Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Listen to What the Man Said: New York Times report makes clear that Trump fully intends to be an all-powerful "super president" if he gets a second shot at it

Donald Trump: Dictator-In-Waiting

If you are an American who values the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, you might want to start taking Donald Trump's announced plans for a second term seriously. That's because Trump clearly is planning for a dictatorship, or something that looks and smells very much like it -- with him in the starring role as omnipotent overlord-in-chief, unencumbered by checks and balances of any kind. 

A check of social media indicates quite a few Americans take Trump's plans seriously, oppose him with all the gusto they can muster, and fear he will ruin U.S. democracy, just as Joe Biden claims.Trump's poll numbers, however, suggest another set of Americans either do not take him seriously or they like the idea of living in a dictatorship. It's hard to believe that these right-of-center Americans -- many of whom seem to cherish their freedoms (especially with guns and the thought of imposing their religious views on others) -- want to wake up in January 2025 to an all-powerful chief executive who might not be all that respectful of their opinions and values. Think about it: When is the last time you saw or read about Donald Trump treating anyone with respect -- except in those instances when cameras are rolling and he has to keep his impulses for rudeness in check, for decorum's sake?

Michael Tomasky, editor of The New Republic recently wrote a column under the headline "How Can We Possibly Be Sleepwalking into Another Trump Presidency?" That question seems to undergird a New York Times (NYT) report this week under the headline "Why a Second Trump Presidency May Be More Radical Than His First; Donald Trump has long exhibited authoritarian impulses, but his policy operation is now more sophisticated, and the buffers to check him are weaker."

I would alter The Times headline to say "Why a Second Trump Presidency WILL Be More Radical Than His First  (As Paul McCartney would say, "Listen to What the Man Said.") Other than one change I would make in the headline, The Times' article comes as a wake-up call to Americans who likely are sleepwalking right off a political cliff. Write reporters Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage, and Jonathan Swan:

Since launching his 2024 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has said the “termination” of the Constitution would have been justified to overturn the 2020 election, told followers “I am your retribution” and vowed to use the Justice Department to prosecute his adversaries — starting with President Biden and his family.

Beneath these public threats is a series of plans by Mr. Trump and his allies that would upend core elements of American governance, democracy, foreign policy and the rule of law if he regained the White House.

Some of these themes trace back to the final period of Mr. Trump’s term in office. By that stage, his key advisers had learned how to more effectively wield power and Mr. Trump had fired officials who resisted some of his impulses and replaced them with loyalists. Then he lost the 2020 election and was cast out of power.

Since leaving office, Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies at a network of well-funded groups have advanced policies, created lists of potential personnel and started shaping new legal scaffolding — laying the groundwork for a second Trump presidency they hope will commence on Jan. 20, 2025.

In a vague statement, two top officials on Mr. Trump’s campaign have sought to distance his campaign team from some of the plans being developed by Mr. Trump’s outside allies, groups led by former senior Trump administration officials who remain in direct contact with him. The statement called news reports about the campaign’s personnel and policy intentions “purely speculative and theoretical.”

The plans described here generally derive from what Mr. Trump has trumpeted on the campaign trail, what has appeared on his campaign website and interviews with Trump advisers, including one who spoke with The New York Times at the request of the campaign.

In other words, The Times is examining Trump's plans as they came mostly from his own mouth. For those who do not think this is serious, may you have a warm and cozy January 2025. Here are the key categories The NYT reporters address: 

If he wins another term, Mr. Trump has said he would use the Justice Department to have his adversaries investigated and charged with crimes, including saying in June that he would appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after” President Biden and his family. He later declared in an interview with Univision that he could, if someone challenged him politically, have that person indicted.

Allies of Mr. Trump have also been developing an intellectual blueprint to cast aside the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department investigatory independence from White House political direction.

Foreshadowing such a move, Mr. Trump had already violated norms in his 2016 campaign by promising to “lock up” his opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server. While president, he repeatedly told aides he wanted the Justice Department to indict his political enemies, including officials he had fired such as James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director. The Justice Department opened various such investigations but did not bring charges — infuriating Mr. Trump and leading to a split in 2020 with his attorney general, William P. Barr.

Mr. Trump is planning an assault on immigration on a scale unseen in modern American history. Millions of undocumented immigrants would be barred from the country or uprooted from it years or even decades after settling here.

Bolstered by agents reassigned from other federal law enforcement agencies and state police and the National Guard, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement would carry out sweeping raids aimed at deporting millions of people each year. Military funds would be used to erect sprawling camps to hold undocumented detainees. A public-health emergency law would be invoked to shut down asylum requests by people arriving at the border. And the government would try to end birthright citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents.

While in office, Mr. Trump mused about using the military to attack drug cartels in Mexico, an idea that would violate international law unless Mexico consented. That idea has since taken on broader Republican backing, and Mr. Trump intends to make the idea a reality if he returns to the Oval Office.

While it is generally illegal to use federal troops for domestic law enforcement purposes, a law called the Insurrection Act creates an exception. After some anti-police-violence demonstrations in 2020 became riots, Mr. Trump had an order drafted to use troops to crack down on protesters in Washington, D.C. He never signed it. The prospect of using federal troops inside the country continues to entice him.

His top immigration adviser has said they would invoke the Insurrection Act at the southern border to use soldiers as immigration agents, and Mr. Trump suggested at a rally in Iowa this year that he intends to unilaterally send troops into Democratic-run cities to enforce public order.

“You look at any Democrat-run state, and it’s just not the same — it doesn’t work,” Mr. Trump said, calling cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco crime dens. “We cannot let it happen any longer. And one of the other things I’ll do — because you’re supposed to not be involved in that, you just have to be asked by the governor or the mayor to come in — the next time, I’m not waiting.”

Mr. Trump and his backers want to increase presidential power over federal agencies, centralizing greater control over the entire machinery of government in the White House.

They have adopted a maximalist version of the so-called unitary executive theory, which says the president can directly command the entire federal bureaucracy and that it is unconstitutional for Congress to create pockets of independent decision-making authority.

As part of that plan, Mr. Trump also intends to revive an effort from the end of his presidency to alter civil-service rules that protect career government professionals, enabling him to fire tens of thousands of federal workers and replace them with loyalists. After Congress failed to enact legislation to block such a change, the Biden administration is developing a regulation to essentially Trump-proof the federal work force. However, since that is merely an executive action, the next Republican president could simply undo it the same way.

Politically appointed lawyers sometimes frustrated Mr. Trump’s desires by raising legal objections to his and his top advisers’ ideas. This dynamic has led to a quiet split on the right, as Trump loyalists have come to view the typical Federalist Society lawyer — essentially a mainstream Republican conservative — with disdain.

In a potential new term, Mr. Trump’s allies are planning to systematically install more aggressive and ideologically aligned legal gatekeepers who will be more likely to bless contentious actions. Mr. Trump and his 2024 campaign declined to answer a series of detailed questions about what limits, if any, he would recognize on his powers across a range of war, secrecy and law enforcement matters — many raised by his first term — in a New York Times 2024 presidential candidate survey.

Thanks to The NYT, MAGA types now at least have reason to know what they are supporting. If you want a dictator, you are likely to get one -- in the form of a man who has no history of being benevolent toward anyone. It's no secret that we are going to get an omnipotent chief executive, or its equivalent, if Trump gets back to the Oval Office. If that happens, God help us all.

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