Republicans’ program for Trump’s second term is much more radical than the first | Andrew Gawthorpe
Jhe Republican Party today has a new attitude toward the power of government. The Reaganians who dominated the party saw government primarily as the problem: if it could only be reduced or eliminated entirely, free markets would provide everything America needed. But a new report on plans being made for Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House shows just how much that has changed. Rather than sideline or eliminate federal agencies, Republicans now want to do something far more ominous: take effective control of them in order to persecute their enemies and implement a radical agenda.
At the heart of the new plan, as reported by Axios, is the intention to remove job protection for thousands of senior civil servants, eliminating much of the expertise and institutional memory of the public service. This would allow them to be replaced by an “executive” loyal to Trump’s America First agenda, most of them likely to be in their 20s or 30s with no experience in government and who would owe their newfound prominence to Trump alone. Ideologically zealous and loyal to a fault, they would set out to try to reshape government in Trump’s image.
Whoever crafted this plan certainly had a keen eye on Trump’s greatest weakness as president. He gutted some agencies, particularly the State Department, pushing staff to leave. But ignorant of the workings of government and too impulsive to stay focused on a long-term agenda for change, he did little to force most agencies to implement his America First agenda. Often it seemed that Trump viewed his own government as more useful to him as a political foil than as a tool in his hands. Trump seems to have decided there is no point trying to actually control the “deep state” when he could instead portray himself as its victim.
What seems to have changed in the meantime is Trump’s desire for revenge. According to the Axios report, Trump’s top priority in a new administration will be to “clean house” in the intelligence community, the DoJ and the FBI. Loyalists will be installed in place of the current leadership. Why these places? The standard conservative criticism of the civil service is that everyone in it is a liberal, but that is certainly not the case with these agencies. Rather, they are the places where you must bribe if you are determined to break the law and persecute your opponents. Trump – notoriously thin-skinned, impulsive and vengeful – wants to do just that.
But this is not just a problem limited to Trump. The conservative movement as a whole increasingly dreams of turning the state against its enemies. Those at the heart of the movement today are more likely to idolize Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán than Ronald Reagan. They are not driven by the belief that the job of government is simply to get out of the way – rather, they want to use it to impose a radical agenda on American society. And the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade provides a model of how a docile conservative justice system can empower government officials to suppress even the most basic human rights.
What are we going to do with this power? Some of them are terribly predictable. With the Justice Department finally under control, the next Republican president would be free to launch criminal investigations into political opponents. The brutality of immigration enforcement would be greatly increased while environmental regulations would languish unenforced. Right-wing extremists would go unmolested while American Muslims would have their rights trampled on. Corruption and venality would become endemic in government as checks and balances were removed and inexperienced hacks got their first taste of power.
Given the size of the federal government and the weirdness of Conservative politics, other consequences are hard to fathom. Whether it’s vaccines, Disney movies, or whatever agitates the Fox News faithful, the government would be much more responsive to their opinions. At the same time, the things that really matter – from nuclear security to protecting the country from terrorist attacks – would be overlooked. A civil service bent to the will of the modern conservative movement would not be a place that respects science, rationality or legality. Precisely what might yield under the weight of an attack on these principles is difficult to predict. But something certainly would.
Although Trump would bring his own set of grievances to the company, any future Republican president will likely follow a similar blueprint. Given the magnitude of the changes they want to impose on America, today’s conservatives act more like revolutionaries. And like all revolutionaries, they want to take control of the state and launch an offensive on as many fronts as possible. If Trump’s first term is not to appear to future historians as a grim prelude to something much worse, they must never be allowed to do so.