A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Donald Trump and Revenge: A Love Story
By David Corn November 11, 2023
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023, where he declared, “I am your retribution.” Evan Vucci/AP
I’ve written this multiple times in the past eight years: Donald Trump is a revenge junkie who has repeatedly proclaimed that one of his main motivations in life is vengeance.
Why do I again bring this up? A few days ago, the Washington Post published a much-noticed article reporting that Trump and his allies “have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute.” That list includes people who worked for him and became critics, including former chief of staff John Kelly, former Attorney General Bill Barr, and retired Gen. Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as President Joe Biden and Biden’s family. The piece—headlined “Trump and allies plot revenge, Justice Department control in a second term”—caused a to-do, with commentators pointing to it as more evidence of Trump’s extremism and authoritarian yearnings.
This was important news for the Washington Post to expose. But, in a way, it’s an old story, though one that has never sufficiently registered. Trump has always been fixated on revenge. This is a dangerous and fundamental character trait that I’ve been trying to draw attention to for a long while.
During the 2016 campaign, I dug up videos of lectures and public talks that Trump had given in which he discussed what he considered to be the reasons for his success. (He didn’t mention the millions of dollars he inherited from his parents.) I reported:
Trump has repeatedly expressed his fondness for retribution. In 2011, he addressed the National Achievers Congress in Sydney, Australia, to explain how he had achieved his success. He noted there were a couple of lessons not taught in business school that successful people must know. At the top of the list was this piece of advice: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”
This “get even” bit was a major part of his shtick when Trump spoke about his career. In a 2012 speech, he offered a longer version of this riff:
One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important…The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can’t take advantage of you. It’s not so much for the person, which does make you feel good, to be honest with you, I’ve done it many times. But other people watch and you know they say, “Well, let’s leave Trump alone,” or “Let’s leave this one,” or “Doris, let’s leave her alone. They fight too hard.” I say it, and it’s so important. You have to, you have to hit back. You have to hit back.
In a 2007 speech, he described his first rule of business:
It’s called “Get Even.” Get even. This isn’t your typical business speech. Get even. What this is [is] a real business speech. You know in all fairness to Wharton, I love ’em, but they teach you some stuff that’s a lot of bullshit. When you’re in business, you get even with people that screw you. And you screw them 15 times harder. And the reason is, the reason is, the reason is, not only, not only, because of the person that you’re after, but other people watch what’s happening. Other people see you or see you or see and they see how you react.
I could provide more examples, but you get the drift. As I pointed out back then, Trump is a man completely obsessed with revenge. It’s a psychological compulsion that possibly stretches back to his childhood. And it’s long been hypothesized that Trump primarily ran for president in 2016 to get even with Barack Obama, after the 44th president roasted him at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
I continued to write about Trump and revenge throughout his presidency. (See here and here.) This deep-rooted attachment to personal retribution goes hand in hand with his profound narcissism. For instance, during the Covid pandemic—when he constantly fretted about what the crisis meant for him—he often appeared to be more interested in personal grudges than tending to the needs of the public.
It's not a shocker that Trump’s restoration crusade is propelled by payback. But unlike his White House days, when he ranted like a mad king for vengeance—“where’s my Roy Cohn,” he shouted at aides during the Trump-Russia investigation—and was far too undisciplined to effectively pursue his antagonists, this time around he is plotting deliberately with henchmen (and henchwomen?) about how to even the score with his foes. The scheme has a name: Project 2025. As I wrote not long ago, this operation consists of dozens of conservative outfits—led by the Heritage Foundation—which have banded together to produce a blueprint for a wannabe-White-House-autocrat.
Their plan is a roadmap for a Trump revenge-a-thon. It calls for removing protections for federal employees so perhaps as many as 50,000 could be fired by Trump and his lieutenants and replaced with Trump loyalists. The group also proposes allowing the White House to exert more direct control over the criminal investigations of the Justice Department, which would allow Trump to order his underlings to prosecute his critics and opponents. In 2016, he encouraged chants of “lock her up.” Now he wants to figure out how to do so.
The Washington Post and the New York Times, even prior to this recent article on how Trump and his crew are working to make his revenge fantasies real, have covered his intentions to impose authoritarian measures should he again reach the White House. It ought not be a surprise that he will deploy such tools to smite his enemies (real and imagined). He’s even been boasting of this. Talking to Univision this week, Trump insisted that the current prosecutions targeting him afford him cause to weaponize the Justice Department if he returns to the White House. He exclaimed, “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say ‘Go down and indict them.’ They’d be out of business. They’d be out of the election.” This is a reflection of Trump’s narcissistic and paranoid view of the world: People are out to get me, and I’m going to screw ‘em bad.
