Editor’s Note: Don’t despair! Don’t let it happen. FIGHT and VOTE Blue in 2024.
By Carl P. Leubsdorf , the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Dec 21, 2023.
If Donald Trump regains the presidency next year, there won’t be any secret about his agenda.
That’s because the former president has outlined in his speeches what he would do and how he would do it. He’s also made it quite clear that the kinds of rulers he admires are authoritarians like China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jung Un and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
Meanwhile, officials speaking for the former president have detailed to a variety of news organizations their plans to organize a new Trump administration to ensure greater loyalty, including a widely publicized plan to politicize large portions of the historically non-political civil service.
Trump’s refusal to participate in Republican debates has deprived his fellow candidates — and moderators — of the opportunity to question his proposed policies. More importantly, it has deprived voters of hearing him discuss them, except at his rallies.
When Fox News anchor Sean Hannity raised the fears of some Trump critics that he might exercise virtual dictatorial powers, the former president brushed him off with an answer both incomplete and misleading.
“They want to call you a dictator,” Hannity said during a Fox News town hall in Iowa. “To be clear, do you have any plans whatsoever, if re-elected president, to abuse power, to break the law, to use government to go after people?”
Trump demurred. “Except for Day One,” he replied. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill,” a short-hand version of his vow to expand oil drilling, something that will take more than a day.
“After that, I’m not a dictator,” Trump added.
But Trump has been promising far more sweeping presidential actions — many beyond the powers of the office. Specifically, he has vowed to use federal law enforcement powers against those who criticized him — and prosecuted him.
“From the first day in office, I will appoint a special prosecutor to study each and every one of the many claims being brought forth by Congress concerning all of the crooked acts, including the bribes from China and many other countries, that go into the coffers of the Biden crime family,” Trump said last August in Columbia, South Carolina, one of many Trump quotes compiled by The New York Times.
Earlier, he vowed to go beyond that. “On Day 1 of my new administration,” he said last April in Manchester, New Hampshire, “I will direct the DOJ (Department of Justice) to investigate every radical district attorney and attorney general in America for their illegal racist-in-reverse enforcement of the law.”
Trump also hinted he would invoke the 1792 Insurrection Act that permits a president to call up Reserve and National Guard troops to quell domestic violence, something he considered in 2020. “The next time, I’m not waiting,” he said in Iowa this year. “One of the things I did was let them run it and we’re going to show how bad a job they do. Well, we did that. We don’t have to wait any longer.”
Though acquiescing with Hannity’s statement that he “would never abuse power as retribution against anybody,” he has singled out an array of critics as potential targets, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Special Counsel Jack Smith and retired Gen. Mark Milley, his appointee as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Milley’s January 2021 conversations with his Chinese counterpart — seeking to maintain international calm during Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election — were “so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”, he said in a Truth Social post.
Kash Patel, a longtime Trump adviser, said the targets would go beyond government officials.
“We’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections,” he said.
Trump’s plans to curb the nation’s immigration problems are far more extensive than closing the border, as if a single presidential edict could achieve that.
“We will use all necessary state, federal and military resources to carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” he said in Manchester. “I’ll ask every state and federal agency to identify every known or suspected gang member in America and every one of them that is here illegally. The police know every one of them, and we’ll pick them up, and we’ll send them back home where they came from.”
Trump vowed to send National Guard troops to quell violence in major cities and have the federal government strong-arm state and local authorities to step up prosecution of drug dealers.
“The federal government can and should send the National Guard to restore order and secure the peace without having to wait for the approval of some governor that thinks it’s politically incorrect to call them in,” he told a pro-Trump think tank in July 2022.
Last month, Trump pledged in a Manchester Veterans Day speech: “We will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.”
Trump has even suggested he might ignore constitutional boundaries. Railing against his 2020 election defeat, he said in a December 2020 Truth Social post: “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, famously advised: “Watch what we do, not what we say.” With Trump, it’s: “Watch what he says because that’s what he’ll do.”