What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.

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Imagine it’s January 20, 2025. Inauguration Day. The president-elect lifts his right hand and begins reciting the oath: I, Donald John Trump, solemnly vow…It’s an anti-Trumper’s nightmare, but it may happen: A recent Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 47 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe Trump should be the nominee in 2024. And, if Trump and Joe Biden are the contenders, Trump leads Biden by 48 to 46 percent among registered voters.

The reign of the twice-impeached president was a carnival of democratic norm-breaking, culminating in the “big lie” about the 2020 election and the January 6 revolt. A second term would most likely result in more of the same, except this time Trump would have four years of experience.

To assist predict the repercussions of another Trump administration, I consulted 21 experts in the presidency, political science, public administration, the military, intelligence, international affairs, economics, and civil rights. They drew frighteningly believable chains of possible actions and reactions that may destabilize the country. “I think it would be the end of the republic,” says Princeton University professor Sean Wilentz, one of the historians President Biden met with in August to discuss America’s fragile democracy. “It would be an internal revolution.” It would be a coup in the way we’ve always viewed America.”

What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.
What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.

Based on what these experts said, here’s a three-phase portrait of a democratic crackdown.

Phase 1: Trump takes control of the government… And installs super loyalists.

“Among the first things he would do, in the initial hours of his presidency, would be to fire [FBI Director] Christopher Wray and purge the FBI,” says Larry Diamond, senior fellow in global democracy at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Diamond’s research has centered on the state of democracy in other nations, but he has recently been thinking and writing about its problems in America. President-elect Donald Trump “would then set about trying to politicize the FBI, the intelligence agencies and as much of the government as possible,” Diamond said. “He has full authority to nominate senior members of the National Security Council. So you could see [retired Lt. Gen.] Michael Flynn”—who was pardoned by Trump after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI—”as the national security adviser again, or somebody else who would not represent any of the prudence, restraints, and efforts to rein in Trump’s more authoritarian and impulsive instincts.”

To depoliticize the role, FBI directors serve 10-year terms that coincide with presidential terms. Wray, who was chosen by Trump but later lost his favor, took over the position in 2017 after Trump sacked his predecessor, James Comey, in part to weaken the FBI’s investigation into Russian intervention in the 2016 election.According to Stier, the country already has significantly more politically appointed government servants—about 4,000—than most, if not all, liberal democracies. We need fewer people assigned to that position, not more, he says. As an example of the possible impact, Stier points out that Trump’s Office of Management and Budget apparently classified roughly 90% of its staff as falling into the new group. The OMB is the government’s nerve center, making critical financial and regulatory decisions for all departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community. Political actors from the OMB may have access to all of democracy’s disparate engine rooms; other areas of government could endure similar shifts. (The Senate is currently considering a Democratic bill to prevent proposals such as Schedule F. However, even if it passes, it can always be repealed.

Rollins of the America First Policy Institute dismisses the claim that a provision like Schedule F will harm government. “It’s not really about us-versus-them, or ‘they’re the bad guys in the federal government and we’re the good guys going to put in some draconian new measures that allow us to come in and clear everybody out,'” she said. “But what I believe we need to put in place is a system in which those who support the goal of more freedom and less government have individuals working in positions that align and agree with it. It’s fine if you don’t, but you may not want to participate in the policymaking process.”

What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.
What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.

Fukuyama thinks that it would be the death knell for competence in the US government. “It’s ridiculous when you can’t run a modern government without expertise,” he said, “and they want to try to undo that system because of these right-wing ideas about the ‘deep state’ and the need to root it out.” Comey’s removal sparked outrage and contributed to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to handle the Russia investigation. Given broad Republican criticism of the search of Trump’s Florida property, Mar-a-Lago, to obtain classified documents, dismissing Wray is unlikely to elicit significant response from Trump’s congressional supporters and base. Even if his supporters balked, Trump might not care because he would not have to face voters again. At a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in September, Trump stated unequivocally that “the FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters controlled by radical-left scoundrels, lawyers, and the media who tell them what to do.”

“I think certainly in the power ministries — State, CIA, Defense, and Justice — he will look to put true loyalists in,” a senior Pentagon officer in the Trump administration told me via email. “When I say loyalist, I mean somebody who places their loyalty to him above their oath of office.”

During his first term, Trump fired Cabinet officials at a rapid pace because they consistently failed the loyalty test: Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper opposed employing the military to suppress racial justice marches. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as a “f—ing moron.”

