Wednesday, May 1, 2024

From targeting President Joe Biden for an unlawful prosecution to loading tariffs on foreign goods, Trump offers one bad idea after another in TIME interview


In a cover-story interview for TIME magazine that hit newsstands yesterday, Donald Trump refuses to rule out violence from his supporters if he loses the presidential election in November. In discussing the possibility of political violence from devoted MAGA types, Trump makes several statements that are both deceitful and nonsensical. But that is in keeping with an interview that is filled with alarming comments that should  raise red flags by the dozen regarding Trump's plans for a possible second term. 

Mark Milley, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has called Trump a "wannabe dictator" -- and in the interview, Trump gives the impression he has no clue how to run the American government and has no intention of surrounding himself with people who do know how to run a democracy-based government.  Perhaps that is because, as Trump has publicly stated multiple times, he plans for a potential second term to be about retribution against his perceived political enemies, with democracy barely an afterthought. We will take a look at the "highlights" (or lowlights, depending on how you view Trump's plans to reshape our country, our world.) In my view, Trump comes across as a man who is not serious about governing and is temperamentally and intellectually unfit to handle the job -- even though he's held it for four years already. I see no sign that Trump learned anything during that time. My hope is that Trump supporters will read the Time interview closely and decide if they really want to buy what Trump is selling. A reasonably objective, critical view should yield an answer of "no."

CNN provides four key takeways from the TIME interview, noting that Trump has made the threat of violence part of the "new normal" in American politics. Do even the most devoted  MAGAs want a man like that in the White House? The TIME article should raise doubts in many minds.

This section  stands out in the CNN piece:

Throughout his political career, Trump has regularly refused to accept the results of an election or commit to conceding defeat. After finishing second in the Iowa caucuses in 2016, Trump accused Texas Sen. Ted Cruz of fraud and called for a new contest. Later, while facing Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump baselessly claimed the election he eventually won was “rigged” and repeatedly refused to say whether he would abide by the outcome. He again avoided a commitment heading into the 2024 election.

“I don’t think we’re going to have [violence],” the presumptive GOP nominee told TIME magazine. “I think we’re going to win. And if we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.”

Trump says the possibility of political violence depends on the "fairness of an election," but does anyone seriously think he will consider an election he loses to be fair? In short, a Trump victory probably means another January 6 -- or something even worse -- will be in our future.

Here is our summary of the tone and issues discussed in the interview, including insights straight from the TIME article:

In discussing the possibility of political violence from devoted MAGA types, Trump makes several statements that are both deceitful and nonsensical. But that is in keeping with an interview that is filled with alarming comments that should  raise red flags by the dozen regarding Trump's plans for a possible second term. 

Trump speaks in his usual off-the cuff, word-salad manner, giving the impression he has big plans for enhancing his own power as chief executive, while offering little or nothing that would improve the lives of everyday Americans. The interview serves as a grim reminder that Trump seems hell-bent on establishing an authoritarian form of government that many observers fear could leave U.S. democracy in tatters and raise the chances of instability on a global scale. In the interview, Trump gives the impression he has no clue how to run the American government and has no intention of surrounding himself with people who do know how to run a democracy-based government. Perhaps that is because, as Trump has publicly stated multiple times, he plans for a potential second term to be about retribution against his perceived political enemies, with democracy barely an afterthought.

The TIME interview probably is the No. 1 topic of conversation in the U.S. today. How did it come to be?  TIME National Politics Reporter Eric Cortellessa.conducted the interview at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Here is how Cortellessa sets the scene:

Over the course of the interviews, Trump discussed his agenda for a second term, which includes deporting millions of people, cutting the U.S. civil service, and intervening more directly in Justice Department prosecutions than his predecessors. He also discussed his thinking on other issues, including abortion, crime, trade, Ukraine, Israel, and the prospects for political violence in this election cycle.

In the Beginning: Issues and Answers

Donald Trump thinks he’s identified a crucial mistake of his first term: He was too nice.

Q: We’ve been talking for more than an hour on April 12 at his fever-dream palace in Palm Beach. Aides lurk around the perimeter of a gilded dining room overlooking the manicured lawn. When one nudges me to wrap up the interview, I bring up the many former Cabinet officials who refuse to endorse Trump this time. Some have publicly warned that he poses a danger to the Republic. Why should voters trust you, I ask, when some of the people who observed you most closely do not?

