Dictatorship: the framework is already in place Skip to content

Dictatorship: the framework is already in place

“The first Trump term was both deeply alarming and a comedy of errors. A second Trump administration will be far more alarming, with far fewer errors.”

3 min read

It is easy to find media statements warning us that a victory by Donald Trump in November will lead to some form of dictatorship. This message has been around for months. Here is a headline from The Week (12-15-23): “Trump: Is America sleepwalking toward a dictatorship?” And in November of last year Robert Kagan’s opinion piece in the Washington Post (11-30-23) was titled “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.”

We also have a thoughtful and thorough December article (12-20-23) by NY Times veteran political columnist, Thomas Edsall, who asks “how much power would Trump have in a second term to enact his agenda of revenge?” Edsall then reports on what ten lawyers and legal scholars told him were some of the powers of what some in the 1970s called “The Imperial Presidency.”

Many of the laws passed since 1945, Edsall was told, give “extraordinary powers” to the president to declare “national emergencies.” While probably triggered by Cold War dangers, such powers could allow presidents to “restrict the liberty and rights of private citizens without raising a legal eyebrow.” These are laws Trump could use to be “the retribution” or “dictator on day one” as he promised.

Certainly, the Justice Department would be the first target of presidential action under a Trump presidency. After Watergate, the DOJ adopted “internal guidelines” to curb presidential power, but any president, as head of the executive branch, could “direct his subordinates to alter these guidelines.” Donald Trump, of course, would appoint an attorney general who would quickly obey such a suggestion from a President Trump.

Edsall was also told by the director of the Liberty and National Security Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice that there were “130 statutory provisions that may be invoked when the president declares a ‘national emergency.’”

One of those provisions is the “Insurrection Act” cited in the media recently. This vaguely written law allows the president to deploy federal troops to quell insurrections anywhere in the country. You may recall that Trump wanted to use troops to end rioting in Seattle during his first term, but refused to send troops to stop the insurrection he inspired on January 6, 2021.

Another less well-known power that a president can use is a provision of the Communications Act that “allows the president to shut down or take over radio communication facilities in a national emergency.”

And then there exists the “International Emergency Economic Powers Act” that allows a president to “freeze assets (including those of Americans) or prevent any financial transaction with a designated person or entity” the president decides threatens Americans. President Biden has used this to freeze Russian assets after the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Edsall also mentions another item that has seen press coverage—the infamous Schedule F. Just before he left office, President Trump created this category that would have eliminated all civil service protections for all federal workers. They could be fired at will. Biden voided Trump’s executive order when he took office.

Schedule F could have affected between 50,000 and 100,000 employees who would have been replaced with Trump loyalists, known in some circles as sycophants.

This picture is not a hopeful one for those of us who prefer democracy to dictatorship. Edsall notes that Trump was unprepared when he became president in 2017. This is no longer the case.

In a second term Donald Trump would be armed with “voluminous research” supplied “by a virtual White House in waiting, dominated by a network of think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Clermont Institute, the Center for Renewing America, and the America First Policy Institute.”

Democrats, Independents, or non-Trump Republicans hesitating to vote for Biden need to remember that “the first Trump term was both deeply alarming and a comedy of errors,” Edsall reminds us. “A second Trump administration will be far more alarming, with far fewer errors.”

Conservatives say they want to deconstruct the Administrative State. The truth is rather that they want to control the entire federal government, all three branches, Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. Voting for Trump is voting for an end to the “balance of powers,” and thus our Constitution.

Is that what you want?


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Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf spent 40 years teaching European and World History, punctuated by several administrative chores, at Murray State University, retiring in 2008. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)



The Daily Wrap for Thursday, 5/23

The Daily Wrap for Thursday, 5/23

Still some wrap-up from Tuesday’s primary, including late calls of winners and possible recounts. Plus, some breaking news in the tweets below, and a cool story about a possible billboard (or billboards!) in west Kentucky.

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