What Happens If He Gets Back Into The White House?
Do you think MAGA Mike actually hates America, or at least America outside of his backward little corner of northwest and central Louisiana, where every one of the 15 parishes is red? You be the judge— he just sent a fundraising e-mail in which he said “I fear America may be beyond redemption… 1 in 4 high school students identifies as something other than straight— what are they being taught in school?… Let’s face it— we live in a depraved culture. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but I fear God may allow our nation to enter into a time of judgment for our collective sins.” And every single Republican in the House voted to make this Christian nationalist, extremist nut from the Putin wing of the GOP, speaker. At least with McCarthy we knew he was loyal to the U.S.
Yesterday Ian Philbrick and Lyna Bentahar recapped Trump’s menacing words so far in the 2024 campaign, who they wrote “sounds like no other presidential candidate in U.S. history.
He has made baldly antidemocratic statements, praising autocratic leaders like China’s Xi Jinping and continuing to claim that the 2020 election was stolen… He has threatened to use the power of the presidency against his political opponents, including President Biden and Biden’s family. Trump frequently insults his opponents in personal terms, calling them ‘vermin,’ as well as ‘thugs, horrible people, fascists, Marxists, sick people.’ He has made dozens of false or misleading statements. He has advocated violence, suggesting that an Army general who clashed with him deserved the death penalty and that shoplifters should be shot. And he describes U.S. politics in apocalyptic terms, calling the 2024 election ‘our final battle’ and describing himself as his supporters’ ‘retribution.’”
Their specifics seem endless. Read them at the link above. And not a single Republican member of Congress has condemned him— not any of the members who pretend to be mainstream. Where is Don Bacon, Lori Chavez-DeRemer, Bryan Steil, Brian Fitzpatrick, where are the 3 phonies from Iowa? How about all the New Yorkers and Californians who want voters to think they’re normal? D’Esposito, Lawler, LaLota, Garbarino, etc were quick to try to kick Santos out of office. How is Trump somehow “better?”
Their old colleague, Liz Cheney, told John Dickerson on Sunday that she believes “very strongly in those principles and ideals that have defined the Republican Party, but the Republican Party of today has made a choice, and they haven’t chosen the Constitution. And so I do think it presents a threat if the Republicans are in the majority in January 2025.” It probably tore her up to admit that. When Dickerson asked what would happen if MAGA Mike was the Speaker in 2025, she answered, “He can’t be. We’re facing a situation with respect to the 2024 election where it’s an existential crisis, and we have to ensure that we don’t have a situation where an election that might be thrown into the House of Representatives is overseen by a Republican majority,” noting that the U.S. is “sleepwalking into a dictatorship.” On Monday she told Savannah Guthrie on Today that Trump would refuse to leave office after a second presidential term if he is reelected and that a vote for him “may mean the last election that you ever get to vote in... I don’t say that lightly, and I think it’s heartbreaking that that’s where we are, but people have to recognize that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against the Constitution.”
One of Trump’s sleaziest and most venal advisors, Kash Patel, was on Steve Bannon’s podcast yesterday boasted “We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media. Yes, we're going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections. We're going to come after you, whether it's criminal or civilly, we'll figure that out. But yeah, we're putting you all on notice and Steve, this is why they hate us. This is why we're tyrannical. This is why we're dictators because we're actually going to use the Constitution to prosecute them for crimes they said we have always been guilty of but never have.”
In the special January What If Trump Wins edition of The Atlantic, they included an essay by David Frum, The Danger Ahead, which he starts off by noting that “Trump operates so far outside the normal bounds of human behavior— never mind normal political behavior— that it is difficult to accept what he may actually do, even when he declares his intentions openly. What’s more, we have experienced one Trump presidency already. We can take false comfort from that previous experience: We’ve lived through it once. American democracy survived. Maybe the danger is less than feared? In his first term, Trump’s corruption and brutality were mitigated by his ignorance and laziness. In a second, Trump would arrive with a much better understanding of the system’s vulnerabilities, more willing enablers in tow, and a much more focused agenda of retaliation against his adversaries and impunity for himself. When people wonder what another Trump term might hold, their minds underestimate the chaos that would lie ahead.”
