith.

It simply assumes that the proof of people’s virtue is that they are being attacked by the Regime.

Trump’s political career has been buoyed by elite contempt.

The more the elites despise him, the more the Republicans love him.

The key criterion for leadership in the Republican Party today is having the right enemies.

The FBI enters this situation.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the quest at Mar-a-Lago.

But we do know how the Republican Party reacted.

The right side of my Twitter feed was ecstatic. See! We really are persecuted!

Essays began to appear with titles like “The regime wants its revenge.”

Ron DeSantis tweeted: “The MAL raid is another escalation in the use of weapons by federal agencies against political opponents of the Regime.”

As usual, the tone was apocalyptic.

“This is the worst attack on this Republic in modern history,” exclaimed the host of Fox News, Mark Levin.

The investigation into Trump was seen simply as a heinous plot by the Regime.

For now at least, the search has rocked the Republican political landscape.

Several weeks ago, about half of Republican voters were ready to leave Trump behind, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

This week the whole party seemed to support him.

Republican strategists advising Trump’s potential primary opponents had reason to be dejected.

“He completely handed him a lifeline,” one of those strategists told Politico.

“Unbelievable… He put everyone back in the Trump bandwagon. He has just taken the wind out of everyone’s sails.”

According to a Trafalgar Group/Convention of States Action poll, 83% of likely Republican voters said the FBI search made them more motivated to vote in the 2022 election.

More than 75% of Republican likely voters believed Trump’s political enemies were behind the search rather than the impartial justice system, as did 48% of general election likely voters overall.

In a normal society, when politicians are investigated or accused, it hurts them politically.

But that no longer applies to the Republican Party.

The judicial system may be clashing with the political system in an unprecedented way.

What if a prosecutor indicts Trump and he is convicted just as he is headed for the Republican nomination or maybe even the presidency?

What if the legal system, in its discretion, decides that Trump should go to prison at the same time that the electoral system, in its discretion, decides that he should go to the White House?

I assume that under those circumstances Trump would be arrested and imprisoned.

I also suppose we would see a widespread political violence by outraged Trump voters who would conclude that the Regime has stolen the country.

In my opinion, this is the most likely path to a complete democratic breakdown.

In theory, justice is blind and obviously no person can be above the law.

But as Damon Linker wrote in a Substack post:

“This is a policy, not a graduate seminar in Kantian ethics.”

We live in a specific situation in the real world, and we all have to take responsibility for the real effects of our actions.

The United States absolutely needs to punish those who commit crimes.

On the other hand, the United States absolutely needs to make sure that Trump does not get another term as president.

What do we do if the former makes the latter more likely?

I have no idea how to get out of this potential conflict between our legal and political realities.

We are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy, during which mistrust of the established power is so virulent that the actions of elite actors tend to fail, however well-founded they may be.

My impression is that the FBI had legitimate reasons for doing what they did.

I guess you’ll find some damning documents that they will do nothing to weaken Trump’s support.

I’m also convinced that, for now at least, it has inadvertently improved Trump’s re-election chances.

He has inadvertently made life more difficult for Trump’s potential main rivals and energized his base.

It feels like we’re walking into some kind of storm and there’s no honorable way to alter our course.

c.2022 The New York Times Company

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