What a second Trumpocracy would mean

The coming crisis of 2025.

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SOURCETom Dispatch

If he becomes the official nominee of the Republican Party in next year’s presidential race, Donald Trump will receive tens of millions of votes in the general election. He may get less than the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. He may get more. Regardless, tens of millions of GOP, conservative, and extremist voters will cast their ballots for him.

In 2016, despite his history of elitist, racist, and sexist behavior, failed businesses, lack of governing experience, and no demonstrated past of caring for anyone but himself, he won nearly 63 million votes. While still almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton got, it was not just enough for a victory in the Electoral College but a clear warning of things to come.

In 2020, after four years of non-stop chaos, the death of more than 200,000 Covid victims at least in part because of his mishandling of the pandemic, a legitimate and warranted impeachment, abuse of power, ceaseless corruption, and more than 30,000 documented public lies, he gained 74 million votes, even if, in the end, he lost the election.

Now, in addition to all that history, you can add on the incitement of a violent insurrection, a second impeachment for attempting to overthrow the government, four criminal indictments (91 separate charges), being found liable for sexual abuse, and a stated plan to exact retribution against his enemies in a second term. And yet he will undoubtedly again receive many tens of millions of votes.

In fact, you can count on one thing: the 2024 election will not resolve the authoritarian attraction that the Trump vote represents. So perhaps it’s time to prepare now, not later, for the political crisis that will undoubtedly emerge from that event, whatever the vote count may prove to be.

The authoritarian threat continues

A year from the next election, multiple scenarios are imaginable including, of course, that neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden will be contenders. While Biden’s health seems fine at present, he will be only weeks away from his 82nd birthday on Election Day 2024. A lot can happen, health-wise, in a year. When it comes to Trump, however, Biden is now likely to be significantly healthier (mentally and physically) than him. Among other things, no blatant lies or well-tailored suits can hide his unhealthy obesity.

And while he relishes castigating Biden’s cognitive state, it was Trump who only a few weeks ago, while giving a speech attacking the president’s capabilities, stated that he beat “Obama” in an election, that Americans needed IDs to buy bread, and that Biden would lead the country into “World War II,” which just happens to have ended 78 years ago. While some of Trump’s GOP opponents like Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, and Nikki Haley have indeed launched ageist attacks against him, it’s true that he’s roughly in the same age group as Biden.

Meanwhile, don’t forget that Donald Trump’s legal health is on life support. It’s a good bet that, in 2024, he will spend more time in courtrooms than on the campaign trail. He may very well face that moment of truth when he has to decide to cut a deal that keeps him out of prison and out of the White House.

In any case, the current trajectory remains Biden vs. Trump 2.0 while, whatever the outcome of the election, this nation seems to be headed for a crisis of historic proportions. No matter who wins, next November 7th will do nothing to end the divisions that exist in this country. In fact, it’s only likely to exacerbate and amplify them. 

Trump remains a danger

Trump has already made it clear that he won’t accept any losing outcome. Neither will millions of his followers. For modern Republican Party leaders and their base, election rejection (if they lose) has become an ironclad principle. On the stump, Trump has already begun to emphasize that the spiraling legal cases against him are “election interference,” that the Democrats are putting the pieces in place to steal the election from him, and that the Black judge and prosecutors holding him accountable are “racists.”

As he wrote on one of his social media posts (in caps) those individuals are to him “RIGGERS.” That stable genius’s use of a term that rhymes with a racist slur against Black people was undoubtedly no accident. After all, he spends a considerable amount of his private time branding people. White supremacists wasted hardly a moment in beginning to use the term online, in part, to get around censors on the lookout for explicitly racist terminology.

He is, in other words, already laying the foundation to claim election fraud and creating the basis for another MAGA revolt. While there’s plenty of reason to believe he won’t be able to draw tens of thousands of his supporters to attack the Capitol again, not the least being the Justice Department’s prosecution of hundreds of those who tried it the last time, he’ll certainly have GOP members in Congress ready to resist certifying a Democratic victory.

Trump’s desperation to win is driven not only by the prospect of multiple convictions in his various trials, drawn-out appeals (that are unlikely to be successful), and possible prison time of some sort, but also by the brutal public dismantling of what’s left of his financial empire. The civil suit New York Attorney General Letitia James brought against Trump and the Trump organization has already resulted in a devastating judgment by Judge Arthur Engoron. He ruled Trump and his adult sons liable and immediately stripped them of their control over their businesses. Trump may now not only lose all his New York business properties but have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution. For someone whose whole identity is linked to his purported wealth, there could hardly have been a more crushing blow.

In his mind, a second term as president clearly has little to do with benefiting the country, the Republican Party, or even the rest of his family. It’s his only path to shutting down the two federal cases against him in Florida and Washington, D.C. However, even such a win wouldn’t help him with the election interference case in Georgia or the hush-money criminal case in New York. Convictions in either of those would mean further accountability sooner or later. A second term would undoubtedly offer him another chance to monetize the presidency, just as he did the first time around, in a fashion never before seen.

His record is still being investigated but, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Trump raked in tens of millions of dollars that way. It reports that Trump’s businesses took in more than $160 million from international sources alone, and a grand total of more than $1.6 billion from all sources, during his presidency. As CREW put it: “Trump’s presidency was marred by unprecedented conflicts of interest arising from his decision not to divest from the Trump Organization, with his most egregious conflicts involving businesses in foreign countries with interests in U.S. foreign policy.”

