The last several months have seen former president Donald Trump dust off his tired strategy of stoking white nationalist sentiment, and this time he’s taking on the prosecutors.
He started with the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who is currently bringing charges against Trump over alleged hush money paid to former actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 elections.
Earlier this month on Truth Social, Trump declared: “The Racist Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, who is presiding over one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the US, and doing NOTHING about it, is being pushed … to bring charges against me for the now ancient ‘no affair’ story of Stormy ‘Horseface’ Danials [sic], where there is no crime and charges have NEVER been brought on such a case before.”
Next, he took aim at Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton county, Georgia, for working to stop potential state legislation that would undercut the discretion of DAs like her. Interestingly, Willis is also looking at filing racketeering and conspiracy charges, based on Trump’s role in pressuring Georgia lawmakers after his 2020 loss.
“The Racist District Attorney in Atlanta, Fani T Willis, one of the most dangerous and corrupt cities in the US, is now calling the Georgia Legislature, of course, RACIST, because they want to make it easier to remove and replace local rogue prosecutors who are incompetent, racist, or unable to properly do their job,” Trump wrote on 5 March.
The bill in question would create an oversight board within the Republican-led Georgia legislature that could punish or remove local prosecutors based on a seemingly vague set of criteria. Critics – including Willis – recognize the bill as an effort to stifle and push out prosecutors that Georgia Republicans deem too liberal.
The irony of Trump calling Willis racist – because she was calling out racism – feels almost too ridiculous to be real, but it’s the kind of legal, racial and political theater that has marked his most recent return to public politics.
Then there’s Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, who Trump took aim at after she announced a $250m lawsuit against him for fraud. “There is nothing that can be done to satisfy the racist attorney general of New York state, failed gubernatorial candidate Letitia James, or the New York state courts which are biased, unyielding and totally unfair,” Trump said in a statement. “This is a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in history, and it should not be allowed to continue.”
Trump’s accusations have a few things in common: none of them are supported by any kind of real evidence of racism; in all cases, he alludes to some kind of larger conspiracy; and, of course, all of the attorneys he is maligning are Black.
Black people can’t be racist. They simply do not possess the political, social or material power to enact the violence that racism seeks to do to those who suffer under it. Trump probably knows that. Still, one of the impacts of this rhetoric of anti-white racism is that it invites everyday Americans to see themselves as victims of a Black takeover.
This isn’t just absurd, it also lends credence to the far-right “white replacement theory” that underpins Trump’s political strategy.
Only about 6% of district attorneys in the country are Black. Trump is inflating the legal discretionary power of this handful of people, then extrapolating it to all Black Americans, effectively saying: “Watch out for those Blacks; they’re coming to get you.”
The political and racial maneuvering here is obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. In remarks late last month, Trump called prosecutors in New York, Atlanta and Washington “radical, vicious [and] racist”.
Now that’s a major projection if I’ve ever heard one.
Tayo Bero is a Guardian US contributing writer