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Trump delivers another autocratic tirade

Trump delivers another autocratic tirade
Trump delivers another autocratic tirade

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Donald Trump unleashed a flood of delusions and fascistic threats at CPAC this weekend in a speech to an audience that included actual neo-Nazis, a story overshadowed by the South Carolina GOP primary and his completely predictable defeat of the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

Dreaming of Judgment Day

You have likely heard about this weekend’s Republican primary contest in South Carolina. Donald Trump stomped on the state’s former governor (and his own former UN ambassador) Nikki Haley and cruised to a 20-point win. Trump’s victory was no surprise, and the race was called practically nanoseconds after the polls closed. Hours of granular coverage were devoted to the whole business anyway, and analysts and pundits are now trying to figure out whether Haley winning just a shade under 40 percent of the vote in her own state is a warning sign for Trump or a relatively unthreatening blip.

(I think Trump losing some 40 percent of the Republican primary vote is a big deal, but I admit I don’t yet know how big. I do know, however, that if President Joe Biden were losing 40 percent of Democratic primary voters, the media reaction would be a cascade of exploding takes so hot and bright, they could birth a new galaxy.)

Lost in all of this horse-race analysis is that while Haley was losing in South Carolina, Trump was busy in Maryland, where he gave the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). CNN’s fact-checker Daniel Dale called Trump’s previous CPAC speeches “lengthy, lie-filled addresses” and added that Trump “stuck to tradition” on Saturday. The former president’s speech was full of falsehoods, but more important, it was yet another fascistic rant, full of fear, rambling half-thoughts, delusions, and, of course, threats. “Our country is being destroyed,” Trump warned. “And the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me.”

The South Carolina primary, however, helped to drown out reports on Trump’s most recent torrent of autocratic effluvium. Some of the coverage of the speech treated it as just another ordinary day in the Trump campaign: The New York Times, for example, previewed the speech with a headline predicting that Trump “Will Outline a Thriving U.S. Amid a Second Term.” After the speech was delivered, the Times declared in another headline that Trump had invoked “Clashing Visions of America’s Future,” adding that “Mr. Trump’s vision of the country … has the potential to connect powerfully to the fears and lives of millions of Americans.”

Well, yes, that’s one way to summarize what happened. Another way would be to note that the 45th president of the United States undertook a 90-minute excursion into his authoritarian fantasies, in which he said that America under Biden is a “nightmare”; that he was a “political dissident” facing persecution (this, just days after comparing himself to the Russian political prisoner Alexei Navalny, who died in a Siberian penal colony); that the upcoming presidential election “will be our new liberation day”; and that for Americans he considers “liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and imposters who have commandeered our government, it will be their judgment day.”

Of course, Trump has said much of this before, including at CPAC, which was once a gathering of prominent conservatives (including sitting GOP presidents) but is now a kind of overheated extremist Mardi Gras. In 2023, for example, Trump unfurled his usual collection of right-wing Mad Libs right at the top of his address: “The sinister forces trying to kill America have done everything they can to stop me, to silence you, and to turn this nation into a socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radicals, and dangerous refugees that no other country wants.”

This year, he added some new tropes, including referring to his legal problems as “Stalinist show trials” orchestrated by the Biden administration, a historical reference that is probably lost on the CPAC crowd (and might not be understood by Trump himself) but that serves as another marker of his contempt for the American judicial system. He smeared everyone involved in his prosecutions as a “mob of radical-left Democrat partisans” who were “masquerading as judges and juries and prosecutors.” They want, he said, “to steal my liberty.”

Trump began his CPAC appearance with his signature vulgarity of hugging and kissing an American flag, after which he stood at respectful attention not for the national anthem but for Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which is close enough at a Trump event, and always a crowd-pleaser. And speaking of the audience: In previous years, CPAC apparently tried to screen out neo-Nazis and white nationalists and supremacists, but this year, members of such groups were observed wearing badges and, as NBC reported, they “appeared to find a friendly reception.” (CPAC has called the NBC report “fake news.”)

And so, to recap: A former president of the United States went off on an autocratic soliloquy—happily ditching his teleprompter for some of it—to a group that included self-identified Nazis. He again warned that he was the singular figure, the “last chance” standing between ordinary citizens and that “bloodshed, chaos, and violent crime” that he claims has now arrived at the hands of roving gangs of terrorists and criminals. At the ballot box, he said, “they” will get a “reckoning, like they haven’t even imagined before. We’re gonna straighten out our country,” he said.

Who is “they”? you might wonder. “They” are the people, it seems, who do not support Donald Trump, the fellow American citizens who are in his eyes “vermin” and whom he referred to at CPAC as “thugs and tyrants and fascists, scoundrels, and rogues.” Meanwhile, he decried the incarceration of the “hostages” who are serving time for the January 6 insurrection, claiming that “there’s never been in the history of our country a group of people treated the way they’ve been treated.”

Every dictator needs a loyal corpus of people willing to do violence on his behalf, and Trump seems to think he has such brigades, biding their time and stewing in federal prisons, merely awaiting his return. He may well be right. For now, however, too many Americans seem oddly disconnected from these and other authoritarian plans Trump continues to share so openly and candidly.


Today’s News

  1. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two First Amendment cases challenging Florida and Texas laws that would limit the ability of social-media platforms to block certain political views.
  2. Israeli negotiators signaled that Israel could release high-profile Palestinian prisoners serving long jail terms in exchange for freeing some of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza, according to officials with knowledge of the mediation efforts.
  3. Hungary’s Parliament approved Sweden’s bid to join NATO, removing the country’s final obstacle.

Evening Read

Shawn Heinrichs

How First Contact With Whale Civilization Could Unfold

By Ross Andersen

One night last winter, over drinks in downtown Los Angeles, the biologist David Gruber told me that human beings might someday talk to sperm whales. In 2020, Gruber founded Project CETI with some of the world’s leading artificial-intelligence researchers, and they have so far raised $33 million for a high-tech effort to learn the whales’ language. Gruber said that they hope to record billions of the animals’ clicking sounds with floating hydrophones, and then to decipher the sounds’ meaning using neural networks. I was immediately intrigued. For years, I had been toiling away on a book about the search for cosmic civilizations with whom we might communicate. This one was right here on Earth.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

The back of a person's ankles as they walk away from the camera, wearing black heels with white stripes.
Millennium Images / Gallery Stock

Read. “Anita’s Secrets,” a short story by Xochitl Gonzalez.

Watch. Check out the Expats episode that’s practically a stand-alone film.

Play our daily crossword.


This is Elaine Godfrey here, following up after Friday’s newsletter about rats. I wanted to say thank you for your great replies and emails; I loved hearing from all of our Atlantic ratties. I also wanted to update you all on something that several of your notes mentioned: Rats are incredibly social, and if they’re alone, they can become stressed or depressed. Some adoption agencies won’t even allow a person to adopt a single rat. So if you’re going to get a pet rat, you should consider getting two or even three at a time! I wish I’d done this for my rats growing up; they would’ve been happier, and they wouldn’t have been any more work for me. Thanks, as always, for reading!

— Elaine

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.

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