Bender: Trump's playing martyr to save his skin

"Lacking substance, the “politics” argument, is all Trump has. Grievance. Victimhood. Misdirection. More Big Lies. More whining. That'll play to the gullible, but no serious politician celebrates

Tony Bender
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Before the wailing from Trump supporters reaches a crescendo, as a matter of perspective, let's swap the names in this story:

“A special counsel's been named to investigate former President (Barack Obama) and whether he conspired to overturn the results of the election and democracy itself by encouraging an armed mob to invade the U.S. Capitol where they assaulted police officers and hunted (Obama's) political foes. A second investigation will explore whether (Obama) broke the law, obstructed justice, and compromised national security by removing classified documents from the White House.”

If it were Obama, Republicans would be in the streets demanding justice.

When democracy wobbled during Watergate, the justice system didn't blink. When Bill Clinton was surreptitiously “not having sexual relations with that woman,” Ken Starr saved us from, uh, fellatio, I guess.

But this case was unavoidable. No man, no president, is above the law. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has upped the ante. His hope, by declaring his candidacy, is that the DOJ will be reluctant to aggressively pursue the investigation. It is a dicey situation, and even though Merrick Garland wisely recused himself, Trump will still frame this as a political exercise. Unlike Ken Starr's noble defense of America from oral sex.


It's beyond politics, however; it's about the rule of law. Democracy demands guardrails. Checks and balances. If democracy wasn't on the line, Republicans like Liz Cheney wouldn't have risked their political careers.

Lacking substance, the “politics” argument, is all Trump has. Grievance. Victimhood. Misdirection. More Big Lies. More whining. That'll play to the gullible, but no serious politician celebrates this — no, not even Democrats. They, along with two-thirds of the GOP, are exhausted by Trump.

But the fact remains that democracy was teetering on Jan. 6, 2021, and we need to understand how close Trump came to tipping America into full-blown authoritarianism. History demands it.

The bipartisan Jan. 6 Committee revealed harrowing evidence to that effect with damning testimony coming from Trump's own people, and yes, it was bipartisan. If a Republican doesn't march lock-step in defense of Trump, it doesn't mean they are aren't patriotic Republicans.

You remember patriotic Republicans, right? Those who stood up against McCarthy and Nixon and for American principles? Back when courage was still en vogue?

Trump's placed himself above his party, again. It serves his self-interest to play martyr while pretending he's doing it for, sigh, America. If he's the party standard-bearer, it becomes difficult for Republicans to distance themselves. It hobbles qualified candidates.

It remains to be seen who'll oppose him. Even Mike Pence's criticism of Trump in his recent interview was embarrassingly tepid. You have to wonder about a guy who had to run for his life yet remains willing to placate the lynch mob. Anyone with backbone and fire would say, “Eff 'em,” while flipping them the bird. With both hands. And he wants to be president? Of what, marshmallows?

Buckle up. It'll get ugly. Trump will insist. If Republicans muster the courage to nominate someone else, Trump still could torch the GOP with an independent run, but for the good of the country, they can't back down. Democracy remains imperiled.


The unspoken but obvious threat echoes what happened on Jan. 6.

Trump remains willing to unleash the hounds.

We'll see what we're made of.

Opinion by Tony Bender
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column from North Dakota for Forum News Service.
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