Former President Donald Trump attacked The Atlantic and its publisher and majority owner, Laurene Powell Jobs, a billionaire philanthropist who is the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. On Saturday, Trump posted a diatribe on his money-losing Truth Social platform.
He did not specify which article in the magazine upset him so much. But last Wednesday, Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. and Jr., wrote an op-ed for The Atlantic titled: “Have You Listened Lately to What Trump Is Saying?”
In the piece, Wehner described Trump’s rhetoric at recent campaign rallies as “clearly fascistic” and anti-Christian. Wehner, a Christian conservative, concluded that by supporting Trump, “far too many Christians in America are not only betraying their humanity; they are betraying the Lord they claim to love and serve.”
Trump posted this on his Truth Social platform:
It’s so good to see how badly the THIRD RATE MAGAZINE, The Atlantic, is doing.
It’s failing at a level seldom seen before, even in the Publishing Business. False and Fake stories do it every time! They’ve got a rich person funding the ridiculous losses, but at some point, rich people get smart also. Steve Jobs would not be proud of his wife, Laurene, and the way she is spending his money. The Radical Left is destroying America!”
It’s not the first time that Trump has gone after Powell Jobs. In September 2020, Trump got angry after The Atlantic published a story by its editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg that cited four anonymous sources as saying Trump called Americans who fought and died in World War I “losers” and “suckers.”
In October 2023, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general whose son was killed by a landmine in Afghanistan, went on the record with CNN to confirm details of Goldberg’s story. But back in September 2020, Trump posted this on what was then known as Twitter:
Trump’s tweet was responding to a post by Charlie Kirk, who has become a millionaire heading the conservative pro-Trump youth group, Turning Point.
While Powell Jobs has not responded directly to Trump, she has put her money where her mouth is by donating generously—to the tune of more than $900,000—to Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Powell Jobs founded the Emerson Collective after she inherited billions of dollars of stock in Apple and Disney after her husband died of pancreatic cancer in 2011. In 2023, Forbes ranked her as the eighth richest woman in the U.S. with a fortune estimated at $13.4 billion.
The Emerson Collective is a social change organization dealing with such issues as education, immigration reform, the environment, health care, and media. In 2017, it purchased a majority stake in The Atlantic, which was founded in 1857 by prominent abolitionists, including writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.
But Wehner is no liberal. He is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Christian who served as a speechwriter and senior adviser to President George W. Bush. But he became one of the first senior Republicans to see the dangers posed by a Trump presidency and wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in January 2016 titled: “Why I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump.” He said he would vote for “a responsible third-party alternative.”
And Wehner has only grown more alarmed about Trump’s threat to American democracy, which he expressed in last week’s op-ed. Wehner began by relating how political leaders of the Hutu ethnic group cultivated hatred toward the minority Tutsis in Rwanda by singling them out in rhetoric “as less than human,” eventually leading to the 1994 genocide in which an estimated 1 million people were killed, mostly Tutsis. He noted that one influential Hutu political leader referred to the Tutsi as “vermin.”
And Wehner said that he thought about the events leading to the Rwandan genocide when he heard Trump refer to his enemies as “vermin” in a Veterans Day speech. Trump said in Claremont, New Hampshire:
“We pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country—that lie and steal and cheat on elections. They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American dream. The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”
Trump’s rhetoric is a permission slip for his supporters to dehumanize others just as he does. He portrays others as existential threats, determined to destroy everything MAGA world loves about America. Trump is doing two things at once: pushing the narrative that his enemies must be defeated while dissolving the natural inhibitions most human beings have against hating and harming others. It signals to his supporters that any means to vanquish the other side is legitimate; the normal constraints that govern human interactions no longer apply. …
That is the wickedly shrewd rhetorical and psychological game that Trump is playing, and he plays it very well. Alone among American politicians, he has an intuitive sense of how to inflame detestations and resentments within his supporters while also deepening their loyalty to him, even their reverence for him.
After citing Trump’s numerous anti-democracy excesses, Wehner called out those in the Republican Party who, though they know better, have accommodated themselves to “a profoundly damaged human being, emotionally and psychologically.”
And he also expressed alarm about the continuing overwhelming support among white evangelical Protestants, one of the GOP’s most loyal constituencies, for Trump and MAGA world. He noted that in one survey, nearly one-third of white evangelicals expressed support for the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
It is a rather remarkable indictment of those who claim to be followers of Jesus that they would continue to show fealty to a man whose cruel ethic has always been antithetical to Jesus’s and becomes more so every day. Many of the same people who celebrate Christianity’s contributions to civilization—championing the belief that every human being has inherent rights and dignity, celebrating the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan, and pointing to a “transcendent order of justice and hope that stands above politics,” in the words of my late friend Michael Gerson—continue to stand foursquare behind a man who uses words that echo Mein Kampf.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Taking a stand for conscience, even long after one should have, is always the right thing to do.
in his op-ed, Wehner also mentioned how Trump once described the press as “truly the enemy of the people.” And he recalled that Trump once demanded that the parent company of MSNBC and NBC be investigated for “treason” over what he described as “one-side[d] and vicious coverage.” Trump’s Truth Social post on Saturday lashing out at The Atlantic and its publisher, Powell Jobs, by name has to be seen in that context.
On Monday morning, Wehner appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” After host Joe Scarborough sharply criticized Trump’s threatening rhetoric as “evil,” Wehner piled on about the disgraced former president who remains the GOP presidential front-runner despite two impeachments and four criminal indictments.
"There is a long history of this dehumanization, these passions consuming people, including people of faith. That's why I think there has to be such a pushback from others, to try, in a sense, to shake them and say, 'Do you know what you're doing? Do you know what you're a part of? You've jettisoned everything you claim to most cherish in your life to make inner peace with this man who is a sociopath, an unfiltered sociopath.'
"And he is undisguised … in who he is and what he wants to do. That not only pushes them away, but it brings them toward him. It is just a sickening episode in the history of American politics and the history of American Christianity."