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Trump verdict unleashes perilous new intensity in American politics

Latent forces in American politics are being released by the historic criminal conviction of Donald Trump. They range from the mundane to the menacing to fears of something more malevolent. Political-violence researchers are worried.

In already volatile election year, reaction includes surge in donations, calls for revenge

Former U.S. president Donald Trump is seen speaking at Trump Tower in New York.

Latent forces in American politics are being unleashed by the historic criminal conviction of Donald Trump.

They range from the mundane to the menacing to the malevolent.

Right-wing anger over the guilty verdict has unspooled an appetite for political combat — a metaphorical one that researchers of political violence fear could turn literal.

First, the mundane. At least one of the reactions is rooted firmly in the most mainstream of American political traditions: cash donations.

The Republican Party claimed to have smashed its one-day fundraising record, jamming its servers and prompting Democrats to urge counter-donations from their own supporters.

It quickly shifted beyond that. Initially after the verdict, Sen. Marco Rubio had urged Republicans to respond with donations, posting on X, formerly Twitter: "Don't just get angry about this travesty, get even!"

Anger on the right demanded more. A day later, by late Friday, the senator and vice-presidential hopeful had assumed a more confrontational posture.

He called President Joe Biden "demented," posting on social media about fighting fire with fire and, most significantly, laying out a strategy for legislative revenge.

Police watch protesters outside Trump Tower in New York City.

Forget fundraising. Some want revenge

Eight Republican senators, including Rubio, signed a letter pledging to block Biden's judicial and other appointments — and also block new federal spending.

That pledge might not matter much until that list of Republican signatories grows closer to 40, which would truly mean a blockade in the U.S. Senate.

Yet the pressure will grow for others to sign. Trump approvingly posted Rubio's Senate initiative on his own social media website.

Donald Trump Jr. is fanning the flames of retaliation. The ex-president's son commented approvingly about others' calls for revenge, including one right-wing writer's comparison of politics to war without bullets.

In response to talk of prosecuting Democrats in red states and other such threats, Trump Jr. added his own posts on social media, like: "I 100% endorse this message!"

One Republican-led committee in Washington has already demanded that members of the New York prosecution team appear to testify before the House of Representatives.

The big fear: violence

But these are non-violent tactics. These aren't what experts on political violence fear most. Not on a day when there were online attempts to identify and threaten the Manhattan jurors who convicted Trump; not in an era of skyrocketing threats against judges and politicians; or when several lawmakers told the news website Axios they feared unrest.

What worries Robert Pape most is that his longtime field of study might find new relevance in his own native country, the United States.

An internationally respected, frequently cited scholar on political violence, Pape is director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, at the University of Chicago.

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After the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, he began researching how many people might be willing to use violence to make Trump president again, conducting repeated surveys as part of his research.

He found eight per cent of the U.S. respondents in 2021 agreed that the use of force is justified to restore Trump to the White House.

That's 21 million people — and a slight majority, Pape said, own guns. The number steadily dropped over the next two years, then, last year, suddenly shot back up again to 17 million.

That sudden jump happened after Trump faced his first federal criminal charges, he said. And that's what worried him when he learned Thursday about the conviction. "Sobering" is how Pape described his response in an interview with CBC News.

"The word I would use is 'sobering.' We're heading into an extremely tumultuous period. It was already going to be tumultuous. But we are now certainly heading into a highly tumultuous period."

Pape said violent threats to democracy are a real risk this year, and they could flare up intermittently, into and beyond the Nov. 5 presidential election.

A leading driver of political violence, he said, is a loss of faith in political and judicial systems. For Trump supporters specifically, he said, a second driver is their fealty to him.

This criminal conviction, Pape said, will stoke both those conditions.

A wide shot of hundreds of demonstrators with signs and flags on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol is shown.

An analogy he uses for a dangerous political environment is that of kindling — it's already there, lying around. It then needs a match to light it ablaze, he said; likely a public event, like a convention, or an election or, on Jan. 6, 2021, the certification of the presidential election.

Pape has explained in the past that he does not fear an actual civil war in the U.S. What he fears are intermittent acts of violence, like Northern Ireland experienced decades ago.

"We are already a divided country," he said Friday. "This [court] decision is likely to galvanize and radicalize Trump's supporters…. And we have months to go before we get to the election. The anger, the radicalization, the pro-insurrectionist movement could well grow."

Pape's fears are echoed by a colleague, Harvard University's Juliette Kayyem, a security professor who served in the Obama administration and has expressed fear that Trump's July 11 sentencing hearing could be the sort of burning match that Pape talks about.

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CBC chief correspondent Adrienne Arsenault talks to David Frum about why he thinks Donald Trump’s conviction should have been linked to his role in the Capitol riots instead of hush-money and what it means for democracy in the U.S.

Divergent opinions

To be clear, complaints about the verdict are by no means relegated to these political fringes. The case has drawn drastically divergent opinions, with legal observers debating whether it should be overturned on appeal.

These critics include a former prosecutor and CNN analyst who calls Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg a friend and onetime colleague.

In a piece for New York Magazine, that analyst, Elie Honig, argued that Bragg's team twisted the definition of state law against falsifying business records, contorting it a club that was used to beat Trump.

"Both of these things can be true at once: The jury did its job, and this case was an ill-conceived, unjustified mess," he wrote.

Trump has also complained about the judge's instructions during the trial, arguing he should have recused himself, given his daughter's paid work for the Democratic Party and his own tiny past donation to Biden.

On Friday, the current president of the United States urged everyone to tone it down.

A stack of newspapers, with a copy of the New York Times on top, with a front page explaining the outcome of the verdict in former U.S. president Donald Trump's hush-money trial.

'Fight fire with fire'

In his first public reaction to the verdict, Biden heralded the near-250-year-old U.S. justice system and celebrated the principle that no one is above the law.

He credited the 12 jurors for doing their best to judge Trump, after having heard weeks of evidence, and he said Trump now has every right to appeal.

That doesn't mean he can trash the justice system, Biden added.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen speaking at the White House about the verdict in the hush-money trial of former U.S. president Donald Trump.

"It's reckless, it's dangerous, it's irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don't like the verdict," the president said.

"The justice system should be respected — we should never allow anyone to tear it down."

This is what prompted Rubio to call Biden "a demented man propped up by wicked and deranged people willing to destroy our country to remain in power."

The Republican senator, reportedly being considered as Trump's running mate, concluded that same social media post with two emojis: "It's time to fight 🔥with 🔥."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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