Analysis | Trump would return to the White House unfettered and unassailable – The Washington Post

A chronicle of Donald Trump's Crimes or Allegations

Analysis | Trump would return to the White House unfettered and unassailable – The Washington Post

A second Trump administration would not be bounded as the first one was.
Voting in the Republican primary was still a month away and Fox News host Sean Hannity was eager to dispel a cloud that was forming over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Wasn’t it true, he asked the former president in December, that all of this chatter about Trump’s seeking retribution against his opponents was overwrought and inaccurate?
“I love this guy,” Trump said to the in-studio audience. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I say, ‘No, no, no — other than Day One.’ ”
The crowd cheered its approval. In short order, Trump was using this bit — dictator for a day — as an applause line at his rallies, to similar effect.
Hannity, of course, had wanted Trump to reject the idea out of hand, to embrace the traditional and expected rejection of authoritarianism that has been a defining feature of American politics since the country’s inception. But Trump likes authoritarians and he approves of authoritarianism and, given the opportunity, it’s clear that he would like to run the country the way he ran the Trump Organization for decades: with absolute royal power.
Should he be reelected to another term in office, he’d have a much better chance to make that a reality. A President-again Trump would be unfettered in ways that he wasn’t the first time around, and he has repeatedly promised to put that freedom to use.
He would know the levers of power. One of the constraints Trump faced when he arrived at the White House in January 2017 was he didn’t really know much about the presidency or federal power. Through trial and error, he learned how things worked — and where there were cracks. He learned where the blockades were little more than “DO NOT ENTER” signs taped to caution tape. And of course, he learned who was and wasn’t standing in his way.
His team would be loyalists, in the White House and the Capitol. Because he didn’t know how the government worked, Trump came to Washington in 2017 with a coterie composed of both right-wing allies and institutionalists. The institutionalists understood how presidential power worked — or at least, how it traditionally worked. Some of them, clearly, saw their jobs as keeping Trump tethered to tradition and the GOP establishment. And by 2020, most or all had been thrown overboard for loyalists.
Now Trump knows enough to know who he can bring along. He knows he wants an attorney general who will take marching orders, not lead an independent Justice Department. He knows that he wants administration staff, from the Cabinet down, who will put his interests first. He knows that he needs to reinforce his primacy among candidates seeking election to Congress.
His administration would quickly try to overhaul the federal bureaucracy to reduce friction. In the waning days of his administration, Trump introduced a plan to recategorize thousands of federal employees to make them easier to replace. His staff was already conducting a similar purge in the White House itself, seeking to oust those seen as insufficiently loyal to Trump.
If reelected, he would move quickly to put such an overhaul into place, with loyal Cabinet secretaries helping move the idea forward. Allied and sympathetic groups have already been compiling lists of loyalists who could be awarded positions — and lists of federal employees who deserve ouster.
Trump would understand that his actions had no significant consequences. The Supreme Court’s Monday decision in Trump v. United States announced to the world that any official act undertaken by a president could not lead to criminal indictment. If reelected, Trump would unquestionably use that not as a security blanket but as cover. The Supreme Court decision explicitly authorized Trump to task his attorney general on investigations, for example, something Trump would have done regardless of the ruling. Now, he has the imprimatur of the judiciary.
There are no other viable methods of accountability. Trump would not be up for reelection, barring a further dramatic erosion of constitutional boundaries, so he would have no need to even pay lip service to demands from voters outside his base. Trump knows that impeachment is toothless; Republicans in the Senate won’t vote en masse to remove him and his party is at no risk of seeing its Senate conference dwindle to 33 members.
He has the support of the final arbiters of legality. The court’s grant of immunity in Trump v. United States differentiated between official presidential acts and nonofficial acts, the latter of which could lead to prosecution. But that distinction wasn’t defined. Trump’s federal indictment in D.C. was the trigger for the court’s decision; it mandated that the judge in that case evaluate whether components of the indictment should be considered official or unofficial. But the final authority on such questions is the same court that gave Trump immunity in the first place.
It is not the case that the conservative/right-wing majority on the Supreme Court is unquestioningly loyal to Trump. It is the case, though, that this court has embraced right-wing positions repeatedly, from abortion access to bureaucratic power to presidential immunity.
The system is set up so that it and Congress should serve as checks on Trump’s power. Both have instead often kowtowed to or enabled it.
Trump would have more international allies. The rightward shift in American politics has been matched in other allied countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Trump’s approach to immigration, Russia and democracy are no longer as exceptional as they once were.
The media would be less able to hold him accountable. The media landscape has become more splintered since 2016, with many traditional publications seeing audiences erode. The effort to combat social media misinformation that followed the tumult of the 2016 election has been reversed or abandoned.
He would take office with a mandate to be who he has promised to be. Should Trump win in November, even by once again triumphing only in the electoral college vote, Trump would point to the victory as an endorsement of what he’s promised to do — and he would have a point.
This wouldn’t be like 2016, when voters heard Trump’s promises but still assumed he was relatively moderate. Now, Americans should know what Trump wants to do and how he’ll try to do it.
Trump said he’d want to be a dictator on his first day in office. His supporters cheered the idea. But that wouldn’t come to fruition. What might come instead is an authoritarian presidency: punishing opponents and rewarding allies, overhauling government to serve his whims, not the country’s. And all of it obscured by a web of dishonesty.
It’s what he’s said he’ll do and it’s what his allies are working to ensure he can do.
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