In the face of Trump’s legal woes, he and his defenders claimed the Democrats had “weaponized our sacred system of justice” against him. The narrative is that his legal troubles are the result of the Democrats’ hatred of Trump, their desire to harm him and their intention to interfere in the 2024 election. While their defense condemns the weaponization of the legal system and they profess to love “sacred system of justice”, there is the matter of whether their profession of justice matches their conception of justice.

Trying to attribute a conception of justice to politicians and pundits is challenging. Unlike philosophers, they usually lack coherent written works outlining their theory of justice. As a practical matter, their conception of justice must be reconstructed from their claims and actions. Fairness requires pointing out the obvious: attributing a conception of justice to a politician or pundit involves considerable guesswork. Fairness also requires using the usual principle of charity and the principle of plausibility in this effort. That is, the reconstruction should not be a straw man and should instead be assembled to be the best conception possible. But the reconstruction must also match the available evidence, such as what is known about the person, their beliefs and so on. It must also be remembered that a politician or pundit might not have a substantial conception of justice.

A reasonable place to start is with the infamous chant of “lock her up.” While Trump’s defenders can insist this was campaign rhetoric aimed at Hilary Clinton, it is rhetoric about locking up a political opponent—and thus he seems to endorse using the justice system as a political weapon. But one could argue, this was not weaponization because although Clinton was Trump’s opponent, she was probably a criminal and hence should be locked up. But this would require evidence of wrongdoing.

Under Trump, the justice department conducted a two year investigation into Clinton’s business dealings and turned up nothing. Those defending Trump at this time did not condemn this as a witch hunt nor did they lament that it was the weaponization of the justice system. One could, of course, claim that this investigation was undertaken because of a thirst for justice and without any malice against Clinton and that there were good reasons to suspect Clinton had committed crimes warranting the investigation of Trump’s political opponent. Despite the lack of evidence.

Even before Biden defeated Trump, Republicans were focused on investigating Biden and his family. At the start of 2023, the House Republicans used their new majority to launch this promised investigation. To be fair, Hunter Biden has been under investigation since 2018 for allegedly  not reporting all his income and for allegedly lying  when he purchased a gun. However, the Republicans have largely ignored these allegations, focusing instead on various conspiracy theories and the Pandora’s box that is Hunter Biden’s laptop. On the face of it, the House Republicans seem to have been trying to take revenge against Joe Biden rather than being driven by a desire to see that sacred justice is done. In response to the indictment of Trump, Conservatives have pushed to charge Biden. This seems to be a clear attempt at political revenge (and theater) rather than an act of devotion to sacred justice. We should also look at Trump’s view of justice prior to his own indictment.

Back in 2017, Trump seemed to advocate that the police treat suspects with less care, focusing on the police practice of protecting the suspect’s head while putting them in police cars. These are, it must be noted, suspects who could be innocent. While this could be dismissed as Trump talking tough to appeal to the cruelty of his base, it does indicate his view of justice: that it is acceptable to mistreat suspects and casual cruelty is acceptable as a routine part of police operations.

Throughout his time as president, Trump made extensive use of the phrase “law and order.” While it could be argued that Trump is ignorant of the history of the term, that phrase has long been established as a racist dog whistle. The general idea is that it is a way of talking about using the police and justice system against black Americans (and others) to maintain “order.” This allows a politician to exploit fear and racism without using explicitly racist terms. While Trump’s defenders could claim that he is not engaged in dog whistling, Trump’s history of words and deeds indicates otherwise. Trump also made it clear that he was willing to use force, even the military, against protestors. Trump also repeatedly advocated weaponizing the justice system against those he disagreed with and his perceived enemies.

Given the above, the Trumpian conception of justice seems to be that the justice system has two main purposes. First, the justice system should be weaponized against minorities in general and especially when they threaten the existing social order of white supremacy. It should also be used to maintain the existing economic order. Second, the justice system should be weaponized against Trump’s political opponents and others he dislikes (if only for petty revenge). The justice system should, however, leave Trump alone and not hold him accountable for any (alleged) crimes.

While Trump and his defenders might seem to be inconsistent when they claim that the justice system has been weaponized against Trump and that this is wrong while they clearly see the justice system as a weapon. But this is consistent: it is right for them to wield the justice system against others, it is wrong for it to be wielded against them.

While it is tempting to think that Trump and his defenders are lying when they say Democrats are weaponizing the justice system against Trump, I suspect Trump and many of his defenders are sincere. Not because they are right, but because their conception of justice is that the legal system is a weapon to be used against others. Any other conception of justice would be outside of their conceptual framework.  It might even be true that the idea that anyone would want people held accountable for their misdeeds would be an alien notion to them

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