OPINION: The 'Revenge Tour' will find everyone

Heading home recently on Tudor Road in Anchorage, I pulled up behind a small sedan covered in bumper stickers, the most prominent of which read: “TRUMP 2024: THE REVENGE TOUR.” If re-elected, former President Donald Trump has long promised to go after his enemies using all the vast resources at his disposal, including the U.S. military. The driver’s apparent delight in supporting this proposed abuse of power got me thinking about what a successful “revenge tour” might look like. Sadly, I don’t have to use my imagination. Plenty of other countries offer examples of what happens when authoritarian leaders direct their wrath towards all who dare to disagree or refuse to bend to their will. It’s called repression, and it’s brutal.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny died this week in an Arctic penal colony, likely killed because he was a prominent, admired, and effective critic of the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other vocal opponents of the regime have been killed or jailed. Anyone viewed as a threat to Putin remains at risk, and one doesn’t have to be prominent to feel his grip. Thousands of ordinary Russians have suffered imprisonment and harsh treatment for expressing opposition to the war in Ukraine, and more are now being incarcerated for peacefully mourning Navalny’s death. Putin’s revenge campaign against his enemies has, by all reports, been widely effective in shutting down dissent of any kind.

Recent events are by no means the first instances of Russians suffering under a totalitarian government that exacts revenge against those who fall out of favor. A former Soviet political prisoner named Boris stayed with my family in Fairbanks years ago while on a speaking tour for an international human rights organization. A visual artist, Boris was imprisoned for years in a Siberian labor camp for creating art that authorities found objectionable. He counted himself lucky because he was able to flee into exile. Many of his contemporaries never came home from the gulags. Decades earlier, an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens lost their lives to executions, mass killings, and other atrocities during the reign of terror imposed by dictator Joseph Stalin, who saw his enemies everywhere and didn’t hesitate to wipe them out.

Russia is, of course, not the only regime that has perpetrated revenge campaigns. My family also hosted Carlos, a young man from Argentina who was imprisoned and tortured during the “dirty war” there in the late 1970s. A university student, Carlos was arrested with hundreds of others in a crackdown on suspected “leftists,” then held without charge or trial because the ruling military junta viewed them as enemies of the state. An estimated 30,000 innocent Argentinians lost their lives during the dirty war, including hundreds who were tossed to the seas from aircraft while still alive, their bodies never found. Another time, we helped host Jackie, a young woman from Rwanda who visited after the 1994 genocide campaign in her country claimed the lives of more than 800,000 people. Ethnic Hutu leaders orchestrated the killings of their perceived enemies, the minority ethnic Tutsis, and used the government’s control over the media, law enforcement and military to foment their ruthless campaign. A Tutsi, Jackie offered a cautionary tale about how quickly tragedy arises when leaders fan the flames of hatred and revenge.

Americans tempted to dismiss as light-hearted or harmless Trump’s promise of a “revenge tour” should take these stories to heart. Recent years have shown that our deeply polarized country is as susceptible as anywhere to calls to violence. Now we have a ringleader eager to light the fuse. Whether launching attacks on public officials that lead to intimidation and death threats, threatening mayhem if he is held accountable by the courts, or encouraging those who stormed the capitol at his behest, the former president has advocated harm to anyone who crosses him. He has shown us who he is, and we need to believe him.

Trump is also crystal clear about his admiration for the world’s strongmen — leaders like Putin who claim absolute control and crush any efforts to limit their power. When he promises to rule like them, we need to believe him on this point as well. His personal enemies will become public enemies, at his discretion only, and he will neutralize or ignore any laws designed to protect them. Who will be ensnared in the net he casts? When you’re an accomplished liar, you go after those who would tell the truth. When you’re a fraudulent businessman and politician, you go after those who would expose your crimes. When you’re a wannabe dictator, you go after those who stand up for democracy and the rule of law. When you’re a troubled human being with a sensitive ego, a well-honed sense of victimhood and no empathy for others, you go after just about anyone. Supporters who believe they’re immune because they profess their love and praise for him today will be as vulnerable as the rest of us. Just ask the many former Trump associates who now find themselves in his crosshairs.

Driving down Tudor Road behind the car with the “revenge tour” bumper sticker, it saddened me that any American would choose such a dangerous and heartbreaking future for our country. I’m reminded of the old proverb: “One who pursues revenge should dig two graves.” Revenge doesn’t bring justice; it brings more harm. Revenge doesn’t heal wounds; it makes them deeper. Revenge doesn’t restore; it destroys. The “revenge tour” would lay to waste so many things we cherish: our freedom, our security and our democracy itself. How tragic for all of us if we don’t seize the opportunity to stop it while we still can.


Barbara Hood is a retired attorney and businesswoman who lives in Anchorage.

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