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Trump’s mini-mes in uniform are waging war on American institutions

The scenes outside his hush money trial offer a glimpse of what’s to come

The procession outside Donald Trump’s hush money trial over the past couple weeks has looked like a casting call for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Curtis writes. From left, Rep. Byron Donalds, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Speaker Mike Johnson and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy listen as Trump speaks to reporters in New York City on May 14.
The procession outside Donald Trump’s hush money trial over the past couple weeks has looked like a casting call for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Curtis writes. From left, Rep. Byron Donalds, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Speaker Mike Johnson and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy listen as Trump speaks to reporters in New York City on May 14. (Curtis Means/AFP via Getty Images)

The scene would be funny if it weren’t so sad and dangerous: a lineup of grown men and women, the men dressed in matching dark suits and red ties, praising their leader and trashing the United States justice system when most should have been in Washington, D.C., doing their jobs.

Members of the Republican Party who say they believe in “law and order” should just stop using that phrase in their messaging, since they seem to believe the law only applies to other people and disorder is justifiable if it’s used to grab on to and maintain power.

In this land of “rugged individualism,” when standing up for truth and character is uplifted, even if it means standing alone, we instead saw men in the uniform of their leader Donald Trump. Some of them — former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida — were probably auditioning for the role of vice president on the Republican ticket. Others were there to get in front of the cameras and on the right side of the base.

The procession over the past couple weeks has looked like a casting call for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with the whole lot of them speaking as one pod brain in defense of their “president” Trump (and no, he isn’t), implying a ridiculous belief in a “stolen” 2020 election that has become the litmus test for who’s in and who’s out.

Mike Johnson of Louisiana did not waste a minute hustling up to New York to give up his own stature as speaker of the House to show fealty to a man on trial for falsifying records to cover up an alleged tryst with an adult film star.

Johnson, who traveled all that way to trash the legitimacy of a court, a judge, jurors and the criminal justice system, is the same man who choked up last week as a statue of late evangelist Billy Graham was unveiled, honored by Graham’s home state of North Carolina in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. The 7-foot bronze shows Graham gesturing toward a Bible, atop a pedestal engraved with biblical verses. Johnson called Graham “a towering figure in my life,” but never said which one of those verses would apply to a former president who tried to overturn the results of an election.

Piety curdles when trotted out only for special occasions; loyalty to American ideals such as equal justice under the law means nothing when it’s reserved just for those who share your party and political views.

Johnson’s actions, however, were hardly surprising, as he was a leader of the pack that worked to keep Trump in office after voters rejected him. A majority of Johnson’s constituents, the ones who voted for him, must be in agreement, which is pretty depressing.

Ironically, the crowd who shouts “USA, USA” the loudest seems to love America only some of the time.

Among the motley New York courtroom gang was an actual former gang member, Chuck Zito, an actor who once led New York’s Hells Angels chapter, and former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who pled guilty to federal charges and was later issued a presidential pardon by Trump.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida truly distinguished himself by echoing Trump’s call to action to Proud Boys everywhere. “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President,” Gaetz wrote in a social media post that showed him in lockstep with other congressional Republicans behind the president outside the courtroom.

Some of those Proud Boys are now serving time for their role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Yet Gaetz stands proudly with the presumptive GOP presidential candidate who calls insurrectionists “hostages” and promises to pardon them if he is reelected.

So how is he — are they — better than that Jan. 6 mob? Well, they do get to dress up and pull down a check from the government they rail against.

Leave it to Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville to plainly say what everyone knows; the mini-Trumps are there to circumvent Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order, to denounce and attack in their master’s voice. Tuberville also complained that the courtroom was too depressing for a man such as Trump and insulted the jurors, calling them “supposedly American citizens.”

Actually, they are Americans doing their civic duty, risking peace of mind and worse if their identities become known.

The danger is that too many of their fellow Americans will be distracted by the show, and too few will notice when respect for law and order gradually falls away, with the help of the country’s leaders, even the ones who may not show up at a New York microphone but nonetheless are part of a plan to make Americans doubt the country’s institutions.

Last weekend, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio became the latest Republican to hedge when asked if he would accept the November 2024 results. Not if it’s an “unfair election,” he said when pushed by Kristen Welker on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Rubio voted to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, but it looks like he has decided to fall in line.

Let me guess: If Trump and Republicans win, it’s OK — but if not, time for challenges, incendiary rhetoric and a repeat of Jan. 6, 2021?

Time to take Rubio and the red-tie brigade at their word.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on X @mcurtisnc3.

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