Donald Trump reportedly did not expect to win the presidency in 2016, which isn’t surprising considering how ill-prepared he and his team were to take control of the country. He appointed established conservatives to key positions before learning some had personal principles that extended beyond indulging the president’s ego. Trump wreaked havoc on the United States for four years, but the damage might have been even greater if he wasn’t battling career public servants who tried to check his impulses, or if he wasn’t such a political neophyte.
Trump will not be the dog that caught the car heading into his second term. He’ll be ready and waiting to take the wheel and hit the gas. The former president has now had nearly a decade to burnish his understanding of how Washington, D.C., works, and to assemble a political machine laser-focused on exploiting a federal government full of loopholes to give him the power to enact an authoritarian agenda that could spell disaster for the economy, the environment, human rights, and democracy.
Trump still needs to win the Republican nomination, but his romp in the Iowa caucuses on Monday confirmed that he is in total control of the primary and will almost certainly be squaring off with Joe Biden in an election to determine the fate of the nation.
Here’s what’s at stake:
He will indict Biden and his other political enemies
Trump has made abundantly clear that he will use a potential second term in office to take revenge on his enemies. He’s planning to do so by helming the Justice Department with a loyal attorney general willing to appoint a slew of special prosecutors to go after everyone he feels has wronged him. These plans have been in the works since 2021, as Rolling Stone reported in August, and focus not just on Biden, whom Trump believes is the primary force behind his myriad legal woes, but also on Special Counsel Jack Smith, Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and plenty of others. “There are almost too many targets to keep track of,” one Trump adviser familiar with the discussions says.
Trump’s potential revenge tour has already been mapped out in detail. Rolling Stone reported last year, for example, that Trump’s team has been exploring legal strategies to criminally charge Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — who indicted the former president for paying porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair ahead of the 2016 election — including by using the DOJ’s civil rights divisions to go after Bragg, who is Black, for “racist law enforcement policies,” as one source put it. The Washington Post has also reported on the specificity of Trump’s plans to take down his haters, noting in November that he even wants to investigate former allies he believes have turned on him, including his former Attorney General William Barr and former chief of staff John Kelly.
The plans for retribution are being hatched behind the scenes, but Trump has been fantasizing publicly about putting them into motion. “The precedent on doing what they did, with the weaponization, using the DOJ and the FBI to go after their political opponents, that is so bad,” Trump told Lou Dobbs in January, referring to the idea that all of his indictments and all of the lawsuits he is facing are politically motivated. “That means I can do it too,” he continued. “Pandora’s Box is open and that means that I can do it too.”
Trump: “Doing what they did – using the DOJ & FBI to go after their political opponent .. that means that I can do it too. In other words, the Pandora’s box is open, and that means that I can do it too.” pic.twitter.com/FYafQE2Wc0
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) January 9, 2024
He will round up, intern, and deport undocumented immigrants
Trump is planning to crack down on illegal immigration — hard. The New York Times reported last November that he is going to “scour” the nation for undocumented immigrants and deport them “by the millions per year.” He wants to throw the undocumented into detention camps while their cases are being processed, but will do away with due-process hearings to make it easier to kick them out of the United States. He’ll reportedly pull money from the military to fund the effort, if Congress won’t comply.
He will send the military to the border
Trump mused late last year that he will be a “dictator” for one day only, should he win reelection. Rolling Stone reported shortly after his comments that part of this authoritarian plot is to send potentially hundreds of thousands of troops to help seal the border and build new detention camps to house migrants. Trump tried to do something similar during his first term, but he was shot down by officials and attorneys due to fears of legal repercussions. He’s going to surround himself with more compliant actors in a potential second term, who are already working on ways to make a militarized border “perfectly legal.”
He will invade Mexico
Trump was talked out of bombing Mexico to take out drug labs during his first term, but he hasn’t let go of the idea. “‘Attacking Mexico,’ or whatever you’d like to call it, is something that President Trump has said he wants ‘battle plans’ drawn for,” a source familiar told Rolling Stone last year. “He’s complained about missed opportunities of his first term, and there are a lot of people around him who want fewer missed opportunities in a second Trump presidency.”
He will round up the homeless and send the National Guard into cities to fight crime
Trump claimed last year that our “once great cities have become unlivable, unsanitary nightmares, surrendered to the homeless, the drug-addicted, and the violent and dangerously deranged.” His solution is to ban urban camping and corral the unhoused into tent cities, which will be staffed by “doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and drug-rehab specialists.” Trump says he will pay for all this with the money the U.S. saves from “ending mass, unskilled migration.”
Trump will crack down on crime by sending the National Guard into American cities, presumably at his own discretion. He’s also said he wants to pull federal funding from law enforcement that doesn’t use stop-and-frisk policing, a practice prone to racial profiling that has been deemed unconstitutional.
He will bring back the death penalty in a big way
Trump is a big fan of the death penalty. Rolling Stone reported last year on how the Trump administration went on a killing mission during his final year in office, executing 13 people in six months after the federal government had only put three people to death in the previous 60 years. Trump is thirsty for more. Rolling Stone reported subsequently that Trump is committed to expanding the use of the death penalty if he’s reelected, and that he’s talked about bringing back death by firing squad and hanging, according to two sources. He’s even suggested the possibility of executing people by guillotine. He’s floated executing anyone convicted of dealing drugs.
He will make stuff more expensive by taxing all imported goods
“When companies come in and they dump their products in the United States, they should pay, automatically, let’s say a 10-percent tax,” Trump told Larry Kudlow on Fox Business last August.
