A clip of Trump speaking on January 6, 2021 is shown during a hearing

A screen shows former U.S. President Donald Trump speaking on January 6, 2021 during a House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on June 9, 2022.

(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Don’t Give Trump a 2nd Chance to Destroy American Democracy

The world can’t afford another presidency by the man who suggests that he will establish a day-one “dictatorship” in order to “drill, drill, drill.”

Recently my partner and I had brunch with some old comrades, folks I first met in the 1996 fight to stop the state of California from outlawing affirmative action. Sadly, we lost that one and, almost three decades later, we continue to lose affirmative action programs thanks to a Supreme Court rearranged or, more accurately, deranged by one Donald J. Trump.

It was pure joy to hang out with them and remember that political struggle during which, as my partner and I like to say, we taught a generation of young people to ask, “Can you kick in a dollar to help with the campaign?” For a couple of old white lesbians who, in the words of a beloved Catherine Koetter poster, “forgot to have children,” those still-committed organizers and activists are the closest thing to offspring we’ve got. And their kids, including one now in college, who were willing to hang out with their parents’ old buddies, are the closest we’ll ever have to grandchildren.

As people whose lives have long been tangled up in politics will do, we soon started talking about the state of the world: the wars in Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan; the pain on this country’s border with Mexico; and of course the looming 2024 election campaign. It was then that the college student told us he wouldn’t be voting for Joe Biden—and that none of his friends would either. The president’s initial support of, and later far too-tepid objections to, the genocidal horror transpiring in Gaza were simply too much for him. That Biden has managed to use his executive powers to cancel $138 billion in student debt didn’t outweigh the repugnance he and his friends feel for the president’s largely unquestioning support of Israel’s destruction of that 25-mile strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea. To vote for Biden would be like taking a knife to his conscience. And I do understand.

Vote Your Conscience?

This year, I wonder whether only people who live in California and other dependably “blue” states can afford that kind of conscience. I’m not objecting to voting “uncommitted” in a Democratic Party primary as so many citizens of Michigan and Minnesota have done. If I lived in one of those states, I’d have done the same. In fact, I didn’t vote for Biden in Super Tuesday’s California primary either and, in truth, I wouldn’t even have to vote for him in November, because in this state my vote isn’t needed to ensure his victory, which is essentially guaranteed. But God save the world if voters in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or other swing states follow that example.

I’m less sure, however, what I’d do if, like thousands of Arab-American voters in Michigan, I had friends and family in Gaza, the West Bank, or indeed among the millions of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon or Jordan. Would I be able to mark my ballot for Joe? And if I wouldn’t, then how could I ask anyone else to do so?

For me, however, some of Trump’s worst crimes were epistemological ones—crimes, that is, against knowledge.

In the end I would have to vote for him because, however terrible for that part of the world another four years of the Biden administration might be, a second Trump presidency would be even worse. (Trump’s recent comment about Gaza aimed at Israeli forces couldn’t have been blunter: “You’ve got to finish the problem.”) At least, unlike Trump, Biden isn’t beholden to the Christian Zionists of the evangelical right, who long to gather all the world’s Jews into the state of Israel, as a precondition for the return to Earth of Jesus Christ. (The fate of those Jews afterward is, of course, of little concern to those “Christians.”)

What We’ve Seen Already

At an educators’ conference I attended last month, a panelist discussing what Trump’s re-election would mean for those of us in the teaching profession inadvertently referred to his “first term.” Another panelist gently reminded her that the period from 2017 to 2021 had, in fact, been Trump’s only term and that we need to keep it that way. In preparation for this article, I looked back at some of my writings during that first (and God willing, only) term of his, to remind myself just how bad it was. I was surprised to find that I’d produced almost 30 pieces then about living in Trumpland.

There’s so much to remember about the first Trump term, and so much I’d forgotten. And that’s hardly surprising, given the speed with which, then as now, one unspeakable and previously unimaginable Trumpian horror follows the next. There’s simply no way to keep up. Here’s what I wrote, for instance, about living in Trumpworld in 2018:

There’s speed and then there’s Trump speed: the dizzying, careening way that the president drives the Formula One car of state. Just when we’ve started to adjust to one outrage—say, the ripping of migrant children from their mothers’ arms (a procedure that continues to this day, despite court prohibition)—here comes another down the track. This time it’s the construction in Texas of a tent city to house immigrant children. No, wait. That was the last lap. Now, it’s the mustering of almost 6,000 troops on the border, authorized to use lethal force ‘if they have to’ against people desperately fleeing lethal conditions in their own countries.

And he’s still at it. Not satisfied with labeling migrants as rapists the moment he came down that infamous escalator to enter the presidential campaign in 2015, he’s now comparing them to Hannibal Lecter, the fictional murderer and cannibal in Silence of the Lambs, that horror film about a serial killer who skins his female victims.

Certain of Trump’s greatest hits do still linger in the collective American consciousness. Who could forget his pronouncement that “some fine people on both sides” attended the 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered when a white supremacist drove his car into her? (We’re less likely to remember that other moment a couple of years later when the president doubled down, while hailing Confederate leader Robert E. Lee as “a great general,” by explaining that he still stood by his “very fine people” statement.)

Then there was the suggestion made in one of his daily press briefings during the Covid-19 pandemic that, in addition to taking the anti-malarial drug chloroquine with no proven usefulness for Covid-19, sufferers might want to consider injecting bleach into their bodies since it did such a good job of killing the virus on hard surfaces.

