Column: Trump has a second-term agenda. And it’s terrifying
Former President Trump is on the campaign trail again, and most of the attention he’s getting is for bare-knuckled attacks on his chief opponents, President Biden (whom he derides as “Crooked Joe”) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (“DeSanctimonious”), as well as the prosecutors who have indicted him (“fascist thugs”).
Amid the insults, Trump has laid out a menu of actions he plans to take if he becomes president again. Anyone who isn’t a true believer in Trump’s authoritarian vision should be terrified.
In speeches, interviews and campaign videos, Trump has promised to:
- Use the military to participate in the largest deportation of undocumented immigrants in American history;
- Order the National Guard into cities with high crime rates, whether local officials want it or not;
- Prosecute Californians who protect minors coming to the state for gender-affirming care;
- Impose a 10% tariff on almost all foreign goods, increasing prices for consumers;
- Appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” his political opponents, beginning with Biden;
- Purge the federal civil service of anyone who questions his views.
Some of those pledges may turn out to be illegal or impractical, but they’re more than bluster.
Most of them reflect views Trump has held for decades; he’ll try to act on them even if laws and judges get in his way.
Some promises, like mass deportations, are reruns from his first-term agenda — only this time, he and his aides know how to fulfill them under an expansive view of federal authority.
Here’s a preview of the second Trump administration, based mostly on the candidate’s own words:
Just as he did in 2016, Trump has promised to launch “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history” against an estimated 11 million immigrants without legal status, using military units as well as civilian agencies.
As he did in 2016, he’s using racially coded language.
“They’re criminals, people from mental institutions, terrorists,” he said at a rally in Iowa last week.
“It’s not just countries adjoining us,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “They’re coming from all over Africa. They’re coming from areas of the world that nobody can believe. … and they’re destroying our country.”
Trump has also said he wants to revive the family separation policy he imposed during his first term until public outcry forced him to reverse it.
And he has promised to sign an executive order “on Day One” to end birthright citizenship for children of immigrants without legal standing.
All of these actions would almost surely draw legal challenges, but a determined president could probably get some of them to stick.
Trump has also revived a proposal he made during the summer of unrest in 2020: “In cities where there has been a complete breakdown of public safety, I will send in federal assets including the National Guard until law and order is restored.”
The federal Insurrection Act gives the president authority to use troops to quell civil disturbances, whether local officials want them to or not. President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the provision to send the National Guard to Little Rock, Ark., to protect school desegregation efforts in 1957.
Trump has said he will ask Congress to pass a federal ban against gender reassignment surgery for minors, a priority he called “probably No. 1” on his list. Until then, he says, he will use executive action to restrict the practice.
He says he will ban federal funding for gender transitions at any age and bar hospitals and doctors that provide reassignment surgery to minors from participating in Medicare or Medicaid.
At a meeting with religious conservatives this month, he denounced the 2022 California law that prohibits healthcare providers from releasing information about a minor’s gender-related medical care to authorities in another state.
“We will prosecute those involved in this sick California scheme for violating federal laws against kidnapping, sex trafficking [and] child abuse,” Trump said.
As president, Trump could presumably direct the FBI to investigate healthcare providers who refuse to respond to inquiries from other states. Prosecuting them for sex trafficking or child abuse sounds like a stretch, even for Trump.
Tariffs and taxes
Trump has always called himself “a tariff man,” convinced that taxes on imports will strengthen the economy. That hasn’t changed.
He says he wants to impose a 10% tariff on all foreign goods, another rerun from his 2016 campaign. Federal law gives the president wide authority to impose tariffs.
Most economists, including conservatives, say it’s a terrible idea, partly because it would fuel inflation by raising prices. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimated that a 10% tariff would be equivalent to a $300-billion tax on consumers, since the cost of tariffs is absorbed by buyers, not sellers.
Trump also wants to cut corporate taxes again, but that would require legislation from Congress. He has not proposed any new tax cuts for individuals.
Trump could certainly appoint a pliant attorney general and federal prosecutors who would investigate his political opponents.
“I will appoint a real special ‘prosecutor’ to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the USA, Joe Biden, the entire Biden crime family, & all others involved with the destruction of our elections, borders, & country itself!” he wrote in a social media post after he was arraigned on charges that he illegally retained classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
If he carries out that threat, it would represent a politicization of the Justice Department unmatched since the Watergate scandal half a century ago.
Many of Trump’s promises sound familiar, since they resemble actions he attempted to take in his first term. But there would be two important differences this time around.
In his first term, Trump initially surrounded himself with aides who sought to temper his impulses: White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis — even, occasionally, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. Those moderating influences are gone.
“When I went there, I didn’t know a lot of people; I had to rely on, in some cases, RINOs,” Trump said earlier this year, referring to “Republicans in Name Only.” Now “I know the good ones; I know the bad ones,” he said.
In 2017, Trump arrived in the White House unprepared, with no clear idea of how to force the federal bureaucracy to turn his whims into action. If he wins this time, he’ll bring a team of loyal aides who have been planning their return to power for months, and who intend to start by purging bureaucrats who stand in their way.
“Trump 2.0 would be the Delta variant of democracy,” David Axelrod, the former campaign strategist for President Obama, said last week. “It would be a thousand times more virulent and harder to control.”
After four chaotic years in office followed by four years of simmering-rage exile, we should know better than to think Trump will change his ways now.
Don’t say he never warned you.
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