Donald Trump is conjuring his most foreboding vision yet of a possible second term, telling supporters in language resonant of the run-up to the January 6 mob attack on the US Capitol that they need to “fight like hell” or they will lose their country.
The rhetorical escalation from the four-times-indicted ex-president came at a rally in South Dakota on Friday night where he accused his possible 2024 opponent, President Joe Biden, of ordering his indictment on 91 charges across four criminal cases as a form of election interference.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a darkness around our nation like there is now,” Trump said, in a dystopian speech in which he accused Democrats of allowing an “invasion” of migrants over the southern border and of trying to restart Covid “hysteria.”
The Republican front-runner’s stark speech raised the prospect of a second presidency that would be even more extreme and challenging to the rule of law than his first. His view that the Oval Office confers unfettered powers suggests Trump would indulge in similar conduct as that for which he is awaiting trial, including intimidating local officials in an alleged bid to overturn his 2020 defeat.
Characteristically, Trump also turned criticism of his behavior against his political foes, implicitly arguing that the true peril for America’s political freedoms did not spring from his attempt to invalidate a free and fair election, but from efforts to make him face legal accountability for doing so. “It’s really a threat to democracy while they trample our rights and liberties every single day of the year,” he said.
“This is a big moment in our country because we’re either going to go one way or the other, and if we go the other, we’re not going to have a country left,” he told supporters in South Dakota. “We will fight together, we will win together and then we will seek justice together,” he added. This followed a March rally in which he billed his 2024 campaign and potential second term as a vessel of “retribution” for supporters who believe they’ve been wronged.
Trump is a highly skilled demagogue whose facility for injecting falsehoods and conspiracies into the country’s political bloodstream creates a swirl of chaos and acrimony in which he alone seems to prosper. And his words shape public opinion. In a recent CNN poll, for example, only 28% of Republicans thought Biden legitimately won sufficient votes to win the 2020 election. This comes after years of Trump incessantly denying he lost, and despite courts throwing out his multiple challenges to the result.