Power and vengeance do not make for a good mix. Compared to his first tour in the White House, a second Trump term would likely see him more focused on amassing power and more concentrated on extracting vengeance. This ought to be a top campaign issue. Last March, at a campaign rally in Waco, Texas, Trump proclaimed to his adoring fans, “I am your retribution.” What he most ardently seeks is to be his own retribution.
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Next GOP Move on Abortion: Minority Rule.
The election results this week sent the Republicans a clear message: If you want to continue your crusade to restrict women’s freedom, you will have to impose minority rule. Some Rs seem just fine with that. The returns in Ohio, Virginia, and elsewhere showed—once again—that a majority of Americans prefer to let women decide for themselves whether to continue or end a pregnancy. That means that those who wish to take this choice away must overcome a significant hurdle and find a work-around to democracy.
After 57 percent of Ohio citizens voted for Issue 1, which guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion, the Ohio House speaker, Jason Stephens, a Republican, declared, “I remain steadfastly committed to protecting life, and that commitment is unwavering. The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life. This is not the end of the conversation.” In other words, he will seek to rig the system so majority sentiment doesn’t prevail. This fits nicely with the overall conservative project to manipulate the mechanics of politics—via gerrymandering, denying election results, voter suppression, and more—to keep Republicans in power. I wrote about all that here.
After my story appeared, 27 of 67 Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives signed a statement echoing Stephens, noting that they will “do everything in our power” to circumvent Issue 1 and “protect the most vulnerable in our state.”
Remember when Republicans opposed Roe v. Wade and said, let the states decide? Well, not really. They don’t want to respect popular opinion on this issue of conscience. They want to force their will on the rest of us.
Dumbass Comment of the Week
Once again, there were far too many contenders from the Republican presidential debate. The judges are handing out participation trophies to all five of the non-Trumpers who were on that stage.
For a non-debate comment, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a back-of-the-packer in the Republican 2024 contest, was a nominee this week. After Republican Daniel Cameron lost to incumbent Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, Christie opined, “Daniel Cameron made a huge mistake by embracing Donald Trump and selling his soul to him. And that’s what he did. And the voters of Kentucky, a very red state, as you noted, gave their verdict on politicians who sold their soul to Donald Trump.”
Christie has been running as the anti-Trump alternative, decrying the former president as a scoundrel and cheat who deserves all his indictments and who could end up in the hoosegow. But given that he endorsed Trump in 2016, it takes a lot of chutzpah for Christie to denounce anyone else for selling his or her soul to Trump. Christie helped turn the GOP into a Trump personality cult. Running for president is hardly penance for that.
Peter Meijer was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after Trump incited the January 6 riot. And he paid the price. Last year, he faced a Trump devotee in a primary contest in his home state of Michigan and lost. Now he’s one of several Republicans in the state running for US senator, and he’s become quite the contortionist. Asked this week about his impeachment vote, he replied:
I stand by it. My regret is that we had to have the vote in the first place, and obviously I regret not being in the 118th Congress when we actually had a Republican majority and could move forward to have that same degree of accountability brought toward President Biden, who has done far greater things to bring disgrace to that office. But again, my view on January 6 comes from being there, comes from the frustration I felt at seeing an embarrassment both at home rivaled only by the Afghanistan withdrawal that came a short eight months later in terms of damaging our credibility on the national stage. When it comes to 2024, I am going to support the Republican nominee. That’s going to make a lot of the Lincoln Project and Never Trump folks very, very unhappy.
Meijer was saying that Biden has been more a disgrace to the presidency than the guy who tried to mount a coup and sparked an insurrectionist attack on the US Capitol—and that he will support this fellow whom he voted to impeach. Meijer must really miss Congress a lot to make such a fool of himself.
Once again—sorry—Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made it into the running. She tweeted:
Israel is literally dominating in their war with Hamas after being brutally attacked killing thousands of innocent people, and not one single American dollar has been spent on that war yet. Just think about that.
Think about it? The United States sends Israel $3.8 billion a year in military assistance. That’s about one-sixth of Israel’s entire military budget. Many American dollars have been used by its army to buy the weaponry it has been using for the strikes in Gaza that have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. Perhaps Greene was trying to suggest that Ukraine could get by in its war against Russia without US assistance. But displaying brazen ignorance—or lying brazenly—is usually not the best way to win an argument.
