“Tyranny approaches! Despotism is just off stage! Guillotines are being sharpened!”
Well, no one actually said or wrote that guillotines are being sharpened, but that specific red light warning may have simply not made it past the editors of the river of op-eds warnings about the return of Donald Trump appearing in recent weeks in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Hill or The Atlantic.
All of these platforms have published alarmist cri de coeurs about the return of Trump since December. Nostradamuses of doom are overflowing the Acela corridor as frightened residents of the Beltway contemplate a second term of President Trump.
Indeed, The Atlantic devoted almost all of its most recent year-end double issue to ringing the bells of the virtual city to sound the alarm about the advance towards the Capitol of the Dred Pirate Robert, aka, former President Donald Trump. [Note: I offered this reply essay to the editors of The Atlantic in December for their March issue and they offered to publish it on their website but not in the next issue of the magazine, so I declined the offer.]
The hysteria among the folks on whom Donald Trump casts a full spell of despair would be amusing — indeed it is already amusing to some — if it wasn’t both predictable and boring.
It is also not believable.
If anyone genuinely believes that Donald Trump is a “threat to democracy” they have either drunk the Kool-Aid or spilled it on their copies of the Constitution. It is a silly alarm, one that should be laughed at, not indulged. But it isn’t news that the Never Trump band has gotten back together, because it never broke up.
Playing yet another encore set doesn’t, however, amuse people who have an abiding faith in the strength of the Constitution, because these cries of havoc and “Trump is coming, hide the children” are all based on the idea, always implicit and sometimes explicit, that a second Trump term would be lawless and Trump in a position to govern outside the law. That is, in a word, absurd.
The Constitution is very strong, or at least has been since the Supreme Court’s 1954’s Brown v. Board decision which began to enforce the intent of the 14th Amendment. Prior to that time, we did indeed have presidents who would act lawlessly — FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans comes to mind, or Woodrow Wilson’s deep hostility to the Constitution and to the very idea of racial equality. But since the election of Ike and the arrival of the Warren Court, the Constitution, as amended by the people and interpreted by the Supreme Court, governs this country and lawless presidents are simply not a threat.
As Richard Nixon demonstrated in 1974, when the Court orders a president to comply with the Court’s declaration of its understanding of the law —in Nixon’s case, that he turn over the tapes — the president complies.
Rebukes of presidents by the Supreme Court that have been acquiesced in quickly by presidents have happened under President Biden (the student loan forgiveness fiasco), President Trump (the census questionnaire affair), President Obama (his illegal appointments to the National Labor Relations Board) and President Bush (decisions concerning the due process rights of prisoners at Gitmo.)
In a second Trump term, the Roberts Court will still be there at 1 First Street and, along with the D.C. Circuit and every other federal court in the land, would be poised to rebuke any unlawful or unconstitutional actions by the executive should any overreaches occur. The modern Supreme Court and its counterparts at the circuit and district court levels have never failed in this duty and there is no serious argument that they would fail in the future.
“But what if Trump does ‘X’ and the Court doesn’t stop him?” This is the political and constitutional equivalent of fantasy football, and a vigorous league for such speculations does indeed exist inside editorial pages and Beltway and New York City “think tanks,” but that is not what happens in the real world. People sue to stop presidents who exceed their powers. The courts restrain presidents when they have indeed exceeded their powers. There is no reasonable argument that Trump would refuse to comply with any ruling against him. Not is there any way for a president to decline to obey a Court order. Neither is there any prospect of a Trump dictatorship.
Every bit of conjecture to the contrary is pure pulp fiction, fiction that is never specific as to what Trump would do that is lawless and why courts would allow such lawlessness if it actually happened.
What most of these writers really fear is that, 1. Trump is going to thrash President Biden and 2. A second Trump term will be more effective than the first in advancing the former president’s avowed and legitimate political objectives, such as ridding the administrative state of career employees who act contrary to the direction of their political appointee masters.
They are concerned that Trump will finish his wall on the border (and that it will in fact prove to be very effective in greatly curbing illegal immigration).
They are afraid he will extend the tax cuts he pushed through and that, empowered by GOP majorities in the House and Senate, will use the reconciliation process to take big swings at the sprawling and dysfunctional federal government.
They are afraid, in short, of Trump not being buffaloed a second time by the permanent administrative state and its heels-dug-in-bureaucrats.
