Altered State: Trump has told us clearly what a second term will be: one-man rule | Opinion

Ryan Garza/Imagn Content Services, LLC
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In 2016, voters went for Donald Trump, the showman, the bigot, the iconoclast, the sexist, the mean-spirited charmer quick with jab, joke or derisive nickname.

Now, given the mile-wide lead that the former president has in the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, a majority of Republican voters seem ready to embrace Trump, the authoritarian.

And that includes Republicans in Florida, where Trump has a Palm Beach mansion, faces federal charges for refusing to turn over classified documents and has a commanding lead in the polls over the governor Floridians enthusiastically re-elected last year. Trump initially enthusiastic, too, about then-U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Now, the governor trails Trump by 20 points for the nomination, according to a Florida Atlantic University Mainstreet PolCom Lab poll of Florida Republicans.

Trump supporters here and across the country are not paying attention or don’t know history — or they aren’t the true Americans they believe themselves to be.

Trump and his campaign have been crystal clear: Should he regain the White House, he will consolidate every last bit of power he can into his own hands. The three equal branches of government will not be equal any more. The former president plans a sweeping makeover of the presidency and the constitutional foundations that actually make America great.

“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence,” Russell T. Vought, one of Trump’s policy advisers told that New York Times, “and seize them.”

A strongman

It would be a power grab — blatant, frightening and the tactic of a true authoritarian. We saw what Trump was able to unleash on Jan. 6. 2021. Now, he intends to run roughshod over Congress and the Constitution.

“Trump is a symptom of larger set of movements, different political threads that have come together,” Erica Newland, counsel for Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group working to defeat authoritarian threats, told the Editorial Board. “There’s a skepticism of expertise and a belief in strong executive authority. Portions of the conservative legal movement have spent the last 40 years casting doubts about the legitimacy of other institutions such as Congress.”

In a second term, Trump would pull the strings in just about every aspect of American life. He calls it Agenda47.

According to the plan delineated on his website, he’ll make stop-and-frisk, a criticized and discriminatory police tactic — ruled unconstitutional — the law of the land. He’ll deploy the U.S. military to fight street gangs, deport illegal migrants and execute drug dealers and human traffickers. He wants all parents to be able use state funds to send their children to the school of their choice, leaving public education on the ropes. Here, he would be following the lead of his closest rival, DeSantis, who signed such legislation into law this year.

Trump promises to wrest control from the Justice Department and order a criminal investigation into his predecessor, Joe Biden, an abuse of power that would top the Nixon White House and Watergate. Trump also says he will order the now-independent Justice Department to investigate charging decisions by local prosecutors, superseding constitutional separation of federal and local authorities.

Trump will bring independent regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, under his control. As a campaign website says: “President Donald J. Trump will liberate America from Joe Biden’s wasteful and job-killing regulatory onslaught.” In other words, he’ll be giving Big Business the green light to pollute and exploit.

Target federal workers

Trump will refuse to release money Congress has approved for programs he doesn’t like. He will remove career civil servants’ job protections, making it easier to replace them if they stand in the way of his agenda. He will fire officials he deems disloyal from intelligence and defense agencies, plus the State Department.

To many Americans, much of this is an attractive agenda. Who doesn’t want streets free of crime after uneven local efforts to tackle it? What parents don’t want to send their children to high-quality schools?

But Trump is promising something else: He will continue to reject our constitutional order and replace it with one-man rule, where he is the authority over laws and how they apply.

He’ll undermine Americans’ ability to govern themselves. And he’ll create more chaos, because it serves him. We saw that, unforgettably, on Jan. 6, 2021, when he worked up supporters at his rally until they stormed the U.S. Capitol to block Biden’s victory from being certified.

He lost election

Back when Trump was in office, his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, used the much-derided term “alternative facts” as she tried to dispute the size of his inauguration crowd. And Trump has continued use that strategy, telling insiders that if you repeat something often enough, people will believe it. He’s still doing it, promoting the lie that he won in 2020. Anyone who does not buy into the falsehood will pay in the next Trump administration.

How else can we interpret his chilling words to loyalists at a campaign rally in Waco, Texas? “In 2016, I declared I am your voice,” Trump said. “Today, I add I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

Throughout, Trump’s campaign has been under-girded by the implication of brute strength and the threat of violence.

After Trump was indicted this week for allegedly working to overturn the 2020 election results, campaign spokesman Steven Cheung fired back: “The lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes.” Too bad Cheung doesn’t seem to know what authoritarianism is, when he sees it, up close, every day.

None of this is happening in a vacuum, according to Protect Democracy. Policy advocate Ben Raderstorf offered a warning: “Unsuccessful coups are often followed by successful coups. If you don’t have accountability for attacks on democracy, you will see further attacks on democracy that will be successful.”

Americans already have endured an unsuccessful coup. To prevent one that succeeds, more of us must pay attention, learn from history and act like the true Americans we can be.