Fox host Greg Gutfeld, once again, had an easy time making it to the finals this week. Mansplaining abortion, he declared that women choose abortions because they fear that becoming a parent will drastically transform their life, and he dismissed this fear: “Abortion is based on a fear that is greater than the actual reality… Talk to somebody who had a baby and think about how they were before they had the baby.”
Gutfeld thought this point was so clever that he wrote it down. In the video, you can see him reading these remarks off a prepared text. This boneheaded observation—that women who seek abortions are just being silly scaredy-cats and should get over it—was no accident or unintended gaffe. I wonder if he did any research on this point. Well, of course, he didn’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control, six in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. These women are quite familiar with the transformation that comes with giving birth.
Gutfeld came so close to taking the prize, but in a narrow decision among the judges, he lost to fellow Fox host Harris Faulkner. Piling on Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American representative in the House—who was censured for remarks she made about the Hamas-Israel conflict—Faulkner said:
If Rashida Tlaib is really brokenhearted about Palestinians, what in the world is she saying to the leaders of Pakistan? They have just expelled 1.7 million Palestinians with nowhere to go… The scarf doesn’t tell me how she feels. Her actions do. Call Pakistan. Get a home for your people.
The Pakistani government ordered the expulsion of about 1.7 million Afghan refugees, not Palestinians. Oops. It looks like Faulkner was so hopped up to slam Tlaib she couldn’t bother to factcheck or even wonder, Were there really that many Palestinians in Pakistan? (Wikipedia tells us there are only a total of 400 to 500 Palestinians in Pakistan.)
Faulkner’s victory reminded me of this:
I recently noted that no subject stirs as much mail as the war in the Middle East. But House Speaker Mike Johnson topped that. The mailroom was flooded with missives in response to my scoop about Johnson, a Christian fundamentalist, encouraging his fellow parishioners to apply a religious test to political candidates.
Prucia Buscell wrote:
The Bible is so vast and diverse that scholars and laymen can find just about anything they want in it, and they can justify actions ranging from the most violent and vengeful to the most generous, self-sacrificing, kind, and benevolent. What are Johnson's documented "biblical truths?"
Rick Signorelli emailed:
Just read your frightening article on Mike Johnson and his religious beliefs. Why do Christians wave the Old Testament of the Bible in your face when Christianity did not begin until the death and resurrection of Jesus—so that Christianity had nothing to do with the Old Testament? People like Johnson frighten me. I am a Catholic but believe people have the right to choose their own religion. Find the wonderful episode of West Wing when the terrific Martin Sheen as President Bartlet starts quoting the Old Testament to a televangelist to point out the inconvenient hypocrisy and inhumane passages that evangelicals try to ignore. Please keep up your wonderful work, and whether you believe or not, God bless you.
Thank you, Rick. I will always accept a blessing. And your wish came true, thanks to Patricia Jaeger, who shared this:
I agree that people are free to practice their religious beliefs as they see fit. But as you note in today's newsletter, they are not free to legislate their religious beliefs. Whenever I see anyone quoting the Bible to push their own agenda, two things come to mind. One, they're hiding their personal hatred behind God believing that they can't be questioned because God protects them. And two, this clip from the West Wing.
That is a classic.
Mary Carpenter observed:
As a Christian, and a Democrat, and the mother of a queer daughter, I find Mike Johnson reprehensible. The Bible warns of “false prophets.” Isn't that just what Johnson is? How is his radical fundamentalism different from radical fundamentalists in other parts of the world. Can you say "Taliban?"
Nick Vollendorf emailed:
You say, “Johnson is a happy warrior—albeit an intolerant one who believes that only he and his fellow faith-keepers possess the truth and deserve access to power.” If that’s true how can he support Trump?
The ways of God are mysterious.
Ray D’Alonzo had a criticism:
I read your article about Mike Johnson with interest. I am a Catholic who grew up in a Philadelphia Jewish neighborhood, I believe in diversity and our constitution. While I do not agree with the fundamental Baptist interpretation of the Bible, I recognize that there are many fundamentalists in our land of different faiths including Catholics and Jews. Many fundamentalists hold important positions and elected offices. Mr. Johnson is not the only one. I don't like singling out an individual for his or her faith or religious beliefs or lack of beliefs. I do think however that rendering an opinion of their governing record and policies is a helpful thing to do. Broadcasting opinions of others' religious beliefs only fuels hatred and division from the start and robs us of the opportunity to seek an understanding of governing policies with less bias. Our government is one of checks and balances, and I have faith that its design keeps extreme beliefs in check.