A second Trump term would instantly plunge the country into a constitutional crisis more terrible than anything seen since the Civil War. Even in the turmoil of the 1960s, even during the Great Depression, the country had a functional government with the president as its head. But the government cannot function with an indicted or convicted criminal as its head. The president would be an outlaw, or on his way to becoming an outlaw. For his own survival, he would have to destroy the rule of law.
From Trump himself and the people around him, we have a fair idea of a second Trump administration’s immediate priorities: (1) Stop all federal and state cases against Trump, criminal and civil. (2) Pardon and protect those who tried to overturn the 2020 election on Trump’s behalf. (3) Send the Department of Justice into action against Trump adversaries and critics. (4) End the independence of the civil service and fire federal officials who refuse to carry out Trump’s commands. (5) If these lawless actions ignite protests in American cities, order the military to crush them.
A restored Trump would lead the United States into a landscape of unthinkable scenarios. Will the Senate confirm Trump nominees who were chosen because of their willingness to help the president lead a coup against the U.S. government? Will the staff of the Justice Department resign? Will people march in the streets? Will the military obey or refuse orders to suppress demonstrations?
The existing constitutional system has no room for the subversive legal maneuvers of a criminal in chief. If a president can pardon himself for federal crimes— as Trump would likely try to do— then he could write his pardon in advance and shoot visitors to the White House. (For that matter, the vice president could murder the president in the Oval Office and then immediately pardon herself.) If a president can order the attorney general to stop a federal case against him—as Trump would surely do—then obstruction of justice becomes a normal prerogative of the presidency. If Trump can be president, then the United States owes a huge retrospective apology to Richard Nixon. Under the rules of a second Trump presidency, Nixon would have been well within his rights to order the Department of Justice to stop investigating Watergate and then pardon himself and all the burglars for the break-in and cover-up.
After Trump was elected in 2016, he was quickly surrounded by prominent and influential people who recognized that he was a lawless menace. They found ways to restrain a man they regarded as, to quote the reported words of Trump’s first secretary of state, “a fucking moron” and, to quote his second chief of staff, “the most flawed person I’ve ever met in my life,” whose “dishonesty is just astounding.” But there would be no Rex Tillerson in a second Trump term; no John Kelly; no Jeff Sessions, who as attorney general recused himself from the investigation into the president’s connections to Russia, leading to the appointment of an independent special counsel.
Since 2021, Trump-skeptical Republicans have been pushed out of politics. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger forfeited their seats in the House for defending election integrity. Representative Tom Emmer withdrew his bid for House speaker over the same offense. The Republican Senate caucus is less hospitable to Trump-style authoritarianism— but notice that the younger and newer Republican senators (Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, J. D. Vance) tend to support Trump’s schemes, while his opponents in the Senate belong to the outgoing generation. Trump’s leading rivals for the 2024 nomination seldom dare criticize his abuse of power.
Most of the people who would staff a second Trump term would be servile tools who have absorbed the brutal realities of contemporary Republicanism: defend democracy; forfeit your career. Already, an array of technically competent opportunists has assembled itself— from within right-wing think tanks and elsewhere— and has begun to plan out exactly how to dismantle the institutional safeguards against Trump’s corrupt and vengeful impulses. Trump’s likely second-term advisers have made clear that they would share his agenda of legal impunity and the use of law enforcement against his perceived opponents— not only the Biden family, but Trump’s own former attorney general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If Trump wins the presidency again, the whole world will become a theater for his politics of revenge and reward. Ukraine will be abandoned to Vladimir Putin; Saudi Arabia will collect its dividends for its investments in the Trump family.
And speaking of corruption, The Atlantic published an essay by Franklin Foer, Corruption Unbound, in the same edition. “Trump spent the early days of his presidency,” he wrote, “testing boundaries. He used his bully pulpit to unabashedly promote his real-estate portfolio. His properties charged the Secret Service ‘exorbitant rates’— as much as $1,185 a night, per a House Oversight Committee report— for housing agents when Trump or his family members visited. By the time Trump and his cronies left the White House, they had slowly erased any compunction, both within the Republican Party and outside it, about their corruption. They left power having compiled a playbook for exploiting public office for private gain.” Didn’t the House, in large part, just expel George Santos for exactly that?
