Donald Trump has been slapped with a superseding indictment in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, and is expecting to be indicted with another round of charges in the federal January 6 case. Between all of that, the Georgia elections case, and the Manhattan indictment for falsifying business records, the former president could be defending against four criminal cases during the election cycle, all of which carry prison time. But Trump vowed this week to stay in the race, no matter what his legal situation is.
That’s not a surprise, argued Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University history professor and the author of multiple books on fascism and autocrats, on MSNBC Friday.
“Your reaction to Trump saying, I’m running no matter what, indictments and convictions be damned?” asked anchor Katie Phang.
“Well, yeah, it’s completely normal for authoritarians to run for office with legal troubles,” said Ben-Ghiat. “I mean, think about it. He has invested years at building himself up as the defender of the nation. Also the victim. But the defender of the nation. I alone can fix it. What choice does he have? He can’t just drop out, because he is a cult leader. He’s invested also many years having this very special bond of loyalty with his followers. If he steps away, he becomes irrelevant, he disappoints them.”
But that’s not the only reason, Ben-Ghiat continued — he also wants to use the power of the presidency to quash his own legal problems, another thing strongmen in other countries have done frequently. “Berlusconi ran in Italy three times under investigation,” she said. “Putin initially was under investigation. In Israel there’s big drama now, Netanyahu’s been indicted for bribery and other charges and he got back into power and they always become more extreme when they come back, if they have a hurry to vindicate themselves. And now he’s trying to control the judicial system.”
“This is why Trump has an army of operatives now working,” added Ben-Ghiat. “There was a New York Times story, they’re working to kind of have a whole plan when he comes in to purge the civil service and take control — they’d like to — the judiciary, the FBI, anything that threatens him. Because authoritarians need to feel safe. And the purpose of government for them is to be able to commit crimes with impunity.”
Ruth Ben-Ghiat says Trump is a “cult leader” who can’t back down