Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
A Colorado judge ruled last week that former President Donald Trump “engaged in an insurrection” on January 6, 2021, as defined by Section 3 of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment. She didn’t disqualify Trump from the state’s ballot, however, finding that the “insurrectionist ban” in the 14th Amendment does not apply to US presidents.
Everything else about Trump in her ruling was bone-chilling.
District Judge Sarah Wallace wrote that Trump had played a role in this insurrection “through incitement” of the crowd during his infamous speech at the White House Ellipse. She gave examples such as Trump telling his supporters some 20 times before the January 6 attack to “fight.” And he goaded his supporters into action with lines like, “You will have an illegitimate president … We can’t let that happen.”
“Such incendiary rhetoric,” the judge noted, coming from “a speaker who routinely embraced political violence and had inflamed the anger of his supporters leading up to the certification, was likely to incite imminent lawlessness and disorder.”
At the time the 14th Amendment was ratified, an insurrection was “understood to refer to any public use of force or threat of force by a group of people to hinder or prevent the execution of law,” wrote Wallace in her 102-page opinion. The “events on and around January 6, 2021, easily satisfy this definition of ‘insurrection,’” she concluded.
The lawsuit before Wallace to try to keep Trump off the ballot under the 14th Amendment was filed in September by six Colorado voters. But Wallace did not disqualify Trump from standing for election in the state, writing that “for whatever reason the drafters of Section Three [of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution] did not intend to include a person who had only taken the presidential oath.”
That seems to fly in the face of reason. It’s hard to believe that the framers of the 14th Amendment sought to disqualify from the ballot members of Congress but not a president who engaged in an insurrection. Thankfully, the attorneys for the plaintiffs have said they will appeal this part of the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Putting aside the legal issue, we should all heed Wallace’s warnings about how dangerous Trump is. As she wrote, “Trump has consistently endorsed violence and intimidation as not only legitimate means of political expression, but as necessary, even virtuous.” She added, alarmingly, that “Trump was aware that his supporters were willing to engage in political violence and that they would respond to his calls for them to do so.”
The judge couldn’t be more correct. Trump has a documented history of embracing violent rhetoric that has led his supporters to threaten or commit acts of violence, from his 2016 presidential campaign to today.
But the court’s findings are even more alarming against the backdrop of Trump’s unhinged rhetoric in recent months, saying that he would serve as “retribution” against his perceived political enemies — some of whom he referred to as “vermin.” The former president also has made statements indicating that he might be poised, if he returns to the White House, to weaponize the government against those who oppose him.
Taken all together, this paints a deeply frightening portrait of a man who could be willing to use any means available — possibly including violence — to achieve his personal and political ends.
Just as worrisome, Trump has defended those who have committed some of these violent acts. For example, Trump has repeatedly slammed the “unfair” prosecution of his supporters who waged the January 6 insurrection to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory, and he vowed to pardon a “large portion of them.” Trump’s promise to pardon those who engaged in this attack could be seen as a message to his supporters that if they engage in future violence in his name to help him win in 2024, he would pardon them if elected president.
All of this is why Trump’s recent ratcheting up of dehumanizing rhetoric directed at those who oppose him is truly dangerous. Some of the most jarring comments include Trump at the March gathering of conservative activists at the CPAC convention when he told the audience, “for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.”
Later in that speech, Trump listed his political enemies, from Republicans in name only (presumably referring to the Republicans who do not support him) to “globalists” to what he called the “fake news media.” He then vowed that if he wins, “we will liberate America from these villains and scoundrels once and for all.”
“Retribution” and “liberation” of the nation from political opponents is not something heard before in modern American politics — let alone from the person leading the 2024 field for the GOP presidential nomination.
In recent weeks, Trump has become even more unhinged, irresponsibly telling his supporters that those who oppose him are “vermin” who “lie and steal and cheat on elections.” In that same speech, he added that “the threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within.”
In other words, Trump is conditioning — or even arguably radicalizing — his supporters to believe that those who oppose Trump are “vermin” who must be “liberated” from our nation. This explains why experts such as historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat are warning us that Trump is now employing language “used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.”
Wallace found that, though Trump engaged in a violent insurrection on Jan 6, 2021, she could not disqualify him from the ballot. Now nearly three years after that insurrection, today’s Trump is even more desperate; he understands that the most effective way to remain out of prison (given he’s facing 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions) is to win in 2024.
The situation is more than combustible — it very well could be the recipe for the downfall of American democracy as we know it.
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