Here is the essence of the Trump Trap. For critics, not speaking out against his provocations could be reasonably interpreted as complicity or cowardice. Speaking out, however, gives those provocations the centrality upon which the Trump movement depends. It’s an old phenomenon. What’s new is the pandemic, which looked for a while like it might make Trump’s brand of politics obsolete. Instead, it has proven the adaptability and durability of Trumpism. His immediate predecessor, like many other Democrats and much of the media, has ratified the achievement.

Obama’s return this month is a good window also into an underappreciated dynamic of the Trump years…

It’s often said that Trump’s brand of politics requires him to identify enemies—people want to see who he’s against. What’s overlooked is Trump’s brand of politics requires other people to identify him as the enemy. There’s never a shortage of volunteers, and none more prestigious than a former Democratic president widely respected by his party. Democrats were pleased to hear Obama’s words of condemnation. But Trump was even more pleased. No one could doubt that Obama sincerely believed his comparatively mild rebuke of Trump. No one really doubts that whether Trump believes his broadsides against Obama is secondary to his true objective of drawing lines and creating the kind of chaos in which he has previously thrived.