Trump's authoritarian tells
A vote for Trump is a vote for a perpetual constitutional crisis
There has been a flurry of articles in recent weeks sounding the alarm about Donald Trump’s authoritarian plans should he win re-election in 2024. There is good reason to be concerned. Trump and his supporters seem convinced that the election is already won and are openly and explicitly discussing many of their plans for the next four years. A wise man once said that when authoritarians tell you what they want to do, believe them. Americans should listen and believe what Trump and his cohorts are telling us.
One of the most blatant red flags came last week when The Former Guy was interviewed by Sean Hannity, who asked, “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”
One of Donald Trump’s characteristics is his tendency to flub softball questions such as answering a question about his religious faith by bragging about his poll numbers. This was also the case when it came to Sean Hannity’s question where a simple “No, I will not abuse my authority” would have sufficed. Instead, Trump answered, “Except for day one,” adding, “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
Excuse me, what?
First, “except for day one” is not saying no. It’s saying yes, which should be concerning to anyone who respects the Constitution.
Second, the references to closing the border and drilling are nonsequiturs and red herrings that don’t have anything to do with the question that was asked. Maybe Trump intends to abuse his authority to close the border and drill for oil, but it’s not clear how he would do so, especially in one day.
Finally, does anyone believe that Trump would abuse power on day one and then become a model president who obeys all rules? I don’t think that The Former Guy is capable of being that person even if he wanted to (and I see no evidence that he does). Abusing power is like eating potato chips. You can’t stop at just one.
Trump’s statement to Hannity was only one of the most recent and glaring examples of Trump’s authoritarian tells. An additional example was a Truth Social post from early December in which Trump calls upon the government to “come down hard” on MSNBC for what he alleges is “illegal political activity.” The crime that Trump accuses the network of is criticizing himself and the Republican Party.
In fact, Trump and his cronies have made numerous remarks that indicate that they intend to use government power to crack down on political opponents, the First Amendment be damned. Kash Patel, a Trump insider touted as a possible attorney general or CIA director in a second Trump Administration, appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where he said, “We are going to come after people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections. We’re going to come after you, whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out, but yeah, we’re putting you all on notice.”
Going even further, The Washington Post reported that Trump and his allies are drafting plans to use the Insurrection Act to deploy the military against civil demonstrations on his first day in office. Remember Trump’s comment about “not after the first day?”
Trump had previously threatened to use the Insurrection Act during the 2020 BLM riots and has recently implied that he would use the military to take control of “crime dens” such as New York and Chicago. The AP reported that Trump told an audience in Iowa, “The next time, I’m not waiting. 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.”
The Insurrection Act dates back to 1807, but few presidents have used it to intervene in local and state affairs. Nevertheless, there isn’t much to prevent abuse in the hands of a lawless executive.
“The principal constraint on the president’s use of the Insurrection Act is basically political, that presidents don’t want to be the guy who sent tanks rolling down Main Street,” said Joseph Nunn, an expert on domestic activities of the US military with the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s not much really in the law to stay the president’s hand.”
Republicans decry the warnings and aver that institutions would hold in a second Trump term as they did in the first. The rub here is that institutions held largely because of heroic individuals within the Trump Administration who resisted Trump’s efforts. Those individuals would not be present in a second term.
Axios recently reported on vetting documents from the Heritage Foundation and the 2020 Trump White House, which give insight into what Trump would be looking for in subordinates. The report cites a former Trump staffer who said, “They want to see that you're listening to Tucker, and not pointing to the Reagan revolution or any George W. Bush stuff.”
In other words, The Former Guy will want a cadre of yes-men MAGA true believers, not conservatives and constitutionalists. Trump wants people he can control and who won’t block his whims as too many of his old staffers did.
This is the alarm that Chris Christie has been sounding. On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, the candidate from New Jersey recently warned, “Forty of his 44 cabinet level people have said not only that they wouldn’t work for him again, they wouldn’t vote for him. And so who’s he going to bring in? Is this going to be the Kash Patels of the world? The Jeffrey Clarks of the world? The Michael Flynns of the world? [They] are going to be the people who are going to populate the next Trump administration, a bunch of deranged sycophants who will just do whatever the masters tell them to do, regardless of the law and the Constitution.”
One prominent Trump supporter who acknowledges that Trump’s campaign is about revenge is none other than former House Speaker and soon-to-be-retired congressman Kevin McCarthy. In an interview with CBS News’ Bob Costa that aired last Sunday, McCarthy said, “What President Trump needs to do in this campaign, it needs to be about rebuilding, restoring, renewing America. It can’t be about revenge.”
“He’s talking about retribution, day in, day out,” Costa answered.
“He needs to stop that,” McCarthy replied.
The big question is how far Trump could go. Abuse of power is one thing but a true dictatorship requires longevity and Trump would be constitutionally term-limited to only one more term. I would be surprised if Trump did not attempt to stay in power past 2028. After all, he has attempted to illegally stay in power in the past, and the current Trump is much more radical than even the 2020 Trump.
