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Aiming for Dictatorship
While Trump hungers for retribution and extremist Republicans mock successes of modern liberal government, a network of right-wing groups plot a fascist takeover with an all-powerful U.S. president
The extremist Republicans (and all their enablers) are not done. Not by a long shot. It’s important to be sober and clear-eyed about this.
If you heard Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s remarks over the weekend at the Turning Point Action conference, it might have been laughable in how deep inside a far-right bubble it seemed.
She thought she was attacking President Joe Biden. Consider the horror. “Joe Biden had the largest public investment in social infrastructure and environmental programs, that is actually finishing what FDR started, that LBJ expanded on…Programs to address education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, transportation, Medicare, Medicaid, labor unions, and he still is working on it,” Greene said.
It didn’t take long for Biden and his staff to pick up on it. The White House Twitter account posted, “Caught us. President Biden is working to make life easier for hardworking families.” Then, they released a campaign video using the comments, noting, “I approve this message.”
How could Greene miss it? How did she think, employing her snarling, sarcastic tone, that she was taking it to him? Hers was an audience bent on “owning the libs,” ending the role of liberal government to improve lives, stopping the role of public education and public-funded healthcare and public transportation to shape civic life, crushing the role of government and the courts to increase equality by recognizing the reality of racial and economic inequality.
In short, this means securing “freedom” for a white, Christian, patriarchal America that resents and rejects the country’s growing demographic realities and the role of democratic institutions to ensure the principles of equality and justice for all.
Let’s remember how we got here: From the 1930s and FDR until the 1980s and Ronald Reagan, a view of government seeking a stable middle class, addressing the ravages of poverty with a social safety net, limiting extreme income disparities and securing civil rights was a largely shared mission of both parties. That shared agenda has been unraveling for decades, however, largely torn by what historian Heather Cox Richardson smartly describes as the result of “businessmen who hated regulation joined with racists who hated federal protection of civil rights and traditionalists who opposed women’s rights and set out to destroy that government.”
While Greene’s remarks strike me as a foolish demonstration of a world view that fails to grasp policies, programs and a picture of progress that the large majority of Americans embrace—even one that can be played out in a familiar battleground of ideas and beliefs—a far more insidious enterprise is underway that portends graver danger for democracy and the republic.
A deeply disturbing New York Times story published Monday described in polite terms a plan for “sweeping expansion of presidential power over the machinery of government,” what might be more accurately described as an aggressive effort underway to install dictatorship if Donald Trump retakes the White House.
This plot is committed to concentrating power in the hands of the president by ending liberal government and the independence of the Department of Justice, the civil service and other federal agencies that have been largely protected (by law or tradition) from presidential political interference. And there’s more—and not just the Trump plan to seek retribution by criminally investigating Biden and removing perceived enemies from Intelligence, Defense and State—but a plan to “impound” funds appropriated by Congress if he opposes their approved purpose.
And the people developing this plan are not hiding their intentions. Here’s what they told Times journalists Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman.
“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” said Russell T. Vought, who ran the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump White House and now leads the Center for Renewing America.
“Our current executive branch was conceived of by liberals for the purpose of promulgating liberal policies,” John McEntee, a former White House personnel chief under Trump, said. “There is no way to make the existing structure function in a conservative manner. It’s not enough to get the personnel right. What’s necessary is a complete system overhaul.”
This intended “overhaul,” relying on deep-pocketed conservative groups and Trump’s own policy advisors, draws on the notion of the unitary executive in the most extreme form. As the Times story explains it, this “legal theory rejects the idea that the government is composed of three separate branches with overlapping powers to check and balance each other. Instead, the theory’s adherents argue that Article 2 of the Constitution gives the president complete control of the executive branch, so Congress cannot empower agency heads to make decisions or restrict the president’s ability to fire them.”
Among its adherents helping to drive this dictator model: Kevin D. Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. “The notion of independent federal agencies or federal employees who don’t answer to the president violates the very foundation of our democratic republic,” Roberts insists. He and a collection of contributors to so-called Project 2025 planning for a transition are focused on “dismantling this rogue administrative state.”
I urge you to keep all this in mind when struggling to understand why Trump continues to get support not only from a cultist base, but also from Republican leadership and their policy professionals.
They don’t care that he’s a criminal. They don’t care if he’s a convicted sexual abuser or rapist. They don’t care if he’s never read the Bible or espouses violence. They don’t believe in government to make lives better. They reject democracy and the principles of equality.
They want power and they’ll pursue it by any means necessary to get it and keep it. Their plan for 2025 and another term makes clear why so many Republicans have looked away from every desecration and degradation and violation committed by Trump.
I’m currently in Berlin, which inevitably evokes powerful thoughts about the history of Germany and the realities of WWII. What this tyrannizing minority envisions for America’s future is particularly chilling in this context. As if the deaths of an estimated 60 million humans during WWII, fueled by the rise of fascism and dictatorship, doesn’t matter. As if the only real issue is who has power and who is harmed—indeed who and how many will die—is of no concern. As if they have forgotten what history has wrought and how the project of democracy since 1945 has improved the lives of so many—or, worse, don’t care.
In this strongman vision of the future, the deadly cruelty is surely not a bug, rather a feature. When we read Trump’s incendiary incitements of “Radical Left Democrats, Socialists, Marxists & Communists who are killing our nation”—or hear Florida’s Ron DeSantis robotically (repetitively) talking about death to the virus of “woke” or signing legislation making it easier to employ the death penalty—we should assume they are not just asserting slogans or communicating in metaphor.
I wish I was just being hyperbolic. But we need to be vigilant to respond to the methodical efforts underway around the country to undermine the will of the people, the access to the ballot box and the counting of every vote, as well as this new undertaking to insert dictatorship and fascism in America if they can regain the levers of power. The determined drivers of this may represent only a limited minority now, but history has shown what can happen when people of good will stop paying attention or remain silent.
One last note following news Tuesday that Special Counsel Jack Smith sent Trump a letter, informing him that he’s the target of investigation concerning his role on January 6. In response, Trump called him “deranged.” I’d call him a prosecutor committed to serving justice without fear or favor. A good week for America. Looks like additional felony charges are coming soon.
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