Trump won’t be setting up a secret police, but he will be dismissing Christopher Wray and everyone else at the top of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Why? Because he’s not going to repeat the enormous mistake of the first term in trusting that the director in place —James Comey in 2017, Christopher Wray now – will be a fair-minded political appointee just investigating real crimes, not a sham Steele dossier update and expanded in 2025. Fool him once, shame on you. Fool him twice, shame on Trump. He won’t get fooled again.
“But he will appoint extremists!” is the corollary alarm to “Trump as dictator.” Another absurd charge.
I expect many of the most accomplished veterans of Trump’s first term to be back for a second, and I expect many more Mike Pompeos and Robert O’Briens (Secretary of State and National Security Advisor at the end of Trump’s term) to have rallied to the former president’s re-election campaign.
I think the former president learned quite a lot about whom to appoint and whom to trust in his first term.
Would you see Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in senior positions such as attorney general? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Members of Congress like Elise Stefanik, Michael Waltz, and Mike Gallagher in senior Cabinet positions? I would hope so, and expect as much.
If and when Trump secures the GOP nomination, I hope he will immediately name a running mate from the list I’ve already posted earlier this week in Fox News Opinion: Sen. Tom Cotton, Gallagher, Sen. Joni Ernst, Pompeo, O’Brien or Sen. Dan Sullivan.
I expect Trump will pay much closer attention to appointees everywhere in the executive branch, and will also blanket the town with pardons for the extraordinary prosecutions we have seen from a deeply politicized Department of Justice.
Trump will, of course, fire Jack Smith on day one of his second term (and no loss there as Smith should have been fired after the McDonnell prosecution, but is instead back for an encore presentation of ridiculous theories of criminal activity that isn’t criminal activity).
Trump will again turn to the Federalist Society for suggestions of excellent appointees to the federal bench.
The Senate isn’t dissolving though. “Advice and consent” will still be needed for every senior member of the cabinet and their top lieutenants, as well as for heads of agencies and members of boards, and the same process is needed for every new federal justice or judge. The Constitution will still rule the land.
Most of the Never Trump rump that never went away are still here, banging their old pots and pans at my old network MSNBC or on their usual print platforms. And their alarm about Trump refusing to leave after one more term is simply idiotic.
There is a XXII Amendment. It’s the supreme law of the land and it isn’t going to be repealed. There is no army in the field to seize control of the government. It’s a joke to argue that there is, that any member of the uniformed services would countenance such an order, even if one were given and it wouldn’t be.
It remains an insult unique to the Beltway and New York City to suggest the American people are stupid or tired of self-government. We aren’t.
It is an inchoate slur on every future appointee that they would accept an illegal order. Tell us again which first term Trump appointees did that?
Before you say Mark Meadows, understand that accepting immunity isn’t a plea deal. The list is short because it is non-existent.
Indeed, the list of senior Trump officials convicted of malfeasance is very short, and Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn was, to most minds, targeted and entrapped.
The general’s entrapment is, like Scooter Libby’s conviction, in the Bush era, a monument to overzealous prosecution and not to 21st century executive branch wrongdoing.
By contrast, lots of people quit when they disagreed with Trump. It would happen again if new appointees disagreed with means or ends.
Hysteria is never pretty. And the folks indulging it now in their faux frenzies over a hypothetical nomination and subsequent election of Donald Trump are simply caught up in make-believe dramas that have as much to do with reality as “The Hunger Games.”
Just stop it. They have been singing the same song since 2015 and it’s driving them (and us) crazy.
Not one of these people are acting like French nobility during the Revolution and trying to head for the border.
IF Trump gets the nomination and IF he wins the election, he will take office on Monday, January 20, 2025.
Count on the Never Trumpers staying at their posts pumping out another deluge of alarm for the foreseeable future, unmolested by the president save for his posts on X or Truth Social.
I think Trump’s thousands of critics are brave enough to weather those online storms. There will probably be another march of the disappointed on the day after his second Inaugural just as there was after his first.
Trump would yield that office four years hence, but the Never Trump won’t give up theirs, no matter how foolish they appear in the rear-view mirror.