You’ve probably forgotten, as I had, that back in the days when he was still a first-time candidate, he was already advocating the commission of genuine war crimes. As I wrote in 2016:

“He declared himself ready to truly hit the Islamic State where it hurts. “The other thing with the terrorists,” he toldFox News, “is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” Because it’s a well-known fact—in Trumpland at least — that nothing makes people less likely to behave violently than murdering their parents and children. And it certainly doesn’t matter, when Trump advocates it, that murder is a crime.

For me, however, some of Trump’s worst crimes were epistemological ones—crimes, that is, against knowledge. By subjecting us all to a firehose of falsehoods, he undermined people’s belief that we can ever know if anything is true. You don’t like things the way you find them? Well, in the immortal words of Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager and senior counselor as president, just turn to “alternative facts.” The intentional distortion of reality is a classic authoritarian trick, designed to convince masses of people that, as Hannah Arendt wrote back in 1951, nothing is true and everything is possible.

Worse than Déjà Vu

“Déjà vu” is French for “already seen” and it describes that sense of experiencing something all over again. We indeed already saw and heard too much that was unnerving, not to say frightening, during the four years of Trump’s presidency. The only thing that kept him from doing even more harm was his chaotic and lazy way of working. His attention span was notoriously short, and he could be easily distracted by any shiny object. Much of his daily schedule was given over to “executive time,” an apparent euphemism for watching cable TV and responding on Twitter to whatever he saw there.

A second Trump term would be very different if the forces gathering around him have anything to say about it. Carlos Lozada of TheNew York Times has done us an immense favor by reading and digesting all 887 pages of the plan the Heritage Foundation has produced for the next Republican presidency, Mandate for Leadership. That document details the step-by-step process necessary to transform the presidency into something resembling a monarchy, where vestigial versions of the legislative and judicial branches would serve the agenda of a unitary executive, led by an autocratic president and backed by the U.S. military. Given that someone else has done all the work to make him a king, Trump is very likely to adopt some version of that foundation’s plan. As Lozada explains:

There is plenty here that one would expect from a contemporary conservative agenda: calls for lower corporate taxes and against abortion rights; criticism of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and the “climate fanaticism” of the Biden administration; and plans to militarize the southern border and target the “administrative state,” which is depicted here as a powerful and unmanageable federal bureaucracy bent on left-wing social engineering.

The Mandate calls for infusing all aspects of government, including its scientific functions, with “biblical” values and, from the military to the Environmental Protection Agency, excluding any taint of diversity, equity, or inclusion. More disturbing yet is its commitment to consolidating power in the hands of a single executive, or ruler, if you like. Those planners aren’t small-government conservatives like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist who used to explain, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Yes, the Heritage program includes inevitable tax cuts for the wealthy and the like, but, as Lozada observes, “The main conservative promise here is to wield the state as a tool for concentrating power and entrenching ideology.”

If Mandate for Leadership is the theory, then the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 is the practice. As TheNew YorkTimes reports, it’s “a $22 million presidential transition operation that is preparing policies, personnel lists, and transition plans to recommend to any Republican who may win the 2024 election.” Its success depends in large part on replacing tens of thousands of federal civil servants with political appointees loyal to the president. Donald Trump tried this late in his presidency, when he used an executive order to institute a new “schedule” or list of appointees to the civil service, exempting all “career positions in the federal service of a confidential, policy-determining, policymaking, or policy-advocating character” from competitive hiring. Immediately rescinded by President Biden, this “Schedule F” would be reinstated under Project 2025, allowing Trump to replace up to 50,000 career civil servants with his own faithful minions committed to his—or rather Heritage’s—program. (Trump himself doesn’t actually care about “entrenching ideology,” although he’s definitely a fan of “concentrating power” in his own hands.)

But, But Biden?

The news from Gaza seems to grow more dire by the day. Even so, I’ve concluded that we can’t afford to use a vote for Trump, or a refusal to vote for anyone, as a way to punish Joe Biden. His toleration of genocide is unforgivable; his atavistic American instinct to offer a military response to any challenge is more of the arrogant Cold-War-era stance that was so much a part of his earlier political life. Witness, for example, how his use of missiles to “send a message” to the Houthis in Yemen is only driving them to attack more ships in the Red Sea. (Meanwhile, enemies that can’t be bombed into submission like climate change and drought have reduced daily traffic by nearly 40% in an even more important international waterway, the Panama Canal.)

Nor has the United States under Biden stepped back from its general role as the “indispensable” arbiter of events in the Americas, or indeed in any of the 80 or more countries where it continues to have a military presence. I hold no brief for an imperial United States under Biden or anyone else. Nevertheless, I do believe that the world can’t afford another presidency by the man who suggests that he will establish a day-one “dictatorship” in order to “drill, drill, drill.”

Remember, this is the guy who, the last time around, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accords. Now, the world has just lived through the hottest February on record (something that’s been true of every month since May 2023!), one in which wildfires raged not only in the southern hemisphere, where it is, after all, summer, but in Texas, burning well more than a million acres there.

This is the man who cheered on the government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, as it presided over murderous attacks on the Amazon. This is the man who is still cheering as his Republican Party abandons its support for Ukraine in favor of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This is the man who called for the assassination of his opponent in 2016, and exacerbated relations with Iran (with reverberations felt to this day) by ordering the drone assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

This is the man who, while he fails to understand how NATO actually works, has suggested that the United States will not come to the defense of “delinquent” member nations, but instead “would encourage [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want” to such countries.

Oh, and lest we forget, this is the man who tried once before to end American democracy. It would be true madness to give him a second chance.

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