In folklore and rhetoric, there’s a concept known as the “rule of three.” A trio of events, characters or ideas, the reasoning goes, is for some reason more engaging to the human mind than collections of two or four. The major crises that will define Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy and the rule of law over the course of his presidency have now reached that crucial number. First, there was the Russian election interference in 2016 and Trump’s efforts to overturn the investigation into it; second, Trump’s extortion of Ukraine in 2019, which led to his first impeachment; and finally, his incitement of a violent mob against the Capitol on January 6. From a storyteller’s perspective, the arc of Trump’s presidency is finally complete.
The crises share certain common elements. In each instance, Trump worked to cheat in an election and then turned the power of the presidency against those who resisted his wrongdoing or worked to uncover it. But as with any good story, there’s also a narrative trajectory. As Trump’s presidency progressed from a battle over Russian election interference to his subsequent efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into providing derogatory information on the then–presidential candidate Joe Biden during the Democratic primary, to a ploy to undermine faith in the 2020 election, his predations moved from being somewhat abstract or theoretical to startlingly concrete and proximate, even to those Americans who were at first sheltered from those abuses.