The political violence missing from coverage of the Trump disqualification case
Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Donald Trump’s attempt to convince the Court to grant him an exception from the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on insurrectionists serving as president and overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision barring Trump from the Colorado primary ballot.
I have previously explained that the punditocracy’s arguments in favor of granting Trump such an exemption are unconvincing to the point of absurdity and foreshadow a similar instinct towards appeasement that will persist should Trump win the presidency and seek an unconstitutional third term. The lawyers representing Trump before the Supreme Court today advanced similarly unpersuasive arguments, and yet the Supreme Court justices seem eager to grant Trump a constitutional exemption.
Today’s arguments, and in particular the Supreme Court Justice’s questions and comments, will be exhaustively analyzed and speculated about — indeed, they already have been. But there’s an elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about: The justices themselves cannot possibly be unaware of the threats and actual violence other public officials, including judges, have faced for implementing the 14th Amendment’s disqualification of Trump.
Colorado Secretary of State Jenna Griswold “received 64 death threats and more than 900 threats of abuse within three weeks of the case being filed to keep Trump off the state ballot.”1 In December Griswold told Huffington Post, “It just underlines that Donald Trump is a major threat to American democracy, elections and stability. He uses threats and intimidation against his political opponents.”
After the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Trump, NPR reported: “Personal information, including phone numbers and addresses, of the Colorado Supreme Court justices who ruled against Trump are circulating on some far-right platforms. So, too, are calls for his base to take up arms.”
Threats against the Colorado Supreme Court justices (“One user on a far-right, pro-Trump website posted, ‘All f— robed rats must f— hang,’ an apparent reference to the Colorado justices”) were serious enough to prompt an FBI investigation.
When Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows removed Trump from her state’s primary ballot due to the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on insurrectionists like Trump subsequently serving as president, she was immediately targeted with a “swatting” attempt just two days later.
California’s Lieutenant Governor was targeted with a swatting attack after she urged California’s Secretary of State to exclude Trump from the ballot.
All of those incidents have occured since December, and those are just the examples of violence2 and threats of violence that are directly related to implementation of the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on insurrectionists like Trump holding office.
Meanwhile, in early January Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump’s criminal trial in DC, Justice Arthur F. Engoron, who is overseeing a Trump fraud trial in New York, and special counsel Jack Smith, who indicted Trump for election subversion, were all targets of separate swatting attempts.
Media coverage and conversation of today’s Supreme Court arguments will largely ignore this two-month wave of violence and threats of violence targeting judges and other government officials. It’s absent from the New York Times’ “five takeaways” piece, for example, and from the dozens of entries in the Times’ liveblog about the case. And the threats of violence against judges and election officials who have applied the 14th Amendment to Trump will likely be ignored in media coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision, when it comes. But they shouldn’t be.
Trump is disqualified from the presidency under the 14th Amendment because he incited a violent insurrection at the United States capitol in a desperate bid to remain president despite losing an election. His supporters are now threatening violence against any judge or election official who dares apply the Constitution to him. That’s a core part of this story — and of our current political reality. Right-wing extremists, led by Donald Trump, are using violence and the threat of violence to intimidate government officials into doing Trump’s bidding. Trump and his followers are using the same tactics that led to his disqualification to try to force judges to exempt him from that disqualification.
The news media has long compartmentalized Trump’s violence, and that of his supporters: They may report it, but they silo that coverage off away from the rest of their coverage of him. We saw this throughout 2020, when the same news companies that reported on Trump’s various efforts to incite his followers to violence made no mention of those attempts when reporting that he was running a “law and order” campaign for the presidency. They report on threats of violence against judges and election officials who apply the 14th Amendment to Trump, but then omit those threats from their ongoing coverage of the 14th Amendment case. And when it is mentioned, it’s offered as a justification for exempting Trump from the 14th Amendment — but never as an explanation for justices’ seeming eagerness to do so.
The rise of right-wing violence3 is not incidental to contemporary American politics; it is a defining characteristic. It should be treated as such.
Griswold did not file the case that led to the Colorado Supreme Court ruling that Trump is ineligible.