By Shelley Inglis
In a social media post on March 18, 2023, former President Donald Trump announced that he would be arrested on March 21 on charges stemming from an investigation led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Bragg’s office is probing hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, which were allegedly made to spare candidate Trump embarrassment on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.
“THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE AND FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” wrote Trump.
Scholar Shelley Inglis spent more than 15 years with the United Nations, where she advised governments and democracy advocates on how to strengthen the rule of law, human rights and democratic governance. We asked her about Trump’s post.
What did you think about when you heard his call for protests?
Let me begin by quickly describing populism, because it’s important to my thoughts about Trump’s post. Populist movements portray “the people in a moral battle against elites,” as scholars Jane Mansbridge and Stephen Macedo describe it. Some level of populism is inherent in democracies where candidates appeal to be elected by “the people.”
But what I call autocratic populists use this narrative to claim they are the sole voice of “the people” and those against them are “bad” or even “evil.” They undermine any and all opposition to them and attempts to hold them accountable, including independent institutions like courts, elections and the media. This is how such populists become so dangerous for democracy and the rule of law.
Trump has that autocrat’s populism, in which he says that not only is he anti-elite but that he is “the only one” who can represent the people and calls on the public to question legitimate democratic institutions – which he did even when he was the head of those institutions.
Scholars like me know that protests play an important role in societies, and the freedom to protest is part of a democratic society. The idea of peaceful protests is to hold the government accountable and for people to have an avenue for free speech and be able to participate in demonstrating their demands. But I believe protests are most valuable when they originate from civil society or advocacy groups.
It’s really a red flag if a political party or leader is using people in protest in a democracy like the U.S. That devalues the idea that protests come from the people or what we call civil society. Instead, it’s a manipulation of a democratic society.
Trump wasn’t asking his followers to protest a policy, was he?
He was asking for a protest on his behalf because of what an independent institution is doing. It’s a protest about and for him.
It’s hard for me to think of an example in recent history when political leaders in a democracy like the U.S. demanded that people protest, even on an issue, let alone for them. So Trump’s call is a real populist move that is intended actually to undermine respect for democratic institutions, whereas popular protests and advocacy can be a sign of a vibrant and healthy democracy.
But doesn’t Trump couch the moves to hold him accountable as coming from the radical left, not as government holding him accountable?
Demonizing the institution and alleging that the institutions are controlled by an agenda is part of the narrative that Trump has created. It is the populism of “us” versus “them.” Even when he was the head of the government and its institutions, he was fomenting this narrative by effectively saying things like, “This election is going to be unfair … even though I’m president of the United States. I’m already saying that this election, run by my own government, though at multiple levels, is going to be unfair.”
Once populists get in power, they degrade any kind of accountability, any checks and balances, and they debase the opposition through very clever ways of creating a narrative that it’s somehow justified.
Yet Trump is out of power now. How does that still work?
He’s continued with that narrative, which is basically to say he’s the only one who represents the people of the United States as a legitimate voice. And anything that is done against him actually is against the United States. So his phrase in that post, “Take our country back,” means “Give back power to me, or do something against institutions that might be holding me to account.”
For me, it is important for people to appreciate that protest is productive and healthy for democracy when it comes from the bottom up. But when it’s manipulated by political actors, calling on people to protest for them and seek to overturn U.S. institutions, like on Jan. 6, it can actually be highly threatening to democracy.
Shelley Inglis is the Executive Director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center, University of Dayton.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
No mirrors in your house?
@h, just ask him
only trump can look like trump.
I’m so sick of seeing this sore losers face, can he move to Russia and take his maga rabid brainwashed supporters with him already. PLEASE!
Agreed. The Trump Soap Opera continues. Instead of acting like an adult and allow our court system to decide if he is guilty or not he has to call on people to do his dirty work and protest for him. And anyone that does and gets arrested he won’t even care about them, he will move on to the next sucker.
He is a con man who has committed more crimes then we will probably ever know.
Prison time is a true reward for his crimes.
Nephew Of Uncle Sam says
They reported his plane is on the tarmac yesterday. One can only hope he’ll decide to run to Russia.
don miller says
it is the prioritizing of this misdemeanor check writing event over much more pressing corruption and crime in NYC that is a dead give away that it is nothing more than politics. Don’t tell me the DA Bragg isn’t spending the majority of his time on this instead of managing his under DAs. with bigger cases.
It is so ridiculous to read comments like this, really. How can so many be so duped? Let’s look at our own state, why are SOME trying to keep us focused on non-existent issues with our schools in their attempt to fit their own agenda while we have shootings going on in our cities right here in the FLA? Why any American would object to the pursuit of following our laws against all criminals is beyond me. What case should be bigger than a con man who wants to continue his crime spree at the expense of Americans?? NONE.
Don Miller: You are suggesting that we should ignore one criminal and prosecute another. One who has a lot of public influence, and has publicly stated that we don’t really need the constitution as it doesn’t really work for him personally. Nixon got caught but lucky enough to be pardoned. Nixon was a neophyte compared to Trump when it comes to illegal business dealings.
A grifter is a grifter, and no one is above the law. If Trump is above the law, even for something you, personally, think is small, then we no longer have a country.
Michael Cocchiola says
Trump is a detestable near-human being. He is pure evil. Despite his wealth, he has never, as far as can be determined, done a kind thing for another human or an animal. He cared nothing for his wives, past or present, nor for his children – with the possible exception of incestuous lust for Ivanka.
In my mind, the only humans lower than him in the gene pool… are his worshipers. They call him the second coming of Jesus Christ. They would hand over our country to this psychopathic narcissist and kneel at his throne. There can be no recovery of American society until these delusional sycophants are flushed down the toilet of this dark chapter of our history.
To the “chosen one”: Bye bye baby goodbye, farewell, farewell.
Now, will it take another seven or so years for the far right to see DeSantis as just another “chosen one?”
Land of no turn signals says says
Great timing,Feds up the interest rates again,banks closing,gas prices up again,food prices out of control.Dangerous countries treating our borders.Thanks Joe your doing a great job.Trump might be a low life but ran the country waaaaaay better.
You are being sarcastic, right?
Ya know, I never really noticed before (until recently) but…
… looks eerily like…
… to me.
Perhaps it’s the central towers that make me think this.
Just an observation.
Wow, the “Wacko in Waco” rally…
… hadn’t even heard or read of this till today.
Ya just can’t make this stuff up.
Again, just my opinion.
Calling the media an indepentent institution is the funniest thing I have read in quite some time. Thanks so much
Those with Trump derangment syndrome have not idea what is coming.