Trump supporters blame the turnover on a disorganized transition that failed to promote the appropriate candidates to critical posts. Now, a number of outside groups founded by fans and former Trump administration officials are attempting to address the issue by identifying and screening a government-in-waiting that will be ready to serve Trump or a Trump-like president immediately. “We just have to be more organized, purposeful, and strategic, and ensure that we have the right team of people from the very top… and then ensuring that we have a structure in place that allows us to move forward with our agenda,” says Brooke Rollins, former director of the Domestic Policy Council under Trump and now president and CEO of the America First Policy Institute.

If Trump installs supporters at the FBI and Justice government — imagine as the next attorney general Jeffrey Clark, the Justice officer who attempted to persuade the government to help overturn the 2020 election — all pending federal investigations into Trump might be dropped. An endless succession of investigations into Hunter Biden, Liz Cheney, Merrick Garland, Brad Raffensperger, Letitia James, and other imagined enemies may commence. “This is a guy for whom political revenge is pretty front and center,” says Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University government professor and co-author of “How Democracies Die.” “He is going to come in and utilize the state to pursue his opponents. He has numerous grudges against people. “He’ll come in like an authoritarian autocrat on steroids.”

Loyalists would also lead other departments. While in power, Trump unsuccessfully tweeted at the Federal Reserve, seeking a monetary policy that would assist him politically, and compared Chairman Jerome Powell to a “enemy” such as China’s Xi Jinping. Powell’s term ends in 2026. If Trump can get a loyalist through the Senate, interest rates might be managed to boost the economy ahead of elections, according to Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and the Last Man” and, most recently, “Liberalism and Its Discontents.”

What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.
What Will Happen To America If Trump Wins Again? Experts assisted us in gaming it out.

Meanwhile, a politicized Bureau of Labor Statistics may cause monthly job reports to suddenly become dubious. Or what about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Fukuyama asks, “Do you want people who believe in hydroxychloroquine making these decisions?”He governs without the Senate’s advise and consent.
Democrats seek to maintain control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. Even if they do, a Trump triumph in 2024 assumes that he will have significant coattails to bring in down-ballot candidates, and a Trumpified Senate can reasonably be anticipated to confirm his choices for major positions in his administration.

What if a few Republicans object to nominees who are simply too extreme? Or what if the Democrats have a majority? No issue. By the end of his first term, Trump had mastered the art of governing without the Senate’s advise and consent. He was obliged to do so in part because of Democratic obstruction and the severe dysfunction of the nominations process, which was already a damaged component of our democracy. However, Trump, more than any previous president in memory, depended on “acting” Cabinet secretaries and unconfirmed agency chiefs who exercised delegated authority. “I sort of like ‘acting,'” Trump told reporters in 2019. “It gives me more flexibility.”

It can also cause anarchy. In the final year of Trump’s presidency, the Government Accountability Office discovered that his acting secretary of Homeland Security and acting DHS deputy were serving illegally, bringing their policy decisions into question. However, there is little to prohibit a president who is determined to break the rules and run out the clock on his tenure. According to Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to functional government and seamless presidential transitions, it would require both chambers of Congress to stand up to Trump, possibly using the power of the purse as a cudgel.

What if a gridlocked Congress fails to rein in an out-of-control president? Stier went on to say: “If the president decides they’re going to install a secretary of defense that isn’t actually confirmed, and Congress isn’t going to try to respond with their powers and try to stop that, I think the reality is that there’s not much that you can do.”He organizes a MAGA civil service.

Installing loyalists at the top of government will not suffice. In terms of filling the ranks with folks who reflect the former president’s slogan of “Make America Great Again,” Trump hinted toward the end of his term when he signed an executive order that would revoke civil service protections from up to tens of thousands of federal employees. The order established a new category of employees known as Schedule F, aimed at people whose jobs may include some level of policymaking. Top officials would have nearly unlimited authority to fire them. President Biden revoked the decree shortly after his inauguration. Axios reported in July that if Trump were reelected, he would reintroduce the program.

“They are using the language of good government to justify this, saying that this is the only way that you can discipline poorly performing workers,” Fukuyama said. “But their true objective is to essentially politicize the entire civil service. … Because Trump personalizes everything to such a level, he will be on the lookout for vengeance, going after anyone who denies that he won the 2020 election. And this will reach a very low, granular level of American government.

According to Stier, the method would reintroduce a patronage system that has not existed in the United States since reforms were implemented in the late nineteenth century. “It is fundamentally this notion that the president should be able to decide, not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of political or personal interest, a larger segment of the workforce,” he said.

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