What to do?
On July 18th, Ryan Cooper told his internet users on American Prospect “Donald Trump Is Plotting to Make Himself Dictator.“ Surprised? Here’s his argument. Judge for yourself.
“When Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia in 1999, he did not become dictator overnight. It took him many years to crush independent media, make the oligarch class dependent on him, and suppress organized political opposition (in part through multiple assassinations and imprisonments). That process of power consolidation has accelerated since the invasion of Ukraine, as the former ‘hybrid regime’ with some tacit limited freedoms has become a full-blown autocracy.
“Donald Trump is openly planning something similar, should he win the 2024 election. At The New York Times, Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage, and Maggie Haberman have a report with frank admissions from a host of Trump associates that Trump is planning a political purge of the entire federal government, in order to bend it to his will. Given Trump’s history, it’s clear that should he become president again, he will try to set up a dictatorship.
“When Trump first came to power, he had little idea of how the federal government worked or even what he wanted to do with it, much less how to bend it to his will. In his book The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis recounted a scene after Trump had become the GOP nominee in 2016 when each party was setting up a transition team in case they prevailed. Chris Christie was in charge of the Republicans’ effort, and raised some money to figure out who could be nominated for what position, who’d vet their backgrounds, and so on.
“Trump didn’t even know about the transition until ‘he read about it in the newspaper,’ Lewis writes. Trump then summoned Christie to yell at him, saying something like, ‘You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?’ (The quote, and the next one, seem to be a paraphrase.) When Christie explained that the transition process was legally obliged and funded in part with government money, Trump responded: ‘Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.’ The only way Steve Bannon could convince him not to shut down the transition was by arguing that cable news pundits would take it as evidence that Trump didn’t really think he could win.
“That kind of attitude and general lack of knowledge help explain why Trump faceplanted on so many objectives, particularly early in his presidency. He would refuse to observe even the slightest legal niceties, follow proper bureaucratic procedure, or even shut his potty mouth for five seconds, thereby immediately running into trouble in the courts.
“Eventually, Trump figured out how to get what he wanted. The answer was not to conform his acts to the existing system, but to break it. By issuing hundreds of executive orders, threatening those who stood in his way, and above all installing cronies throughout the executive branch and the judiciary, he could break through the procedures and norms that had constrained previous presidents (which turned out to be a lot more feeble than many assumed). By 2020, Presidential Personnel Office head John McEntee was running a plan to install Trump stooges throughout the federal bureaucracy even over the objections of Trump’s own Cabinet members.
“This process culminated in the attempted putsch on January 6, 2021, which as usual was poorly planned and led, yet got alarmingly close to success nonetheless. For the first time in American history, a fascist mob sacked the national legislature and disrupted the process of transferring power—all under the direction of the losing president, who was trying to cling to power through violence. Ultimately, a bare handful of Republican officials refusing to go along with Trump’s attempt to steal the election preserved American democracy.
“The Times report is characteristically stuffy about what is going on here. Yet the reporters got enough Trump cronies on the record to make the stakes abundantly clear. The plan is called Project 2025—a transition project started long in advance this time, with the explicit purpose of making the entire government beholden to Trump’s every whim. ‘There is no way to make the existing structure function in a conservative manner. It’s not enough to get the personnel right. What’s necessary is a complete system overhaul,’ said McEntee. ‘What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,’ said Trump’s former Office of Management chief Russell T. Vought. Institutional support comes from the Heritage Foundation; its president Kevin D. Roberts said: ‘The notion of independent federal agencies or federal employees who don’t answer to the president violates the very foundation of our democratic republic.’
“Here we have a disgraced former president who attempted a coup d’état after losing the last election, and is also facing major legal jeopardy at the federal level and from multiple states. Quite possibly, the only way to avoid going to prison for the rest of his life is to become president again—and the only way to satisfy his craving for limitless money and power, and to inflict ruthless vengeance against his enemies, is to turn the presidency into a dictatorship.
“Trump won’t necessarily succeed, even if he does win the election—it is unwise for a would-be autocrat to cultivate deep unpopularity among the armed forces, just for starters—but that is what he’s determined to do.”