Opinion: Saying the authoritarianism out loud

FILE - Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. 

FILE - Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa.  Bryon Houlgrave


Published: 11-27-2023 6:30 AM

Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.

For any close observer of the MAGA movement, the last week or two has been extremely revealing. Donald Trump and the MAGA movement are telling us exactly what they intend to do if they regain power. Shredding the Constitution, Trump plans to replace democracy with strongman rule. This assertion is not based on the words of a raving leftist. It is coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

Americans are accustomed to expecting the same political horse races that have characterized past presidential elections. That is the definition of normalcy. What is different about Trump 2024 is that it is focused on achieving power, not necessarily winning any election.

It is not that Trump does not want to win. Because he and his allies have a terrible record of losing elections, Trump has a Plan B, C, D and E. Elections are too risky and unreliable for Trump. January 6 is a blueprint of sorts. After 60 courts rejected his Big Lie, after his false elector scheme failed and after Mike Pence did not come through for him, Trump opted for a violent coup attempt. There is absolutely no reason not to expect a repeat violent performance in 2024.

The truth is that we came remarkably close to losing democracy in 2020. No one knows how 2024 will play out. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, extremist judges and misinformation remain key Trump weapons. We do know that Trump will say he won regardless of the result.

Losing is less of an option now for Trump because losing would very likely mean prison time. 91 felony counts can focus the mind. If he can connive his way to power, he will make the criminal cases go away. He has a long career of evading consequences for shady behavior. This is someone with absolutely no respect for democracy, the rule of law, or elections.

As was revealed in the last week by former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, Trump had no intention of leaving the White House in 2020, even after he lost. Ellis told Kilton County, Ga. prosecutors that Trump’s senior aide Dan Scavino told her “the boss” was not leaving the White House “under any circumstances.” This was after all legal challenges were exhausted.

When she testified before the January 6 Committee, Ellis recalled that Trump told his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows: “I don’t want people to know that we lost. It is embarrassing, figure it out. We need to figure it out.” Trump ultimately could not change the 2020 result but for 2024, desperation will likely be the mother of invention.

The Trump playbook is not hard to figure. He doesn’t abide by any election result. Any election he doesn’t win is a fraud. He has said and will say the 2024 election is rigged. For his followers, he will plant the idea that he couldn’t lose a fair election. A loss is per se proof of fraud. As for his criminal prosecutions, regardless of evidence, they are simply dismissed as witch hunts.

If he wins the presidency again, retribution is the major Trump theme. As Ben Collins has said: “Trumpism is no longer a political movement. It’s a violent fairy tale of revenge on political enemies.” Trump has vowed to use the Justice Department to go after his political adversaries. The hit list includes Joe Biden and his family, his former Chief of Staff John Kelly, his former Attorney General Bill Barr, his ex-attorney Ty Cobb and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley.

Trump explained in Claremont that he sees his political enemies as “vermin.” When he is talking about “Communists, Marxists, Fascists and Radical Left thugs” that is substitute language he uses to describe Democrats and any opponent. The term “vermin” is straight from Nazi lexicon. It is the language they used to describe Jews.

What do you do to vermin? You exterminate. When asked about the use of the term “vermin,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung responded, “Their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

The Washington Post has reported that Trump will invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military to quell civil demonstrations. I am sure he remembers, not fondly, the enormous women’s marches that ushered in his term in 2017. As for his dictatorial plans, Project 2025 is a good place to begin. Crafted by his allies in the Heritage Foundation, Project 2025 is a recipe for a vastly expanded Executive Branch power. The plan is to give Trump dictatorial powers.

Immigration is an area where Trump has been most explicit. He plans to deport many millions of immigrants. He wants to detain them in what his aide Stephen Miller calls “vast holding facilities on open land in Texas near the border” while they wait to be expelled. Trump wants to get rid of due process hearings so that he can expedite removals.

Contrary to the 14th Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court case of United States v Wong Kim Ark, he wants to end birthright citizenship by executive order. He wants to impose an ideological test on immigrant entry and he wants the freedom to revoke visas from foreigners for any reason. He would re-impose a Muslim ban and Title 42 which falsely claimed immigrants carried infectious diseases.

Stephen Miller has explained that MAGA plans a massive anti-immigration blitz to overwhelm legal opposition. Dissatisfied with Federalist Society lawyers, Trump wants to utilize lawyers who are to the right of Attila the Hun to pursue a brand of autocratic “legality.” It may be a challenge to find such unethical extremist lawyers but from past experience, I would have to say probably not.

While the concentration camps are allegedly being created to hold immigrants awaiting deportation, it is a fair question to ask if others Trump deems as “vermin” will also land there.

Considering what is at stake in 2024, public response to the threat represented by MAGA has been muted. Brian Klaas said, “we are sleepwalking toward authoritarianism.” Americans have an anti-fascist tradition that is deeply rooted in our history. It is time for sleepwalkers to awake.