Trump Can’t Contain His Vile Eruptions

From a Jack Shafer Fourth Estate column on headlined “Trump Can’t Contain His Vile Eruptions”:

Donald Trump has always perfumed his personal word cloud with sulfurous vitriol and dank insults. At an early point in the mid-1970s, as the on-the-make developer from Queens crashed the Manhattan scene, he learned that if he directed enough volume at his opponents, he could intimidate, embarrass and shock them into collapse.

Trump’s fountain of bile — calling people “disgusting,” “moron,” “dummies,” “disgraceful,” “horseface,” “lowlife,” ‘dogs,” “low I.Q.,” or branding them with degrading nicknames — flowed then and flows now like an impure stream. In recent weeks, he’s topped even himself by calling obliquely for the execution of Gen. Mark A. Milley, urging shoplifters to be “shot,” accusing NBC News of “treason,” which is punishable with prison or death, and repeatedly calling the special counsel putting him on trial a “thug.”

While some measure of calculation guides Trump’s language — he knows which words punish and stress his foes — evidence has mounted that he just can’t help himself from talking that way. Like a 3-year-old or a riled German Shepherd, he lacks impulse control. When feeling threatened, his first instinct is to aim low and hit hard with maximum cruelty. Paraphrasing beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “first thought, best thought” maxim, Trump believes that the most vile utterance equals the best utterance. Like a drunk in his tanks, Trump is always looking for a fight and reliably finds one.

How to deal with such an unstoppable force? Two judges have now wrapped gags around Trump’s big mouth in two of the many court cases he faces. In the New York state civil fraud case, Justice Arthur Engoron has barred Trump from making comments about his staff after Trump attacked one of the judge’s clerks in a Truth Social post. Engoron ordered the post taken down (Trump complied) and he has promised sanctions for future offenses. “Consider this statement a gag order,” Engoron said.

Meanwhile, this week in federal court, Judge Tanya Chutkan barred Trump from attacking, intimidating or threatening prospective witnesses (like Milley), court officers and prosecutors. Trump remains free to attack his campaign opponent Joe Biden and the Department of Justice itself, and he has already vowed to appeal the gag order. Should he offend again, sanctions in the form of fines or jail time may ensue.

What are the chances that Trump will chew the gag orders ragged and spit them out? Excellent, if you review his biography. This is, after all, the man who, when told not to look at the sun during an eclipse, looked into the sun. This is the man who, when told by his advisers not to congratulate the reelected Vladimir Putin, congratulated Putin. This is the man who, after a court found that he defamed writer E. Jean Carroll, turned around and defamed her again, requiring him to pay her another round of damages. After being chastised for the sharing of classified information with Russian officials, an Australian businessman and the president of the Philippines, after getting caught pirating classified documents from the White House, did Trump change his ways? No. Earlier this month at a West Palm Beach, Fla., rally, while talking about the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Trump volunteered: “They’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s classified information,’” and proceeded to spill what appear to be operational secrets about Israel’s cooperation, or lack thereof, in the killing.

The damage and potential violence that Trump’s utterances can summon from his supporters are very real. In August, the day after Trump posted “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” on his Truth Social account, a Texas woman left Chutkan a voicemail message in which she said, “If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, bitch.” While the Trump supporter, who was charged for making the threat, understood where Trump was coming from, the Trump camp played dumb and said his Truth Social post wasn’t about the case.

Assuming that Trump’s lawyers have briefed him on the rickety legal foundations of gag orders — the New York Times informs us that the Supreme Court has never ruled definitively on the scope of gag orders on defendants — we can guess that he’ll probe the soft tissue of the court orders, either with his usual blasts of bombast or by snipping at witnesses with a series of escalating taunts. Either judge could fine Trump, but because he’s so wealthy such justice would have the effect of swatting at a swarm of mosquitos with an open hand. They could put Trump under house arrest or — as fantastic as it might seem — even jail him in the middle of a presidential campaign if he goes absolutely wild.

Which he will. Orders not to attack judges, witnesses and prosecutors will have the same effect on Trump’s brain as telling him that it’s imperative that, for his own well-being, he not look into the fiery sun. The petulant child always disobeys. The petulant child always escalates. This petulant child will call the judges’ bluffs. Will they call his?

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer. He has written commentary about the media industry and politics for decades and was previously a columnist for Reuters and Slate.

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