A: As always, Trump punches back, denigrating his former top advisers. But beneath the typical torrent of invective, there is a larger lesson he has taken away. “I let them quit because I have a heart. I don’t want to embarrass anybody,” Trump says. “I don’t think I’ll do that again. From now on, I’ll fire.”

Q: Six months from the 2024 presidential election, Trump is better positioned to win the White House than at any point in either of his previous campaigns. He leads Joe Biden by slim margins in most polls, including in several of the seven swing states likely to determine the outcome. But I had not come to ask about the election, the disgrace that followed the last one, or how he has become the first former—and perhaps future—American President to face a criminal trial. I wanted to know what Trump would do if he wins a second term, to hear his vision for the nation, in his own words.

What emerged in two interviews with Trump, and conversations with more than a dozen of his closest advisers and confidants, were the outlines of an imperial presidency that would reshape America and its role in the world. To carry out a deportation operation designed to remove more than 11 million people from the country, Trump told me, he would be willing to build migrant detention camps and deploy the U.S. military, both at the border and inland. He would let red states monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans. He would, at his personal discretion, withhold funds appropriated by Congress, according to top advisers. He would be willing to fire a U.S. Attorney who doesn’t carry out his order to prosecute someone, breaking with a tradition of independent law enforcement that dates from America’s founding. He is weighing pardons for every one of his supporters accused of attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, more than 800 of whom have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury. He might not come to the aid of an attacked ally in Europe or Asia if he felt that country wasn’t paying enough for its own defense. He would gut the U.S. civil service, deploy the National Guard to American cities as he sees fit, close the White House pandemic-preparedness office, and staff his Administration with acolytes who back his false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.

Trump remains the same guy, with the same goals and grievances. But in person, if anything, he appears more assertive and confident. “When I first got to Washington, I knew very few people,” he says. “I had to rely on people.” Now he is in charge. The arranged marriage with the timorous Republican Party stalwarts is over; the old guard is vanquished, and the people who remain are his people. Trump would enter a second term backed by a slew of policy shops staffed by loyalists who have drawn up detailed plans in service of his agenda, which would concentrate the powers of the state in the hands of a man whose appetite for power appears all but insatiable. “I don’t think it’s a big mystery what his agenda would be,” says his close adviser Kellyanne Conway. “But I think people will be surprised at the alacrity with which he will take action.”

Cortellessa points out that steamrolling through America's system of checks and balances might not be so easy:

The courts, the Constitution, and a Congress of unknown composition would all have a say in whether Trump’s objectives come to pass. The machinery of Washington has a range of defenses: leaks to a free press, whistle-blower protections, the oversight of inspectors general. The same deficiencies of temperament and judgment that hindered him in the past remain present. If he wins, Trump would be a lame duck—contrary to the suggestions of some supporters, he tells TIME he would not seek to overturn or ignore the Constitution’s prohibition on a third term. Public opinion would also be a powerful check. Amid a popular outcry, Trump was forced to scale back some of his most draconian first-term initiatives, including the policy of separating migrant families. As George Orwell wrote in 1945, the ability of governments to carry out their designs “depends on the general temper in the country.”

Every election is billed as a national turning point. This time that rings true. To supporters, the prospect of Trump 2.0, unconstrained and backed by a disciplined movement of true believers, offers revolutionary promise. To much of the rest of the nation and the world, it represents an alarming risk. A second Trump term could bring “the end of our democracy,” says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, “and the birth of a new kind of authoritarian presidential order.”

In a second term, Trump’s influence on American democracy would extend far beyond pardoning powers. Allies are laying the groundwork to restructure the presidency in line with a doctrine called the unitary executive theory, which holds that many of the constraints imposed on the White House by legislators and the courts should be swept away in favor of a more powerful Commander in Chief.