Trump’s violence advocacy grows

Trump’s legitimate fear of losing is pushing him toward ever more strident and violent language. He’s also signaling to his followers that the use of force to put him in power (or go after those who deny it to him) is all too acceptable. His visit to the Palmetto State Armory gun shop in Summerville, South Carolina, on September 25th was an unambiguous message to them: get ready for war.

There, he admired a Glock pistol and was visibly eager to purchase it. However, he ran into a legal snafu. His spokesperson, Steven Cheung, initially posted a video on social media celebrating Trump’s purchase of the Glock, a special “Trump edition” that had a likeness of him and the words “Trump 45th” etched on it. According to the New York Times, Trump gleefully said, “I want to buy one.”

However, after a staff member apparently realized that no one under federal indictment could legally do so, the post was deleted and a subsequent statement was put up that read, “President Trump did not purchase or take possession of the firearm. He simply indicated that he wanted one.” The store would also have been liable under federal law 18 U.S.C. 922, given that it would have been hard for its proprietors to deny that they knew the former president was under multiple indictments.

That visit was more than just a message to his followers to arm themselves. There are 158 gun stores in South Carolina and yet Trump selected the very one linked to a mass killing of Black people in Florida. At least one of the guns used in those murders had been purchased at that very gun shop. On August 26, 2023, white supremacist Ryan Christopher Palmeter went to a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, and murdered three African Americans — Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Jerrald Gallion, 29; and Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., 19 — and then killed himself as the police closed in.

The shooter had two guns, a Glock and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, one of them from the South Carolina Palmetto State Armory gun store. Palmeter also left behind several racist manifestos.

That carnage occurred just a month before Trump’s visit and his implicit decision to associate himself with that explosion of bigoted violence — like an earlier trip to Waco, Texas, the site of a deadly gunfight between federal law enforcement agents and antigovernment extremists — helped reinforce the idea on the far right that violent force is acceptable for political ends. In his speech at Waco, his first “official” campaign rally for election 2024, Trump stated, “I am your warrior, I am your justice… For those who have been wronged and betrayed… I am your retribution.”

The chaos and disorder likely to follow any Trump loss in 2024 will only be further enhanced if the GOP keeps control of the House of Representatives or wins control of the Senate. A number of congressional Republicans have shown that they will not hesitate to do all they can to put Trump back in the White House, including igniting a constitutional crisis by refusing to certify Electoral College votes.

All that said, Trump losing and sending his supporters into the streets amid tantrums by congressional Republicans and Republican state governors and legislatures would hardly be the worst possible scenario.

After all, if Trump were to win, the extremists in and out of government would immediately be empowered to carry out the most right-wing agenda since the height of the segregationist era. A reelected Trump will find the most loyal (to him) and corruptible cabinet members possible. Their only necessary qualification will be a willingness to follow his orders without hesitation, whether or not they’re legal, ethical, or by any stretch of the imagination good for the country.

Count on one thing: it wouldn’t be an America First but a Trump First and Last administration.

He would undoubtedly engage in a series of personal vendettas with the sort of viciousness and resolve never before seen in Washington. He would take a victory, no matter how marginal or questionable, in the Electoral College as a mandate to attack all his perceived enemies with whatever power his new presidency could muster. He’s also well aware of a Department of Justice policy (of questionable legality) not to prosecute a sitting president, which he’ll interpret as a license of perpetual lawlessness. Trump’s persecution administration would harken back to the worst days of McCarthyism and beyond.

And lest you think that’s the end of the matter, it only gets worse. 

Trump will have significantly more help in a second term

Beyond Trump’s individual sociopathic behavior, a far-right agenda is being created that will provide a certain ideological clarity to his bumbling authoritarianism. The policy work, not just from the Trump campaign but from Project 25, should scare everyone. A $22 million initiative by the rightwing Heritage Foundation, Project 25 has already produced a 920-page book, Mandate for Leadership: the Conservative Promise, detailing plans to reshape the federal government. If implemented, its strategy would write “the end” to the classic separation of powers, checks and balances, and even a non-partisan civil service. Every single federal department and agency would instead be restructured to fall under the complete control of the president.

It also offers hundreds of new policies on issues ranging from the environment and labor rights to education and health care. Its underlying assumption: that, post-2024, a conservative president will be in power for some time to come. (If so, Trump will, of course, have the backing of Republicans in Congress, who again may control one or both chambers, and a 6-3 Supreme Court majority.)

Count on this: resistance will be swift, massive, and enduring. Trump and Republican minority rule would not go unchallenged and the repression sure to follow would only generate yet more resistance and, undoubtedly, a generation of political turbulence.

On the other hand, a significant electoral defeat for the Republicans and Trump (along with his conviction on any number of criminal charges) would certainly prove a major obstacle to future authoritarianism. However, tens of millions of his voters will not go quietly into the night, while far-right elected officials in Congress and state legislatures will continue to push extreme conservative policies. White nationalists and radical evangelicals will mobilize as best as they can. Financial and political resources will be available.

The effort to defeat MAGA at all levels and in all ways politically will go on, but progressives need to prepare for the challenge of 2024 and the perilous years to follow.

FALL FUNDRAISER

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