“We can’t risk it!” is what I expect to read in comments or replies. Honest to goodness do you folks ever look up from your sweat lodge circle of panic? Ours is a republic with problems and deep divisions, but we are indeed going to continue to rise to Ben Franklin’s challenge “to keep it” because we have grown rather accustomed to doing what is legal and especially to criticizing those in power.
It’s not a revolutionary moment, not even close (although the Democrats’ Chicago convention might be an interesting bit of deja vu for those old enough to recall that melt-down.)
The doom-criers are actually not concerned about Trump winning and setting up some sort of Gestapo. They are really alarmed that an infirm Joe Biden won’t get out of the way for a nominee not named Kamala Harris and that this duo is going to get tossed out of office — peacefully — rather handily.
The panic merchants are concerned that Trump will govern constitutionally and effectively pursuant to his objectives as he lays them out in the months ahead.
They are really worried that there will be a whole lot more of Pompeos and many fewer Navarros, as Trump now knows who gets stuff done.
A self-governing people may indeed decide they will put up with what we used to call “mean Tweets” and often brazen speech from the occupant of the Oval Office rather than four more years of President Biden and Vice President Harris and more Abbey Gates, Ukrainian invasions and massacres in Israel.
They may have deep aesthetic objections to Trump, but on the whole, they would like the country to survive and their children and grandchildren to live in freedom and prosperity.
They might very well prefer Trumponomics to Bidenomics. And if they do, it will be through the exercise of the franchise and the assembling of a Constitutional majority through the Electoral College.
The “people” may indeed be wholly sick and tired not of Trump but of Manhattan-Beltway media elites telling them that what they think and their sincerely held views are illegitimate.
The “people” overwhelmingly condemned the rioters of 1/6 and they never, ever bought into the idea that the riot that day presaged something bigger or enduring.
It seems like Jack Smith has concluded Trump didn’t cause the riot and the vast majority of Americans seem to agree with that.
The GOP has at least overwhelmingly rejected the idea that Trump is culpable for the riot. The frustration of 1/6 junkies at their own inability to expand what has become a cult of attachment to the direst view of those events then, now and in the future is huge, but their remedy is not to keep repeating the same unpersuasive arguments at a higher pitch and a louder volume. Study up on sunk costs. Cut the chord that has bound you – but not Trump, the GOP or the country — to 1/6.
A second political earthquake even bigger than that delivered on election night 2016 may come in November. If it does, it will be in large part because media elites have again ignored issues like the collapse of control at the border or the disaster in Afghanistan for endless replays of 1/6 porn. If enough people say, “What is wrong with you people, did you not see 10/7, Putin in Ukraine, Abbey Gate?” the clap back at elites could be thunderous.
If that happens —if all those “ifs” become facts — what then? Will the alarmists concede or go the full route of those Congressional supporters of Al Gore in 2001, John Kerry in 2005 and Hillary Clinton in 2017 and file objections during the counting of the votes of the Electoral College or have Democrats now decided that is bad form and a “threat to democracy?”
My request: Will those who will refuse to agree to the peaceful transfer of power back to Trump if he wins, please stand up right now and tell us what they plan on doing?
The folks who rioted in the Capitol have been prosecuted and many are serving long sentences. Are these writers of these various alarms and their heirs and assigns intent on inciting their readers to a frenzy which could result in violence? That’s not illegal under the Brandenburg test because they lack the ability to move public opinion to immediate violence, of course, but will they agree to at least stipulate that, if Trump wins wholly, they failed to persuade?
I doubt the alarmists will do any of these things. But I hope they do. The alarmists have been willing to suggest for three years now that Trump should have been tried for inciting the riot. (Not even the prosecutor with no limits Jack Smith or his fellow Javerts in Manhattan or Atlanta have laid that absurdity before a Grand Jury). Trump did not do that. He is not Sulla marching north or Caesar marching south. Trump is a political actor. The hyperventilation? Nonsense. Foolishness. All of it. And a chasing after wind.
If you believe in the Constitution and the rule of law, stop peddling imaginary threats to either. It is unseemly. And it betrays a slippery grasp on American history and an even less secure grip on how the Republic operates.
We need to focus on the real threats to this country —the alliance of China, Russia and Iran — and the collapse of the border, much of public secondary education and almost all of elite institutions of higher Ed.
There’s serious work to be done, but the endless wringing of hands over mean Tweets doesn’t do a thing to tackle our real problems and our very real enemies.