There are no more dog whistles. No code words. No efforts to hide the truth. When it comes to democracy, Republicans are against it.
That little nugget may have been just one of the endless series of mistakes, slip-ups, and misstatements that the media seems willing to overlook when it comes to Donald Trump. But even if that’s the case, you don’t have to go far to understand what Trump has in mind for America. There’s “Agenda47,” where Trump promises to expand the death penalty, end birthright citizenship, and create giant “tent cities” for homeless people. And there’s the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, which lays out plans to destroy the Department of Justice and replace tens of thousands of career federal employees with conservatives pledged to Trump’s will.
But this past week, it seems that major media outlets woke up enough to realize that whistling past the Chancellery may not be the best idea.
As The New York Times reported on Monday, Trump’s plan for moving the country into authoritarian control is now more sophisticated, and the systems that are supposed to safeguard democracy have all been weakened. It’s not that Trump hasn’t always been a radical fan of authoritarian rule.
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it,” Donald J. Trump said in an interview with Playboy magazine the year after the massacre. “Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”
It’s just that the first time around, Trump seemed unprepared for the idea that he couldn’t just step into the Oval Office and begin enjoying the despotic freedom of a Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin. This time, Trump and his allies seem to be pulling out all the stops to ensure that there are no stops.
Not only has Trump been mimicking the language of the Nazi Party in describing his opponents as “vermin” and fretting that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” he’s also making it clear that he intends to take actions lifted from Germany circa 1939.
Republicans have made the idea of invading Mexico practically a requirement for being a candidate in 2024, and Trump has sworn to get that done. Besides getting a little American lebensraum, Trump has also threatened to send military forces to take control of “Democratic cities.” Which would be all but three of America’s 20 largest cities and almost two-thirds of the top 100.
Meanwhile, the whole Republican system of institutes and foundations has reshaped itself into a tool for wielding power in a second Trump term. In Congress, Trump has “worn down, outlasted, intimidated into submission or driven out” any Republican not willing to bend the knee, according to the Times. And when it comes to staff, Trump has lined up a prospective cabinet and collection of staffers all of whom know the only word the boss wants to hear is “yes.” None of them is going to get in Trump’s way or try to talk him down from illegal action.
Last Thursday, it was The Washington Post with an op-ed about not the possibility, but the probability of a Trump dictatorship during a second term. That article includes a warning that as bad as the political rhetoric is now, it’s about to get worse.
The magical-thinking phase is ending. Barring some miracle, Trump will soon be the presumptive Republican nominee for president. When that happens, there will be a swift and dramatic shift in the political power dynamic, in his favor. Until now, Republicans and conservatives have enjoyed relative freedom to express anti-Trump sentiments, to speak openly and positively about alternative candidates, to vent criticisms of Trump’s behavior past and present. … All this will end once Trump wins Super Tuesday.
As soon as it’s clear Trump is the Republican nominee, no one should hold on to a fantasy that anyone will stand up to oppose him. The other candidates are already out there on the hustings, trying to run against Trump without really running against Trump. It’s a stage trick that all of them seem to think is necessary, but it’s also one that dooms them from the outset.
Trump will roll into the fall as the guy who has once more “united his party,” as every Republican who gets in front of a microphone does their best to find new ways to garner attention by voicing even greater support and admiration. All of this will be reported as “momentum.”
The Post points out that when voters in Weimar Germany turned to Adolf Hitler, they did so in a period of disgust with their messy and ineffective democratic government. For decades, Republicans have been the party of political dysfunction, and they’ve raised their ineptness to high art in the past year—but there’s no reason to think that voters will be selective in expressing their distaste. “Throw all the bums out” is an expression even more common than “Let’s get ourselves a strong man who gets things done.”
Right now, a strong majority of voters say they are worried about democracy. No one should assume that just because Republicans are the problem, they will pay the cost. And The Washington Post op-ed points out a critical piece of the puzzle: If Trump wins the election, it will be because he has already shown the justice system holds no power over him. Why should he ever fear the law—any law—again?
Maybe it wouldn’t help if The New York Times and The Washington Post ran such articles every day. Maybe it wouldn’t help if all the rest of the media joined in.
But it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
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