The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago that revealed that the former President had classified national security documents stored at his home, and the subsequent unequivocal defense of by virtually the entire Republican Party, are reminders of the two keys to navigating the Trump era in American politics. Never allow yourself to be surprised by anything that Donald Trump does and recognize that it can always get worse.
Since leaving office in January of last year, most of the investigation of the Trump administration had focused on Trump’s actions after losing the election to Joe Biden, culminating in the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. While it remains imperative to hold Trump, and many of the people around him, accountable for what happened that day, the narrow focus on those events has overshadowed much of the corruption and criminality of the Trump administration. That disregard for rule of law has continued into Trump’s post-presidency including in matters of national security.
From its earliest days, the Trump administration did not seem to follow basic national security protocol. Trump was seen discussing important national security issues while dining at Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner received a security clearance only after a political appointee overruled the career security experts. In 2017, Trump revealed classified information to Russia’s foreign minister and Ambassador to the US.
The FBI has now apparently found documents at Mar-a-Lago that cover a range of national security issues including some regarding nuclear weapons. One question this raises was why Trump decided to take these documents from the White House. Trump has claimed that he declassified these documents before removing them from the White House. There is little reason to believe that assertion, but it still does not explain why Trump took them.
There are many possible explanations for why Trump took the documents. It may have been an oversight as he was leaving the White House. Perhaps he intended to sell them to a country or other interest hostile to the US. It is possible that the extremist hacks who were the only ones left in the final days of Trump’s presidency believed these documents were too important to be left to the Biden administration and that Trump was the rightful president anyway. We may never know the real reason why Trump had these documents, but it doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that Trump was likely in violation of several federal laws by having those documents in possession in Mar-a-Lago.
The news that Trump had classified documents in his possession after leaving the White House is surprising more for the strangeness and inexplicability of the story rather than to the general malfeasance on the part of the former President. Similarly, the reaction of almost the entire Republican Party as well as right-wing propagandists like Tucker Carlson, while in no way surprising, is nonetheless significant. The position of the GOP, Carlson and, with a handful of exceptions, everybody else on the right, has been to characterize the search of Mar-a-Lago as an extraordinary violation of Trump’s rights, and evidence that the US is becoming a police state, while warning that if this could happen to Trump it could happen to anybody. This last point should be singled out for its absurdity. It is, in fact, true that anybody who is in possession of evidence that they have violated several important federal laws could find themselves the target of a legal FBI search.
It would be foolish to be even remotely surprised by the conservative response to the FBI search, but that response is nonetheless significant. Every time the GOP rallies around Trump, the fissures between the MAGA cult and Americans who believe in democracy grow deeper. With each statement of support for the corrupt authoritarian former president, the right-wing of American politics ties its own fate closer to that of Trump. In doing that, conservatives make it much more difficult to undo the damage to American democracy that has occurred in the last few years. The right-wing has now backed itself into such a pro-Trump corner that there is no turning back. They have no option but to continue to follow Trump regardless of down what fascistic path he may lead them.
The Trump fever is not going to break. The MAGA cult, which constitutes a significant minority of the American people is not going to wake-up from a now more than seven-year infatuation with Trump and return to what once passed as normal American politics. Similarly, the leadership of the GOP is not going to finally break with Trump and ask themselves why it took so long. The moment for that to happen came and went years ago. Rather, rantings about weaponizing the Department of Justice, the danger represented by, of all people, Merrick Garland, and the heroic innocence of Donald Trump will continue while the threat of violent words turning to violent actions, something that has already begun in the US, will only get worse.