Trump 2.0

Regardless of whether Trump wins the 2024 election, is he here to stay?

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SOURCETomDispatch

Count on one thing: Donald Trump, who seems to gain Republican support with every new indictment, is not going away. He’s managed to capitalize on his 2020 election loss, using his failed insurrection, a stream of violent threats and verbal attacks against political opponents and journalists, and the disinformation machine of Fox News and similar outlets to peddle his stories of white American victim hood (above all, of course, his own victim hood). Meanwhile, his supporters are all too happy to carry out violent attacks in his name. Regardless of whether Trump wins the 2024 election, the “Orange Jesus,” as one Republican congressman reportedly called him, is here to stay.

He’s also provided some of America’s favorite headlines and jokes, even for progressives like me. As one fictional mom quipped in a Saturday Night Live skit at the end of his term in office, “If he’s gone, what am I supposed to do? Focus on my kids?” She was also mockingly lamenting the possibility that startling headlines like “‘Grab ‘em by the pussy” would disappear from our all-American world.

It turns out she needn’t have worried! It seems the media is far more eager these days to cover the former president’s endless missteps (or are they just steps?) than highlight the investments made by President Biden’s administration, which have finally started to pay off in terms of higher wages, more jobs, and lower carbon emissions. Big as we are on short-term gratification (or gloom) and the latest polls, we seem so much less interested in examining what presidents actually do.

Among us

With the 2024 election heading toward us the way that asteroid hurtled toward the dinosaurs, while our sensationalistic political culture shows little sign of changing anytime soon, I’d suggest that we turn the conversation from the crazy stuff “Orange Jesus” loves to say to the fact that Trump and his supporters are, for the foreseeable future, going to be among us. Isn’t it time, imagining the worst to come, to start talking about what an anti-Trump resistance would look like?

To do so, we’d first have to take a closer look at what some of his most influential supporters are planning for the next time around. You may have noticed that a set of conservative think tanks and scholars, who call themselves Project 2025, have drafted a nearly thousand-page blueprint for a hypothetical Trump second term. It’s a document labeled Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise (though all it really purports to conserve is an abiding American focus on funding our military-industrial complex). The document covers everything from how a Trump administration ought to handle federal staffing to how it could restructure military and federal law enforcement agencies to its own benefit. Let me flag a few parts of that document that I find particularly concerning and suggest small ways in which you and I might act to preserve democratic values in a country that seems either to take them all too much for granted or care about them less and less.

“Taking the reins of government”

When it comes to the plans of Trump’s advisers to reshape the executive branch in an autocratic fashion, should he be reelected, the title in the relevant section of their document — “Taking the Reins of Government” — perfectly catches the top-down approach to power they envision. For years now, the Orange Jesus has made no secret of his urge to launch retribution against those in the Washington bureaucracy who opposed him and ensure that tens of thousands of career public service positions in federal agencies and the White House will, in (his) future, be held by people vetted for their loyalty to him (and only him!). So reads the first major section of that Mandate, which outlines how a second Trump administration would assert far more direct White House control over this country through the federal bureaucracy.

In fact, the document’s authors advocate that an incoming Trump administration circumvent the Vacancies Reform Act, which establishes standards for congressional vetting of temporarily appointed federal personnel. They suggest instead indefinitely using acting personnel in vacant positions, particularly ones the first Trump administration was hostile to like State Department diplomatic posts.

Notably, the document is remarkably explicit about its recommendation to appoint acting personnel in departments already known for their abuse of American civil rights. (Think: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials kidnapping Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland during the summer of 2020.) A chilling example is the Mandate’s discussion of how a Trump White House could appoint acting personnel at DHS from scratch to “guarantee implementation of a Day One agenda.” I can’t help thinking: Is this what Trump meant when he told a Fox News Town Hall that he would be a “dictator” only on day one? Ostensibly, he could make many of the worst decisions immediately and then leave his goons to carry out the rest of the dirty work, Putin-style.

Given such a topsy-turvy reality, if you were hoping that journalists would still be close at hand to help call out any disastrous lapses in integrity, think again. Because count on something else: serious journalists wouldn’t be allowed within a country mile of Donald Trump and his closest advisers. In fact, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that the authors of the Mandate suggest the White House should have a very different relationship with its press pool, if there even were to be one at all. In describing a future Trumpian White House Office of Communications, the Mandate reads, “No legal entitlement exists for the provision of permanent space for media on the White House campus, and the next Administration should reexamine the balance between media demands and space constraints on the White House premises.”

Right! A Trump White House undoubtedly wouldn’t have space for all too much. At another point, in a paragraph on how Trump’s future communications director would need to “navigate the mainstream media” to advance the president’s agenda, the authors write, “The new Administration should examine the nature of the relationship between itself and the White House Correspondents Association and consider whether an alternative coordinating body might be more suitable.”

