How Republicans Plan Donald Trump's Second Term

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The predominant memory of Donald Trump's time in the US presidency is one of chaos and resentment. It was summed up in the shameful end of his term, when his supporters were encouraged to storm the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Biden's inauguration. Since then, Trump has gone through a disgraceful impeachment process for incitement to insurrection and two criminal prosecutions, with more on the horizon. The former president seems obsessed with re-litigating his electoral defeat in 2020: "I am your justice," he declared this year before a crowd of supporters. "I am your punishment."

Trump is likely to win the nomination as the Republican presidential nominee by 2024. One might think that victory in the general election will herald even more chaos, this time without the adults who actually restrained his impulsive new boss at first. In fact, a professional corps of America First populists are already trying to get Trump to show me discipline and focus on making things work. They are already paving the way and their efforts should not be underestimated.

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Unlike the botched insurgency that stormed the White House in 2016, veterans of Trump's first term have been on the job for years. Even at this early stage, the details are worth considering. Thousands of page-long political documents lay out ideas once outlandish in Republican circles but have now become orthodox: finish the border wall, raise tariffs on allies and competitors alike, make unfunded tax cuts permanent, and remove automatic citizenship for anyone born in the United States. Furthermore, they display skepticism towards NATO and vow to “end the war on fossil fuels” by rejecting policies aimed at mitigating climate change.

Along with these proposals there is something that aims to revolutionize the very structure of the public sphere. The MAGA Republicans believe that they will only be able to implement their program if they first neutralize the Deep State by making it possible to fire tens of thousands of top officials. Around 50,000 civil servants could be laid off at will under a proposed plan known as Schedule F.

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At the same time, to fill the thousands of political appointments at the top of the US public administration, supporters of the America First movement are creating a “conservative LinkedIn” of candidates whose personal loyalty to Trump is beyond question. The mere fact of expressing objections to the assault on the Capitol that occurred on January 6, 2021 is grounds for disqualification. None of this is a shadowy conspiracy: it is being planned in full light.

Those “primers” will argue that civil service reform promises to improve democracy by preventing an unelected bureaucracy from impeding the agenda of an elected president. Although checks and balances are an important part of the American constitutional design, the civil service is not one of the three branches of government enshrined in it.

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File image of the US Federal Reserve (Fed) in Washington

The argument is invalid. One objection is practical. The administration's brain drain would come just as the expansion of the American state throughout the economy makes a competent bureaucracy more important than ever. Running a modern nation-state requires expertise in management, economics, foreign affairs, and science. If officials cannot challenge the wildest proposals of political officials for fear of being fired, politics will rot from within.

A second objection is political. A future Democratic president endowed with imperial powers and unchecked by reality is not something Republicans should hope for. One of the reasons for the professionalization of the bureaucracy in the 19th century was to provide the ship of State with enough ballast so that it could continue sailing from one government to another.

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President Joe Biden, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands before their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

A third objection is that those changes would give an all-powerful president direct control of the Justice Department. If it were able to fire all its alleged dissidents, the government would erase the norm of legal independence. In that case, the Trumpian resentment would be channeled into concrete revenge. Such a prospect should concern all Americans.

Having met with resistance from his previous attorneys general, the main criteria for Trump's next attorney general will be the flexibility of his backbone: the willingness to quash investigations into the president and his allies and to authorize them against a long list of real political enemies. and perceived. Although Trump has little practical reason to continue to foster mistrust in the electoral system (since the Constitution precludes a third term), he could just as well continue to do so out of a need to vindicate himself and harp on alleged voter fraud in 2020. .

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Musk and Zuckerberg have been challenging each other for months

If the Republicans take over both houses of Congress, as is likely to happen, there will be no one in the executive or legislature in a position to stop Trump. After all, most of those responsible will have already publicly accepted the legitimacy of storming the Capitol. The federal courts will become one of the few pockets of independence and knowledge in the American system. And it is hard to imagine that they are not under continued attack as well.

If these carefully crafted plans are implemented, the United States will follow Hungary and Poland down the path of illiberal democracy. It is true that the United States has more safeguards against rollback, including centuries of democratic history and a louder, more decentralized media. However, those barriers are weaker today than in the past. In addition, many Americans would be worse off with such plans. Trust in institutions and in the rule of law will suffer, which will further divide the country.

donaldus imperator

Some will try to console themselves with the thought that Trump will not win the primary or that he will lose the general election. His candidates may not be confirmed, or the Emperor of Entropy may sabotage the plans of his own supporters. It is an idea tinged with unforgivable complacency.

Trump is the favorite to win the nomination in a country where general elections are decided by a few tens of thousands of votes. In case of victory, a team of demolitions experts will put his explosive ideas to work. Then the deconstruction of the administrative State will begin. And on the rubble will rise the vain and tyrannical whims of a president-emperor.

© 2023 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved

Translation: Juan Gabriel López Guix

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