On Monday America tests the paradox of tolerance — how much is too much?

Vince Rizzo
6 min readApr 20, 2024

I miss Mama Cass and her mates who made up the wonderful 60’s band The Mamas and the Papas. While everyone remembers California Dreamin’ as their breakout hit, Monday, Monday was their first #1 song after Dreamin’ charted at #4. For many of us, the music of that era reserves a special place in our memories even as the soundtrack of our lives has been reduced to background for new drug commercials- endearing earworms like a time-release dose of comfort. Bah-da bah-da-da-da

Monday, April 22 may become a historical marker taking on a significance like other date-related events — 9/11 and J6. 4/22 is the day that the ex-president of the United States sits before a jury charged with a criminal complaint when we test the paradox of tolerance. How much is too much, what is too little? It describes the razor’s edge our democracy has chosen to live on:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

― Karl Raimund Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

Popper here is arguing against the argument made in Plato’s Republic in which Plato argues that unchecked freedom leads inevitably to tyranny. Trump who is most likely unacquainted with Plato or his thoughts on freedom is the ancient philosopher’s worst-case scenario.

With Judge Juan Merchan’s announcement, “We have a jury” the saga of Trump criminal trials begins. This one, the one about the candidate and the porn star, Stormy Daniels aka Stephanie Clifford, is mostly embarrassing on the surface. She compares his body part to a toadstool. He counters by name calling her “horseface.” Frankly, his description of her reeks of projection and mistaking one end of the animal for the other.

Once the evidence gets beyond the personal, however, the scandal is much darker than the brief encounter between a porn star and the star of the TV series The Apprentice. The meeting between the two was posed as a “job interview” for an appearance on the television show. The Apprentice, which had a successful 14-year run on NBC until the host himself was fired over his vile characterization of Mexican immigrants in his candidacy announcement, cast Trump as a successful businessman testing the business skills of teams of prospective entrepreneurs. As absurd as the premise appears today, the program had an audience. Under the pretense of securing an appearance on the NBC program, Daniels met Trump in July 2006. The “interview” evolved into a consensual encounter that lasted about four hours. Daniels’ account includes a telling detail, about a month after their interview, the porn star received a phone call informing her that the appearance was not happening. Contrast the Daniels account with a similar one from Summer Zervos who told a similar story of being accosted by Trump in connection with an interview for a job opportunity related to her appearance as an “apprentice” on the program:

Ms. Zervos is one of several women who came forward to accuse the incoming 45th president of sexual assault after the October release of a 2005 videotape in which he is heard making lewd comments about groping women.

The 41-year-old former reality show contestant said Mr. Trump had sexually assaulted her during a meeting to discuss job opportunities at a Beverly Hills hotel.

She said he “began thrusting his genitals” as she fended off his advances.

BBC News, “Trump sued for defamation by former Apprentice Summer Zervos”

Daniels’ and Zervos’ experience compared to that of E. Jean Carroll who won a $91 million suit against Trump in a recent Manhattan courtroom sets a pattern of the serial sexual abuser ensnaring his victims with empty promises. Indeed, Trump has been named by more than two dozen women for similar assaults.

The case brought by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg is about the consequences of a lifetime of debauchery and fraud. He cheated on spouses as liberally as he cheated creditors and partners. Trump’s history as a sexual predator was inconvenient in 2015 when he decided to run for president. According to USA Today, Daniels’ story was first told to In Touch magazine in 2011 but never published at the time because of legal threats to the magazine that were brought by Michael Cohen, Trump lawyer and fixer. Daniels added a bit more context in her March 25, 2018, 60 Minutes interview which aired in 2018:

The adult film actress provided little new evidence of her alleged 2006 affair with Trump but said she faced intimidation tactics aimed at ensuring her silence in 2011.

Daniels said that in the incident, in a parking lot, the man told her: “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.” She said he then looked at her daughter and said, “That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

- Porn star reveals details about alleged encounter with Trump” by Ken Thomas and Kevin Freking, Associated Press

This is the context for the criminal case that ties the $130,000 payment to Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential election. Daniels’ story is a troublesome confirmation of Trump’s misogynist tendencies revealed in the Access Hollywood tape released a month before election day. If Daniels wasn’t silenced, Trump correctly foresees the fallout which played out in 2018 after Daniels’ 60 Minutes interview and in the wake of the 2017 Me Too movement sparked by the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. After 60 Minutes the floodgates opened on Trump’s abuse of women as Daniels began a drumbeat of accusations that included Zervos, Carroll, and up to 26 additional women who have followed.

Trump is being charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with 34 counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree. The charges shroud the tawdry underpinnings of the case. Pundits want to remind us of the important but pedestrian aspects of the case, that it is about fraud and election interference. Sex scandals are juicier. This case has both- and the arguments that portray it as one or the other miss the point. The person who defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 was a pretender. He was a failed businessman, an unskilled politician, and a serial philanderer. Hardly attributes that would help defeat a more competent opponent like Clinton. Access Hollywood exposed Trump by shining a light on what even he felt at the time was an embarrassment. Even worse, however, it exposed the nation as well. A good part of us didn’t mind what was then considered “locker room” language and didn’t find it disqualifying. The misogynistic serial fraudster who captured the imagination of America’s underbelly invited discord and chaos into the political process. He gilded tawdry and raised incompetence to a fine art. Trump energized by the opportunity to lead a movement of his own revealed the weaknesses of the American movement. Democracies thrive because of their tolerance for aberrations to conformity.

The Founders inhumanely tolerated slavery, our constitution stretches tolerance to protect hated speech, and our courts demand equal justice for the most heinous criminals and their crimes while tolerating the vagaries of a jury verdict or the glitch of a technicality to overturn reason. Trump’s America has seized upon our tolerance and is testing its limits.

On Monday, the rest of America gets an opportunity to fight back. Donald Trump has thrived on our tolerance of his behavior for years. His “successes” have largely been at others’ expense. He has learned to game the system by his understanding that the system has chosen the courts to rein in what we as a society have to allow to avoid intolerance that open societies have rejected. If the courts buckle, Popper’s argument with Plato fails. Trump and his ilk love tolerance unless they have to practice it.

On Monday, tolerance gets to prove that it bends, but only so much. Judge Merchan presides over a case about election fraud and underhanded business practices. Still, it is also about our willingness to accept — our tolerance for — the depraved testing of democratic limits that has dogged our nation since Trump was first elected. A Trump worldview is intolerant of the rights of others. Autocrats hide their weakness with unbridled power and self-indulgence. Democracy’s greatest strength lies in its self-imposed fragility.

Popper’s Tolerance Paradox has been criticized by many on the left, but only if it is misunderstood.

As the writer Jason Kuznicki has argued, “To Popper, intolerance is not to be deployed when the utterance of intolerant ideas might make you uncomfortable, or when those ideas seem impolite, or when they get you really mad.” Rather, intolerance of the sort Popper describes “is only warranted when we are already facing ‘fists and pistols,’ or, presumably, worse.”

- “Tolerating Intolerance: The Free Speech Paradox,”​​​​​​​ by Angel Eduardo

We are long past fists and pistols.

Originally published at https://vincerizzo.substack.com.



Vince Rizzo

Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.