Justice Matters

Will Trump get his way with the U.S. Department of Justice. Changing American norms in the DOJ could be a major stumbling block for an executive who does not appreciate obstacles, Cortellessa writes

Nowhere would that power be more momentous than at the Department of Justice. Since the nation’s earliest days, Presidents have generally kept a respectful distance from Senate-confirmed law-enforcement officials to avoid exploiting for personal ends their enormous ability to curtail Americans’ freedoms. But Trump, burned in his first term by multiple investigations directed by his own appointees, is ever more vocal about imposing his will directly on the department and its far-flung investigators and prosecutors.

In our Mar-a-Lago interview, Trump says he might fire U.S. Attorneys who refuse his orders to prosecute someone: “It would depend on the situation.” He’s told supporters he would seek retribution against his enemies in a second term. Would that include Fani Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney who charged him with election interference, or Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan DA in the Stormy Daniels case, who Trump has previously said should be prosecuted? Trump demurs but offers no promises. “No, I don’t want to do that,” he says, before adding, “We’re gonna look at a lot of things. What they’ve done is a terrible thing.”

Targeting Biden

Trump seems determined to go after Biden, based apparently on Trump's belief that Biden went after him. Is that a good idea? Cortellessa does not seem convinced, especially in a country where the rule of law has constitutional and historic moorings: Has Trump given that any consideration? It does not sound like it, Cortellessa reports:

Trump has vowed to appoint a “real special prosecutor” to go after Biden. “I wouldn’t want to hurt Biden,” he tells me. “I have too much respect for the office.” Seconds later, though, he suggests Biden’s fate may be tied to an upcoming Supreme Court ruling on whether Presidents can face criminal prosecution for acts committed in office. “If they said that a President doesn’t get immunity,” says Trump, “then Biden, I am sure, will be prosecuted for all of his crimes.” (Biden has not been charged with any crimes, and a House Republican effort to impeach him has failed to unearth evidence of any crimes or misdemeanors, high or low.)

Such moves would be potentially catastrophic for the credibility of American law enforcement, scholars and former Justice Department leaders from both parties say. “If he ordered an improper prosecution, I would expect any respectable U.S. Attorney to say no,” says Michael McConnell, a former U.S. appellate judge appointed by President George W. Bush. “If the president fired the U.S. Attorney, it would be an enormous firestorm.” McConnell, now a Stanford law professor, says the dismissal could have a cascading effect similar to the Saturday Night Massacre, when President Richard Nixon ordered top DOJ officials to remove the special counsel investigating Watergate. Presidents have the constitutional right to fire U.S. Attorneys, and typically replace their predecessors’ appointees upon taking office. But discharging one specifically for refusing a President’s order would be all but unprecedented.

Law and the Border

Trump's plans regarding immigration and the Southern border, again, seem oblivious to the law. But our would-be president seems to shrug off any legal concerns. Cortellessa explains the potential legal implications:

Trump’s radical designs for presidential power would be felt throughout the country. A main focus is the southern border. Trump says he plans to sign orders to reinstall many of the same policies from his first term, such as the Remain in Mexico program, which requires that non-Mexican asylum seekers be sent south of the border until their court dates, and Title 42, which allows border officials to expel migrants without letting them apply for asylum. Advisers say he plans to cite record border crossings and fentanyl- and child-trafficking as justification for reimposing the emergency measures. He would direct federal funding to resume construction of the border wall, likely by allocating money from the military budget without congressional approval. The capstone of this program, advisers say, would be a massive deportation operation that would target millions of people. Trump made similar pledges in his first term, but says he plans to be more aggressive in a second. “People need to be deported,” says Tom Homan, a top Trump adviser and former acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “No one should be off the table.”

For an operation of that scale, Trump says he would rely mostly on the National Guard to round up and remove undocumented migrants throughout the country. “If they weren’t able to, then I’d use [other parts of] the military,” he says. When I ask if that means he would override the Posse Comitatus Act—an 1878 law that prohibits the use of military force on civilians—Trump seems unmoved by the weight of the statute. “Well, these aren’t civilians,” he says. “These are people that aren’t legally in our country.” He would also seek help from local police and says he would deny funding for jurisdictions that decline to adopt his policies. “There’s a possibility that some won’t want to participate,” Trump says, “and they won’t partake in the riches.”

