A recent story in “The New York Times” outlined how former president Donald Trump and his allies are planning to create a dictatorship if voters return him to power in 2024. The article talks about how Trump and his loyalists plan to “centralize more power in the Oval Office” by “increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House.”
They plan to take control over independent government agencies and get rid of the nonpartisan civil service, purging all but Trump loyalists from the U.S. intelligence agencies, the State Department, and the Defense Department. They plan to start “impounding funds,” that is, ignoring programs Congress has funded if those programs aren’t in line with Trump’s policies.
“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” said Russell T. Vought, who ran Trump’s Office of Management and Budget and who now advises the right-wing House Freedom Caucus. They envision a “president” who cannot be checked by the Congress or the courts.
Trump’s desire to grab the mechanics of our government and become a dictator is not new; both scholars and journalists have called it out since the early years of his administration. What is new here is the willingness of so-called establishment Republicans to support this authoritarian power grab.
Behind this initiative is “Project 2025,” a coalition of more than 65 right-wing organizations putting in place personnel and policies to recommend not just to Trump, but to any Republican who may win in 2024. Project 2025 is led by the Heritage Foundation, once considered a conservative think tank, that helped to lead the Reagan revolution.
Another recent piece by Alexander Bolton in “The Hill” said that Republican senators are “worried” by the MAGAs, but they have been notably silent in public at a time when every elected leader should be speaking out against this plot. Their silence suggests they are on board with it, as Trump apparently hoped to establish.
The party appears to have fully embraced the antidemocratic ideology advanced by authoritarian leaders like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, who argue that the post–World War II era, in which democracy seemed to triumph, is over. They claim that the tenets of democracy—equality before the law, free speech, academic freedom, a market-based economy, immigration, and so on—weaken a nation by destroying a “traditional” society based in patriarchy and Christianity.
Instead of democracy, they have called for “illiberal” or “Christian” democracy, which uses the government to enforce their beliefs in a Christian, patriarchal order. What that looks like has a clear blueprint in the actions of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has gathered extraordinary power into his own hands in the state and used that power to mirror Orbán’s destruction of democracy.
DeSantis has pushed through laws that ban abortion after six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant; banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity (the “Don’t Say Gay” law); prevented recognition of transgender individuals; made it easier to sentence someone to death; allowed people to carry guns without training or permits; banned colleges and businesses from conversations about race; exerted control over state universities; made it harder for his opponents to vote, and tried to punish Disney World for speaking out against the Don’t Say Gay law. After rounding up migrants and sending them to other states, DeSantis recently has called for using “deadly force” on migrants crossing unlawfully.
Because all the institutions of our democracy are designed to support the tenets of democracy, right-wingers claim those institutions are weaponized against them. House Republicans are running hearings designed to prove that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice are both “weaponized” against Republicans. It does not matter that they do not seem to have any evidence of bias: the very fact that those institutions support democracy mean they support a system that right-wing Republicans see as hostile.
“Our current executive branch,” Trump loyalist John McEntee, who is in charge of planning to pack the government with Trump loyalists, told the New York Times reporters, “was conceived of by liberals for the purpose of promulgating liberal policies. 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.”
It has taken decades for the modern-day Republican Party to get to a place where it rejects democracy. The roots of that rejection lie all the way back in the 1930s, when Democrats under Franklin Delano Roosevelt embraced a government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure. That system ushered in a period from 1933 to 1981 that economists call the “Great Compression,” when disparities of income and wealth were significantly reduced, especially after the government also began to protect civil rights.
Members of both parties embraced this modern government in this period, and Americans still like what it accomplished. But 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.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, at the Turning Points Action Conference, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) compared President Biden’s Build Back Better plan to President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society programs, which invested in “education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, transportation, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and big labor and labor unions.” She noted that under Biden, the U.S. has made “the largest public investment in social infrastructure and environmental programs, that is actually finishing what FDR started, that LBJ expanded on, and Joe Biden is attempting to complete.”
Greene incorrectly called this program “socialism,” which in fact means government ownership of production, as opposed to the government’s provision of benefits people cannot provide individually, a concept first put into practice in the United States by Abraham Lincoln and later expanded by leadership in both parties. The administration has stood firmly behind the idea—shared by LBJ and FDR, and also by Republicans Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower, among others—that investing in programs that enable working people to prosper is the best way to strengthen the economy.
Certainly, Greene’s speech did not seem to be the “gotcha” that she apparently hoped. A March 2023 poll by independent health policy pollster KFF, for example, found that 80% of Americans like Social Security, 81% like Medicare, and 76% like Medicaid, a large majority of members of all political parties.
The White House Twitter account retweeted a clip of Greene’s speech, writing: “Caught us. President Biden is working to make life easier for hardworking families.”