If you want to understand the pathology of Donald Trump’s politics — the violent nihilism that is at the core of his identity in public life — this is it.

On Good Friday, Trump posted on his Truth Social media platform video of two pick-up trucks with American flags and "Trump 2024" banners on Long Island, where he had attended the wake of a police officer gunned down in the line of duty. Trump wanted to make a point that crime is out of control and that he will restore "law and order" to the streets of America.

On the back of one of the trucks was an image of a bound President Joe Biden, hog-tied and lying on the bed of the truck.

Here we have a former president, a candidate for re-election as president, promoting an image of his opponent, the incumbent president of the United States, kidnapped and held prisoner. As history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat said on X: “Trump is targeting the President of the United States.”

It appears mainstream US news media are reluctant to show the video and image for fear of inciting violence against the president – which is a crime. That is understandable, but for the rest of the world, it is important that we see just how outrageously far Trump is willing to go.

From Trump’s calls in his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton to “lock her up” to his Easter message for Biden to “tie him up”, violence has been a consistent theme in framing his enemies. Trump praised the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville. The hundreds of convicted insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol on 6 January 2021, in the most horrific assault on American democracy since the Civil War, are regularly cited by Trump as "hostages" — not criminals — whom he intends to pardon should he return to the Oval Office.

Trump’s language of violence against his enemies is replete with Nazi talk of immigrants as “poisoning the blood” of the country, and there being “vermin” in the country to be extinguished. For the press, he emulates Stalin, consistently declaring the media are “the enemy of the people”.

Trump’s spokesman, Steven Cheung, pushed back hard. “That picture was on the back of a pick-up truck that was travelling down the highway. Democrats and crazed lunatics have not only called for despicable violence against President Trump and his family, they are actually weaponising the justice system against him.”

Which is the reason Cheung’s master keeps attacking the prosecutors who indict him for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the judges who preside over the trials for sexual assault, business fraud, violence against the Constitution, and other alleged crimes. Trump has projected an image of a baseball bat he is wielding near the head of one of his prosecutors. He blatantly attacks the judges, their family members and court officers who conduct the legal proceedings.

Republican-appointed judges have had enough. Judge Reggie Walton told CNN: “When judges are threatened, and particularly when their family is threatened, it’s something that’s wrong and should not happen. It is very troubling because I think it is an attack on the rule of law.”

Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the most respected conservative judges to serve in recent decades, was unequivocal on X: “The Nation is witnessing the determined delegitimisation of both its Federal and State judiciaries and the systematic dismantling of its system of justice and Rule of Law by a single man — the former President of the United States.”

Trump cannot stand being muzzled with gag orders imposed by the judges in his trials. He believes he has an absolute First Amendment free speech right to say whatever he wants to say whenever he wants to. Trump wrote on Truth Social, “This Judge, by issuing a vicious ‘Gag Order,’ is wrongfully attempting to deprive me of my First Amendment Right to speak out against the Weaponisation of Law Enforcement,” adding that the judge “is suffering from an acute case of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ and should recuse himself from the case.”

More profoundly, Trump has asserted he has an absolute right to immunity from prosecution for any and all official acts he committed as president. “The president cannot function, and the presidency itself cannot retain its vital independence, if the president faces criminal prosecution for official acts once he leaves office,” Trump has argued before the Supreme Court.

In other words, Trump believes he is not accountable to the rule of law.

In recent months, Trump has become more extreme and erratic than ever. In recent weeks, he has invited Russia to attack NATO. He has compared himself to Alexander Navalny, murdered by Putin’s deep state. Trump has promised to conduct the largest deportation in American history. At a recent rally in Ohio, Trump predicted that American democracy would end if he lost. “I don’t think you’re going to have another election, or certainly not an election that’s meaningful.”

The Trump-approved image of Biden being forcefully bound and taken hostage and facing vigilante justice crystallises, as never before in Trump’s long line of extremist expression, the threat he presents to America’s democracy.

In Australia, the Australian Electoral Commission would act immediately to expunge such an image. It would not be permitted to pollute our politics. There is no such immediate recourse in the United States under the First Amendment. But surely the chief justice of the Supreme Court can publicly demand that Trump respect judicial authority. Surely the attorney-general can insist that such an expression of violence by a candidate for president is not to be tolerated.

For each day of the next seven months, American democracy is on the line. Will Americans finally, truly see that this emperor has no clothes?