The "A Word"

Abortion has proven to be a tricky issue for Trump and Republicans, mainly because a poll in summer 2023 shows that 64 percent of U.S. adults believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.That comes after a conservative U.S. Supreme Court, with three Trump appointees, struck down Roe vs. Wade. In a show of profound political courage, Trump  seems to be distancing himself from an issue he now sees as a loser. Cortellessa writes:

As President, Trump nominated three Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, and he claims credit for his role in ending a constitutional right to an abortion. At the same time, he has sought to defuse a potent campaign issue for the Democrats by saying he wouldn’t sign a federal ban. In our interview at Mar-a-Lago, he declines to commit to vetoing any additional federal restrictions if they came to his desk. More than 20 states now have full or partial abortion bans, and Trump says those policies should be left to the states to do what they want, including monitoring women’s pregnancies. “I think they might do that,” he says. When I ask whether he would be comfortable with states prosecuting women for having abortions beyond the point the laws permit, he says, “It’s irrelevant whether I’m comfortable or not. It’s totally irrelevant, because the states are going to make those decisions.” President Biden has said he would fight state anti-abortion measures in court and with regulation.

Trump’s allies don’t plan to be passive on abortion if he returns to power. The Heritage Foundation has called for enforcement of a 19th century statute that would outlaw the mailing of abortion pills. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), which includes more than 80 percent of the House GOP conference, included in its 2025 budget proposal the Life at Conception Act, which says the right to life extends to “the moment of fertilization.” I ask Trump if he would veto that bill if it came to his desk. “I don’t have to do anything about vetoes,” Trump says, “because we now have it back in the states.”

It's the Economy, Stupid 

Experts say Trump's economic plans could have dire consequences for the United States. Is Trump aware of that? No. Does he seem to care? No:

Presidents typically have a narrow window to pass major legislation. Trump’s team is eyeing two bills to kick off a second term: a border-security and immigration package, and an extension of his 2017 tax cuts. Many of the latter’s provisions expire early in 2025: the tax cuts on individual income brackets, 100% percent business expensing, the doubling of the estate-tax deduction. Trump is planning to intensify his protectionist agenda, telling me he’s considering a tariff of more than 10% on all imports, and perhaps even a 100% tariff on some Chinese goods. Trump says the tariffs will liberate the U.S. economy from being at the mercy of foreign manufacturing and spur an industrial renaissance in the U.S. When I point out that independent analysts estimate Trump’s first-term tariffs on thousands of products, including steel and aluminum, solar panels, and washing machines, may have cost the U.S. $316 billion and more than 300,000 jobs, by one account, he dismisses these experts out of hand. His advisers argue that the average yearly inflation rate in his first term—under 2%—is evidence that his tariffs won’t raise prices.

What about our takeaways from the TIME interview? We have several:

(1) Trump is woefully unprepared to be president. His answers would have to improve to be vapid. They reveal that he has no idea how government works, and he probably cares even less;

(2) History tells us that it is important for a president to know a little bit about the law. Time and again, Trump's answers show that he knows zero about the law. Worse yet, he seems to have given no thought to the legal implications of what he wants to do;

(3) My favorite takeaway is this: TIME has provided a public service by showing that Eric Cortellessa knows way more about politics, government, law, history, you name it -- and would make a far better president than Donald Trump.

(4) This realization made me wish the two men could switch positions, with Cortellessa as the presidential candidate, and Trump as . . . well, an interviewer, I guess. Here's the problem with that: (a) I can't think of anything Trump would be good at; and (b) Having been a professional journalist for more than 40 years, I know interviewing is a challenging task -- and Trump would be terrible at it. First of all, you have to listen to your subject, and I'm not aware that Trump listens to anybody.

(5) For this year, my hope is that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris pound Trump into the dustbin of history and get MAGA off the public stage forever. I do think Cortellessa has the goods to be an excellent public servant. We all would be better off with Cortellessa running for office, and Trump "working" as a gofer for Golf Digest -- after serving 20 years or so in a prison on a remote island, perhaps in the area where his buddy, Jeffrey Epstein, used to do the "mess around." It needs to be remote, with no communications system to the outside world, because (like a lot of people) I'm tired of hearing Trump's voice, seeing his face,  reading his mindless rants, and listening to all the ignorant things he says. (Don't forget to inject bleach into your veins this flu season!) It's as if Trump has been holding the American people hostage, and we need him out of our lives permanently.

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