The Washington Post reported that Trump does indeed want to institute a “universal baseline tariff” to create a “ring around the U.S. economy.” The Post notes economists from both sides of the aisle are alarmed at the idea. “On net, this would harm the American economy substantially” and “gum up our whole production process,” Chris Clarke, an economist at Washington State University, told the paper. “Producers would have higher costs, and now all the consumers are paying higher prices for goods that used to be imported.”
He will reevaluate America’s participation in NATO
Trump has long griped about the longstanding military alliance, arguing that European nations aren’t paying their fair share. Rolling Stone reported last year that Trump wants to wind down America’s participation in NATO to a “standby” role if his demands aren’t met, which would be a gift to Vladimir Putin as Russia continues to fight for control of Ukraine.
“It would be a tremendously stupid endeavor, especially at a time when war in Europe rages, and much of Europe is looking to the United States to deter further conflict,” Dr. Aaron Stein, a Black Sea Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Rolling Stone, reacting to Trump’s NATO-skeptic policy goals. “Trading away allies based on ignorance, and Trump is ignorant about this issue, is just silly for broader U.S. national security.”
The conflict in Europe shouldn’t be a problem, however, as Trump has claimed repeatedly that he’ll be able to end the war in Ukraine in a day.
His rhetoric around the issue has intensified throughout the campaign. During a February rally in South Carolina, Trump said he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to “delinquent” NATO member nations.
He will roll back all of Biden’s climate progress and reinvest in fossils fuels
The United States set a record for oil output during Biden’s first term in office, but Trump wants to do even more damage to the environment. He’s made clear he’s going to “drill, baby, drill” on his first day in office, and that he will roll back clean-energy initiatives, including those included in the Inflation Reduction Act. Trump will also, of course, once again pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, the international agreement to work to hold the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.
He will construct “freedom cities” filled with flying cars
Trump laid out a plan early last year to build 10 “freedom cities” on federal land as part of what he described as a “new American future.” The cities would feature flying cars so as to ensure that “America, not China, leads the revolution in air mobility.”
“We’ll actually build new cities in our country again,” Trump said. “These freedom cities will reopen the frontier, reignite American imagination, and give hundreds of thousands of young people and other people, all hardworking families, a new shot at home ownership and, in fact, the American dream.”
JUST IN: 🇺🇸 Former President Trump proposes building 10 new "freedom cities" across the United States. pic.twitter.com/qgbBMuUZtK
— Remarks (@Remarks) March 3, 2023
He will try to overhaul the education system in the MAGA image
Trump said last September that he wants to shutter the Department of Education and pass the buck to state governments, claiming that federal education employees “in many cases hate our children.” Trump may not want the federal government dictating how schools operate, but he plans to use his office to go after institutions that don’t adhere to MAGA ideals, vowing to “cut funding for any school or program pushing critical race theory, gender ideology, or other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content on our children,” and even to have the Justice Department open investigations into recalcitrant schools.
He will torch the First Amendment by going after non-MAGA media
Trump has long railed against unflattering media coverage, whether come by way of CNN, MSNBC, or other “fake news” outlets, or from any of his many propaganda arms, including Fox News. He’s teased real retribution against the former category, however, raising concerns over the damage another term could do to the First Amendment.
“MSNBC (MSDNC) uses FREE government approved airwaves, and yet it is nothing but a 24 hour hit job on Donald J. Trump,” he wrote in November. “It is the world’s biggest political contribution to the Radical Left Democrats who, by the way, are destroying our Country. Our so-called ‘government’ should come down hard on them and make them pay for their illegal political activity. Much more to come, watch!”
A few weeks later, Kash Patel, a former adviser who is still very much in Trump’s orbit, emphasized the point, telling former White House strategist Steve Bannon that a new Trump administration “will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media” and “come after them.”
“Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out,” Patel added. “But yeah, we’re putting you all on notice. We’re actually going to use the Constitution to prosecute them for crimes they said we have always been guilty of but never have.”
Trump reminded everyone of the push to crackdown on the media after winning the Iowa caucus in January, complaining about how CNN and NBC didn’t air his victory speech. “They are crooked, they are dishonest, and frankly they should have their licenses or whatever they have taken away,” he said.
He will legally delegitimize trans Americans
Trump wants to codify the discrimination of trans Americans. He’s said he would move to enact a federal law stating that there are only two genders, push Congress to ban gender-affirming care for minors, and punish doctors and hospitals who treat transgender youth. He has also vowed to restore his first administration’s ban on trans Americans serving in the military, and work to prevent trans women from competing in women’s sports.
PRES. TRUMP: I will restore the Trump ban on transgender in the military
“I had it stopped.” pic.twitter.com/9t13spHbRa
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) July 16, 2023
He will pardon the Jan. 6 rioters
Trump and his allies in Congress view the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as a noble effort, and have long lamented how those arrested for breaking into Congress have been treated. Trump said during a town hall last May that he will “most likely” pardon “a large portion of them.”
He will gut the federal government and take unprecedented control of what’s left
Trump plans to gut the federal government by reclassifying tens of thousands of civil service employees so that he can fire them.
“We will clean out all of the corrupt actors in our National Security and Intelligence apparatus, and there are plenty of them,” he said last March. “The departments and agencies that have been weaponized will be completely overhauled so that faceless bureaucrats will never again be able to target and persecute conservatives, Christians, or the left’s political enemies.”
Trump will ensure that the federal employees that remain are sufficiently loyal to him. Project 2025 — a Trump-oriented transition project helmed by the conservative Heritage Foundation with help from people loyal to the former president — has long been vetting potential staffers.
The former president has also said that if he once again becomes the current president, he will take control of agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, paving the way for Trump to impose his will over trade policy and the media.
The federal government will not be operating on behalf of the people of the United States during a prospective second Trump term; it will be operating on behalf of Trump.
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