I don’t know exactly what form such a power grab would take, but it might be as simple as just refusing to hand over power and daring anyone to stop him, using his handpicked law enforcement and military appointees as muscle.
I can envision Trump channeling his inner Andrew Jackson and saying, “The Supreme Court has made its decision, now let them enforce it.” By that point, Trump hopes that the civilian and military leaders responsible for enforcing the Court’s decisions will have been replaced by MAGA loyalists. I have zero faith that congressional Republicans would act to remove him in such a scenario. If Trump refuses to step down and the government refuses to evict him from power, that will move the country perilously close to civil war.
When I stop to think about it, a lot of the integrity of our institutions, especially at the upper levels, is very dependent on people accepting the authority of the courts and the rule of law and tradition. In Trump’s first term (and to some extent under Obama), we saw how quickly the system starts to break down when rogue officials just refuse to play ball. This is especially true when their partisans refuse to hold them accountable.
This is the truth underscored by Liz Cheney when she warned, “We can survive bad policy. We cannot survive a president who torches the Constitution.”
And while it’s true that Trump might not be successful in his authoritarian schemes, even having the fight is not good for the country. Donald Trump would present the nation with a perpetual constitutional crisis that will deepen divisions and weaken federal institutions even if they do hold. Laws and norms are like elastic and, when pulled too far, become stretched and distorted rather than returning to their original shape. This is not something that we should want to subject our nation to if we truly love it.
It is also telling that most of the people who whistle past the graveyard on a second Trump term are people who didn’t believe (or claimed not to) that he would refuse to step down in his first term. Quite a few others within the GOP are probably quietly hoping that Trump follows through on his authoritarian promises.
Our best hope is that Republican voters come to their senses and nominate a sane and law-abiding candidate in their primaries next year. A more likely outcome is that general election voters will reject Donald Trump’s dystopian plans for America and refuse to return him to power. Even when Democratic candidates are lackluster, voters have a strong record of rejecting MAGA extremism.
God willing, that trend will continue in 2024, but even a voter rejection doesn’t leave us totally safe since some state legislatures have undertaken measures that might help them overrule the will of the voters. The Supreme Court gave the independent state legislature theory a preemptive smackdown last summer, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of it.
Trump’s Big Government, revenge-laden agenda needs to be a central issue in the 2024 campaign. We need to keep sounding the alarm and playing the clips for as long as he is a contender. People need to understand that a vote for Trump is not a vote for a conservative constitutionalist but a radical, power-hungry, would-be dictator.
Even by the standards of his first four years, Trump in 2024 is the most blatant major party advocate for a police state since at least Woodrow Wilson, a man who jailed political opponents and activists for speaking out against the government. Don’t say it can’t happen here because it has.
Even with Trump’s strong polling, I am hopeful that when most voters start paying attention, they will just say no to Trump. I like to hearken back to Michael Medved’s axiom that voters tend to choose the least scary and least radical option. In 2024, that’s not going to be Donald Trump.
UKRAINE AMMO SHORTAGE: I wrote recently that the Republican decision to block aid to Ukraine would cost lives and it’s already happening. Business Insider reported that Ukrainian soldiers are rationing ammunition because supplies from the US have been slower to arrive since the Gaza war started.
The report, which originated in the Times of London, quotes a Ukrainian mortar crewman who said, “When it's two or three soldiers, I'm not shooting anymore; only when it's a critical situation, say, ten guys close to our infantry, we will work.”
The soldier said that they are not completely out of ammunition, thanks to supplies from other countries, but that American rounds are of a higher quality: “American rounds come in batches of almost identical weights, which makes it easier to correct fire, with very few duds. Now we have shells from all over the world with different qualities, and we only get 15 for three days. Last week, we got a batch full of duds.”
The war in Ukraine has been likened to World War I’s Western front with its trenches and artillery duels. This sort of warfare makes for very high rate of expenditure when it comes to artillery and mortar shells.
Cutting off Ukrainian aid is a lot like gun control. It disarms the victims of aggression while doing nothing to address the root causes of crime, the crime in this case being Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country.
TEXAS ABORTION CASE: The Texas Supreme Court ruled against a woman suing to have an abortion after she learned that her baby had a fatal health condition. The woman is leaving the state to have the abortion elsewhere.
WELCOME AND SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS: I have noticed quite a few new subscriptions and I’d like to welcome everyone to the Racket News family! We don’t fit into either partisan niche, so if we haven’t said something to tick you off yet, just give it time. A good place to start is our inaugural post from three years ago.
We invite you to connect with us both through the comments on our articles and through social media. Just remember to be nice. We like to keep the discussion civil.
You can also follow us on social media at several different locations. Official Racket News pages include:
We aren’t on Threads as a news page yet, but both Steve and I do have personal accounts there:
Our personal accounts on the platform formerly known as Twitter:
Finally, I’ll add my author page on Facebook and my personal Mastodon account:
Thanks again for subscribing! Don’t forget to share us with your friends!
Thanks for reading The Racket News ™! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.