An “alternative coordinating body” organized by Donald Trump and crew? What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, just imagine a Trumpian future in which those with the president’s ear on every topic will be chosen by and aligned with that very same unhinged person, while his administration attempts to transform the media into its own propaganda arm, while repressing anything that might prove hostile to him in any way. In a second Trump White House, supporting an independent media would mean more than just subscribing to the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and local newspapers that will undoubtedly come under existential threats. It’s also going to mean providing an actual safe space for journalists whose exposés of government abuse will make them prime targets for the Orange Jesus’s followers. Think, for an analogous example, of murdered Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed abuse by Russian security forces against Muslim minority communities in the south of that country.

Now imagine, in an unhinged second Trump presidency, what sorts of doxing and other nightmares writers and their families might have to endure. We’ll all have to be ready to let such figures (or their threatened children and spouses) into our homes, lock the doors, and tell no one that they’re there. Meanwhile, the rest of us would have to protest — and get others to join us – when journalists and other oppositional figures start to be arrested under bogus charges or attacked by thugs. In a second Trump era, it will be of crucial importance for the rest of us to stand with those who continue to insist on telling the truth, even if you don’t agree with them politically.

It will be no less important to elevate and celebrate the writing of people who describe acts of resistance and heroism, be it their own or of others. I’m thinking about people like Washington Post columnist and author Jennifer Rubin or former Republican politico (and truthteller) Liz Cheney, who have made a point not just of critiquing the fascists aligned with Trump but of describing how to build life-affirming new policies that would serve the very constitution a second Trump term would undoubtedly try to toss into the gutter.

“The common defense”

Those would-be Trump presidential advisers have been remarkably detailed in describing their hopes for how a second Trump presidency could transform the U.S. military, and that section of their Mandate, I must admit, initially sounded okay to me. After all, they seemed to want to keep this country out of yet more foreign conflicts, while making the Pentagon accountable for how it spends its money. They also want more employment and financial support to be offered to military families (like mine!). In other words, many of the things I’ve been writing about at TomDispatch for years.

I was even initially impressed that they claimed to want the military to deprioritize “manufactured extremism” — until I realized that what they’re evidently referring to is the Pentagon’s plan (largely stalled at this point) to screen new and existing service members for alignment with Nazi-style and white supremacist ideologies. In fact — I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn — their blueprint goes on to describe a military remade in the very image of those Project 2025 leaders as white, cisgender, and heterosexual men, and they want to start ’em young, too. The Mandate recommends standardized testing in all federally funded schools to check kids’ aptitude for military service. They want, in other words, to offer the Pentagon increased access to children for the purpose of recruitment. And the proposal only gets “better” after that. In fact, Trump’s future would-be advisers go on to support expelling people with gender dysphoria from that very military.

How are we then to trust that the Department of Defense won’t be used against the American people, if our troops are distinctly shaped not to reflect our exploding diversity? In fact, The Donald has called the 2024 election “the final battle” and has already suggested that he might take out after his foes (“vermin”), even possibly invoking the Insurrection Act to use the military to do so. And then, it seems, the rest of us would have to live with a military that embraced the very types who sought to tear down our elected government on January 6, 2021.

Oh, and even better news! The Mandate writers also propose increasing the number and size of American companies producing munitions here in the U.S., funding arms acquisition and training at more universities, and increasing the power of the arms production industry even further.

They also propose — and what could possibly go wrong here? — that the government should enhance its ability to deploy special forces and conduct irregular (non-state) warfare “across the spectrum of competition, crisis, and conflict.” Hmmmm…. It’s hard for me not to recall a recent response by a Trump lawyer to a question by a federal judge in which he claimed that a president should be immune from prosecution for ordering a special forces unit to assassinate a political opponent. Welcome to 2025 and Trump 2.0!

All you need is love

If former President Trump listens to his all-too-well-prepared advisers — and many think he would be more disciplined in doing so a second time around — there would be far less of a buffer of reasonable civil servants loyal to the Constitution between him and the rest of us. Given that, I’m suggesting that those of us in military communities tell our loved ones to defy any orders to brutalize other Americans who pose no violent threat to the rest of us — those exercising freedom of assembly and speech, running for public office, writing the truth. And even though this may sound counterintuitive to some of you, get rid of your guns! If the Trumpian security state that might arise did everything its would-be advisers advocate, there would be no point in taking up arms against it. After all, civil wars are the bloodiest forms of human conflict, with the worst impact on civilians.

But don’t give up either. Make sure in every way you can that elections continue, and show up to vote. Volunteer to get people to the polls and inform them of their rights as voters. Become an election worker or volunteer. Do your damnedest to keep a non-Trumpian world alive.

Change is afoot, and it could be bad, but who knows? It’s also possible that election 2024 will prove to be white supremacy’s dying gasp. Think of how readily Trump’s supporters scuttle away when the candidates he endorses lose elections. And if our very own Orange Jesus is more decisively denied access to power through a jail sentence or another big election loss, maybe all the planning of his toadies won’t mean a tinker’s damn. But that will only be true if we all show up and act, starting now.

Read Tom Engelhardt’s response here.

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