Foer added that “That know-how— that confidence in their own impunity, that savvy understanding of how to profitably deal with malignant interests— will inevitably be applied to plans for a second term. If the first Trump presidency was, for the most part, an improvised exercise in petty corruption, a second would likely consist of systematic abuse of the government. There’s a term to describe the sort of regime that might emerge on the other side: a Mafia state. The term was popularized by Bálint Magyar, a Hungarian sociologist and a dissident during Communist times. He wanted to capture the kleptocracy emerging in his country, which was far more sophisticated than other recent examples of plunder. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán didn’t need to rely on brute force. He operated with the legitimacy that comes from electoral victories. And he justified the enrichment of his inner circle in carefully crafted legalisms. His abuses of office were so deftly executed that Hungary remains a member of the European Union and a magnet for multinational corporations. At the center of Orbán’s Mafia state is a system of patronage. When he finally won consolidated control of the government in 2010, he purged the nation’s civil service— a ‘bloodless liquidation,’ as Magyar describes the tactic. In place of professionals and experts, Orbán installed party loyalists. This wasn’t a superficial shuffling of his cabinet, but a comprehensive remaking of the nation’s public sphere. It is testimony to the thoroughness of his conquest that his apparatchiks took control of the Hungarian Chess Federation and a state-funded project to develop dental tourism.”
The party loyalists Orbán appointed became the capos of his crime family. Their job was to reward its friends (by sharing the spoils of government contracts) and to punish its vocal critics (with tax audits and denial of employment). The loyalists constituted, in Magyar’s memorable phrase, an “organized upperworld.”
The goal of the apparatus was to protect the apparatus. A small inner circle around Orbán guarded the spectacular wealth accrued through contracts to build infrastructure and the leasing of government-owned land on highly favorable terms. By 2017, a former gas-line repairman from Orbán’s home village had ascended to No. 8 on Forbes’s list of the richest Hungarians.
Orbán’s system is impressively sturdy. His loyalists need their patron to remain in power so that they can continue to enjoy their own ill-gotten gains. In pursuit of that goal, they have helped him slowly and subtly eliminate potential obstacles to his Mafia state, eroding the influence of local governments, replacing hostile judges, and smoothing the way for his allies to purchase influential media outlets.
Corruption in the Trump administration wasn’t nearly sophisticated or comprehensive enough to rival Hungary’s. Compared with its kleptocratic cousins in other countries, it was primitive. Companies and other interest groups simply pumped money into Trump properties. As they sought government support for a merger, executives at T-Mobile spent $195,000 at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel. When the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute wanted the administration to support an international treaty that helped its member firms, it paid more than $700,000 to host an event at a Trump golf resort in Florida. The Qatari government bought an apartment in a Trump-branded building in New York for $6.5 million.
Such examples were so commonplace that they ceased to provoke much outrage, which was perhaps the gravest danger they posed. Ever since the founding of the republic, revulsion at the mere perception of public corruption had been a bedrock sentiment of American political culture, one of the few sources of bipartisan consensus. But fidelity to Trump required indifference to corruption. It was impossible to remain loyal to the president without forgiving his malfeasance. By the end of Trump’s term, Republicans had come to regard corruption as a purely instrumentalist concept— useful for besmirching rival Democrats, but never applicable to members of their own party.
With the confidence that it will never face opposition from within its own ranks, a second Trump administration would be emboldened to hatch more expansive schemes. The grandest of these plans, at least among those that have been announced by Trump’s allies, mimics Orbán’s “bloodless liquidation,” where loyalists replace nonpartisan professionals and career civil servants. By instituting a new personnel policy, called Schedule F, Trump could eliminate employment protections for thousands of tenured bureaucrats, allowing him to more easily fire a broad swath of civil servants.
…Autocratic leaders of other countries will intuitively understand how to seek favor in such a system. To persuade the United States to overlook human-rights abuses, or to win approval for controversial arms sales, they will cultivate mid-level officials and steer development funds toward Trump-favored projects. Some might be so brazen as to co-develop Trump properties in their home countries. (According to an analysis of his tax returns, Trump’s foreign holdings earned him at least $160 million while in office.) Such buying of favors will not be particularly costly, by the standards of sovereign wealth. In aggregate, however, they could massively enrich Trump and his allies.
It was just such a scenario, in which the virus of foreign interests imperceptibly implants itself in the American government, that the Founders most feared. They designed a system of government intended to forestall such efforts. But Trump has no regard for that system, and every incentive to replace it with one that will line his own coffers. Having long used the language of the five families, decrying snitches and rats, Trump will now have a chance to build a state worthy of his discourse.