By Robert Reich
When I read a few days ago in The Washington Post that Trump and his allies have specific plans in a second Trump term to use the Justice Department to target Trump’s enemies, I was doubtful. Trump doesn’t plan. He reacts. He condemns. He lashes out. But he does not carefully think through anything in advance.
Then I checked in with my circle of Washington political operatives, several of whom are familiar with the people who are doing the “planning” for Trump’s second term — a group of bottom-feeding, power-hungry, right-wing opportunists who know that the way to build influence with Trump is to give him and tell him exactly what he wants to hear.
There’s no question that planning is underway. Trump isn’t doing it, but he has given it his blessing.
The difference between the first Trump administration-in-waiting and this second one is this: The first was ready to help Trump navigate the shoals of official Washington. The second is ready to help Trump destroy official Washington.
If Trump learned one thing during his four years as president, it’s that he doesn’t want anyone to tell him what he cannot do. All he wants are people to help him do what he wants to do.
And what he wants to do is sow enough chaos that he can take over.
According to a Times story last week, the plan is to install more aggressive and loyal lawyers committed to Trump’s agenda — people “willing to endure the personal and professional risks of association with Mr. Trump” and “willing to use theories that more establishment lawyers would reject.”
Among their goals is to pursue criminal cases against President Biden and high-profile former Trump allies who have turned critical of Trump (including ex-attorney general William P. Barr, ex-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, and ex-White House chief of staff John F. Kelly).
While punishing opponents, the plan is also to reward those who have fought for Trump (sometimes quite literally).
Trump and his allies are planning to pardon many January 6 defendants, whose conduct he has not only excused but lionized. “I mean full pardons with an apology to many,” he said last year. He added in a CNN town hall this year that he is inclined to pardon a “large portion” of the hundreds of defendants, while exempting “a couple of them” who perhaps “got out of control.”
He will also pardon himself from any and all federal criminal charges, even though it’s far from clear that the Constitution permits it.
Trump and his allies are also planning to invoke the Insurrection Act to quell any demonstrations on Trump’s first day.
The more chaos, the better. This is part of what I’ve referred to as Trump’s “chaos agenda.” The more chaos Trump and his allies can create, the more pessimistic Americans will feel about the capacities of our democratic institutions to govern the nation — which advances their authoritarian agenda.
That chaos agenda has already been activated inside the GOP. Shut down the government! Impeach Biden! Investigate the judges and prosecutors in Trump’s civil and criminal trials! Stop funding Ukraine! Don’t trust the intelligence community!
“How do Americans feel about politics?” The New York Times asked a few weeks ago, answering in the same headline: “Disgust isn’t a strong enough word.”
Trump and his allies want us to be disgusted. They want us to believe that America is ungovernable – and is becoming more so, as long as power remains diffused. They want us to think we need an authoritarian strongman — Trump — to concentrate power and take over everything.
That’s part of the plan. They’re aiming to reclassify as many as 50,000 federal employees now in charge of national security, intelligence, the State Department, law enforcement, and the military — so that they would lose employment protections and could more easily be replaced (presidents usually get to replace only about 4,000 political appointees).
As Trump said at a speech in June, “This is the final battle. With you at my side we will demolish the deep state. We will expel the warmongers from our government. We will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the communists, we will throw off the sick political class that hates our country.”
They want to consolidate Trump’s authority over virtually every part of the federal government, including such independent agencies as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, and even the Fed. “What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” former Trump budget director Russ Vought told the Times.
Finally, Trump and his allies are planning a far more aggressive immigration policy. He has promised to ramp up his controversial travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries, “halt all of the refugee settlements to the United States,” and embark on the “largest deportation operation” in U.S. history.
This would involve expanding the powers of National Guard and state officials to arrest and deport people — despite long-standing limits on the military conducting law enforcement activities.
As I said, I’m skeptical of any “planning” going on inside Trump’s head. But I’ve become convinced that a small band of Trump sycophants (likely including the lapdog authoritarian trio of Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and Steve Bannon) is right now clearing the runway for an even more neofascist regime than was Trump 1.
As I said, I don’t believe he’ll be reelected. But if he is, there’s reason to be worried. Very worried.
This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack