After Colorado, what’s next for America?

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People talk and hold signs at a protest against the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to bar former President Donald Trump from the state's primary ballot, Dec. 27, 2023., outside the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)

America’s institutions are functionally incapable of barring an adversary of the country from leading it.

Trump disqualification

Read more from our reporting on the Trump 14th Amendment case here.

That assessment is unavoidable now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of former President Donald Trump in the case over whether he should be disqualified from the Colorado ballot.

The court was the country’s last primary source of legal protection against a second Trump presidency. The justices not only proved unwilling to follow the plain language of the Constitution, the conservative majority with brazen overreach ruled in such a way as to insulate Trump from disqualification far beyond the Colorado case. They appeared eager not just to dispense with a divisive case but to aid a political ally.

The ruling is among the most vivid instances of structural collapse in attempts to protect the country from Trump. A functional constitutional republic ensures accountability for the sort of abuse the former president has perpetrated, and the law provides several inherent safeguards meant to repel such internal enemies. But those safeguards have all failed, because, again and again, the people in positions to implement them chose not to.

That leaves the country in a dire position.

If President Joe Biden wins reelection in November, Trump and MAGA insurgents are all but certain to reject the results and assault the system. They did it before, and they’re already doing it again. If Trump wins, he will reshape the executive branch as a tool of autocracy.

Barring some extraordinary event, one of these two disasters awaits the nation, and it would be negligent to put off thinking about what comes next for America.

Trump, the Republican front-runner for president, attempted a violent coup the first time he was president, after he lost an election. That was the capstone to a political career marked by treasonous coddling of foreign enemies, abuse of power and mob tactics. After he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection, institutional defenses should have engaged on an emergency basis.

Then-Vice President Mike Pence, whom the Trump mob sought to assassinate, could have invoked 25th Amendment removal of Trump. But he let it go.

The Senate could have convicted Trump and permanently disqualified him from office after the House impeached him. But Republicans gave him a pass.

Trump could have been prosecuted under the federal law against insurrection, which also comes with permanent disqualification from office. But federal prosecutors declined.

Attorney General Merrick Garland could have acted swiftly to hold Trump accountable for obvious crimes. But he dithered.

The special counsel Garland finally appointed is trying Trump on criminal counts. But the charges don’t include any that come with disqualification from public office, and the Trump partisans posing as impartial jurists on the U.S. Supreme Court have likely ensured that Trump will escape prosecution before November. Even after a conviction, Trump could pardon himself if he wins election.

The Colorado lawsuit was the last plausible structural defense against Trump returning to the White House. Six Colorado voters sued to block Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which says no person who took an oath to support the Constitution then “engaged in insurrection” can hold any office in the United States. But, even though numerous constitutional experts, notably conservative scholars, largely agreed Trump should be disqualified under Section 3, and the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the U.S. Supreme Court justices, through an unholy mix of bias, politics and ignorance, sided with Trump.

Is a MAGA-ruled America an America its residents will tolerate?

Too many voters do not seem to have grasped that giving Trump another term would ratify a shift from constitutional to authoritarian government, even as Trump himself discusses his strong-man intentions out loud. But the threat of this transformation cannot be overstated. As Robert Kagan, a Washington Post editor who thinks “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable,” wrote in November, “Think of the power of a man who gets himself elected president despite indictments, courtroom appearances and perhaps even conviction? Would he even obey a directive of the Supreme Court? Or would he instead ask how many armored divisions the chief justice has?”

Trump plans to weaponize the federal government to “punish critics and opponents” and derail campaigns of political rivals by using the Justice Department as a dirty tricks shop.

He wants to shatter the civil service corps of federal staffers and install thousands of people who’ve demonstrated sufficient personal loyalty to him, rather than ability to serve the American people, a project described by its architect as “institutionalizing Trumpism.”

He would deploy as many as 300,000 U.S. troops on American soil to fight immigration as a “war” and help build camps to detain millions of people.

Trump and likely administration appointees talk openly about jailing journalists during a second term. No one can seriously believe that if Trump had a second term that he wouldn’t insist on claiming a third and a fourth.

The fascist Trump, in an irreparable break with 235 years of constitutional order, would rule as a lawless autocrat.

But the question of whether a Trump presidency would be “constitutional” is largely irrelevant at this point. The real question is this: Is a MAGA-ruled America an America its residents will tolerate? It’s reasonable to estimate that for around half the country, the answer is no.

What then?

Whatever the answer, the nation has yet to meaningfully reckon with the implications. It has less than a year to do so.

The post After Colorado, what’s next for America? appeared first on Colorado Newsline.