I understand Ray’s point: We should judge elected officials by their policy opinions, not their religious beliefs. But in this case, Johnson told us that to understand him, we must understand his interpretation of the Bible: “I am a Bible-believing Christian. Someone asked me today in the media, they said, 'People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?' I said, 'Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.' That's my worldview." Consequently, that’s what I and others have done. His political stance—only what’s in the Bible is a legitimate view—warrants scrutiny. As for believing that checks and balances keeping extremism in line, that may also be a matter of faith.
Our Land received a ton of mail from people who passionately denounced the edition on Johnson. It seems some person or group encouraged a write-in campaign, but, if so, I couldn’t figure out the source. Here’s a small sampling of that large response.
Linda Weyland wrote:
Why is it a problem if a person has a faith that brings hope and joy in life and death? Who loves his neighbor, cares for those in need, is generous in giving, cares for the welfare of his community, honors his parents, and respects others property. Most people would want to be around those with similar attributes and elect to office those with the same views. Maybe you need to look at yourself if you find decency a problem.
Elizabeth Shafer observed:
First, thank you so much for getting your story out there! Mike Johnson is totally and equivocally correct. This world is a complete mess due to Satan having a field day with unbelievers. God bless our new speaker for standing up for what is moral, decent, the truth, and without a doubt, a godly man.
I don't know what your beliefs are, but I pray that you as a journalist will understand that this man first of all has the balls to state the truth and getting his message out at the beginning of his term which is awesome! I will sleep well tonight after reading your article quoting Mike Johnson's words and also knowing that he is second in line of presidential succession! (My dad was a journalist and also wrote for the Wall Street Journal and La Vie and was editor of the Daily Trojan (USC) and friends with Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill.)
Sam Crane complained:
The left's belief is that there are no absolute truths only relative or personal truths. So, of course, you would label anyone who believes in the Bible as an extremist. The results of the leftist world view that anything goes are very apparent. The world is awash with drug addiction, sexual abuse, human trafficking, homosexuality, transgenderism, pedophilia, slavery, and every other evil the human mind can conceive. Adherence to a biblical world view would eliminate all these problems.
Georg Friedrich von Zajic was less polite:
Just leave our newly appointed speaker, Mr. Johnson, alone you damn, fucking left loser, burn in hell you POS!!!
He sounds like a nice Christian.
The Reverend William Bradford chimed in:
Mr. Johnson is actually right about one thing: Jesus is the ONLY WAY (John 14:6), and all other religions are false. Too bad you will learn this too late when you stand before God on Judgment Day and He asks you, “Why did you reject believing in My Son?”
I’d be happy to bet the reverend on this point. But I don’t think either of us will be able to collect.
“That’s a big buck, Moxie. Are you going to bark at him?
“No, what would that accomplish?”
“It might let him know he can’t stroll about your neighborhood, ruining our gardens, with impunity.”
“He looks lonely. Maybe next time.”
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
November 7, 2023: Can we doomscroll to peace in the Middle East; Mike Johnson in the Holy Land; “Now and Then” more Lennon than Beatles; the meta rock world of Daisy Jones & the Six; and more.
November 4, 2023: How the Hamas-Israel war threatens American democracy; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jared Kushner); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 31, 2023: Scoop: Mike Johnson urged a religious test for politicians; Michael J. Fox can’t sit still in his new documentary; U2 goes atomic; and more.
October 28, 2023: Leonard Leo and the Deep State on the right; recent news about Mitt Romney and Mike Johnson; Dumbass Comment of the Week (House Republicans); the Mailbag; and more.
October 24, 2023: Imagine Trump in charge during the Hamas-Israel war; Steve Bannon and Alex Jones conspiracy-mongering together; a Jim Jordan tale; George Santos speaks; and more.
October 21, 2023: Biden and Netanyahu’s delicate dance; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ari Fleischer); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
October 18, 2023: No blank check for Bibi; the strange trip of Asteroid City; Devon Gilfillian gives us a closer with “Love You Anyway”; and more.
October 14, 2023: Jim Jordan’s threat to democracy; from George Santos scoop to indictment; the day the GOP died; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Nancy Mace); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
October 11, 2023: The Hamas-Israel war—what can be discussed?; The Bear makes you care; Native Americans at the National Gallery of Art; and more.
October 7, 2023: How our George Santos scoop ended up in the criminal case; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.