Temperatures rise after Mar-a-Lago raid

Americans this week were nervously awaiting a fresh outburst of violence from supporters of ex-president Donald Trump. Some of his supporters already showed 21 months ago that they were willing, at the ex-president’s instigation, to break into the Capitol building in Washington, uttering blood-curdling threats against elected officials who were in the midst of certifying results of the election Mr. Trump had lost.

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Opinion

Americans this week were nervously awaiting a fresh outburst of violence from supporters of ex-president Donald Trump. Some of his supporters already showed 21 months ago that they were willing, at the ex-president’s instigation, to break into the Capitol building in Washington, uttering blood-curdling threats against elected officials who were in the midst of certifying results of the election Mr. Trump had lost.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on the weekend reportedly issued a bulletin to law-enforcement agencies warning of threats of attacks on their officers. On Thursday an armed man had tried to enter the FBI field office in Cincinnati but died in a stand-off with the police.

In televised comments on the weekend, Mr. Trump said the country is in danger because of popular anger against an FBI raid on his Florida mansion in search of government documents in his possession. Mr. Trump said the temperature should be brought down because terrible things could happen. It was not clear whether this was a warning or a threat.

He also further stoked the anger of his supporters by complaining he is being persecuted by the government.

JON ELSWICK / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A receipt for property that was seized during the execution of a search warrant by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

Ever since the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Trump has been telling his supporters he won. The official results certified by election officials and courts of law, he constantly alleges, are fraudulent. Polling results suggest a large proportion of his Republican supporters believe his claim.

The Jan. 6 mob violence at the Capitol showed some of them intended to impose their will with their fists, weapons and threats.

This pattern of political violence and stubborn refusal to submit to an election loss has raised the spectre of civil unrest and intimidation against public officials. The immediate question is whether the country is ready to stand up to mob violence. The larger question is whether the U.S. is drifting toward a civil war with Mr. Trump’s supporters.

It is not yet clear that Mr. Trump is guilty of improperly laying hold of secret government documents. The FBI apparently thinks he did, but their evidence has not yet been tested in a court of law. It would be reckless to start a civil war over the proper application of federal government secrecy laws.

It is abundantly clear, however, that Mr. Trump has never accepted the popular verdict of the 2020 presidential election. He lost that election, with 232 electoral college votes to 306 for Democrat Joe Biden, and by a popular vote of 46.9 per cent against Mr. Biden’s 51.3 per cent. Those vote counts have withstood numerous court challenges.

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. Court papers show that the FBI recovered documents  labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A democracy cannot afford to back away from the principle that the people who take office are the people who won the election. It’s the sort of principle over which civil wars have been fought, always at terrible cost. If that rule ceases to apply, then America has nothing to teach the world about popular sovereignty.

If the government soft-pedals the document-handling issue for fear of mob violence, that could be perceived as a legitimate way of finding the right procedure and the right moment for enforcing the law. No profound harm need result.

The government cannot, however, for fear of mob violence, let an election loser pose as a winner. The U.S. already survived one civil war to show that states cannot secede from the union. It could rightly expect to survive another such ordeal to show that when the people vote you out, you’re out.

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