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Dictator Trump--Part 1: The Dangers of an Imperial Presidency

Submitted by Robin Messing on Wed, 01/03/2024 - 5:17pm

Donald Trump and his allies plan to greatly strengthen the power of the president should Republicans win the presidency in 2024. If they get their way, many of the checks and balances that have constrained Trump's most illegal and dangerous policies will be removed in a second Trump Administration. This is from an extremely important New York Times article by Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman. I urge you to read it all.

Mr. Trump intends to bring independent agencies — like the Federal Communications Commission, which makes and enforces rules for television and internet companies, and the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces various antitrust and other consumer protection rules against businesses — under direct presidential control.

He wants to revive the practice of “impounding” funds, refusing to spend money Congress has appropriated for programs a president doesn’t like — a tactic that lawmakers banned under President Richard Nixon.

He intends to strip employment protections from tens of thousands of career civil servants, making it easier to replace them if they are deemed obstacles to his agenda. And he plans to scour the intelligence agencies, the State Department and the defense bureaucracies to remove officials he has vilified as “the sick political class that hates our country.”. . . .

“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” said Russell T. Vought, who ran the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump White House and now runs a policy organization, the Center for Renewing America. . .  .

Some elements of the plans had been floated when Mr. Trump was in office but were impeded by internal concerns that they would be unworkable and could lead to setbacks. And for some veterans of Mr. Trump’s turbulent White House who came to question his fitness for leadership, the prospect of removing guardrails and centralizing even greater power over government directly in his hands sounded like a recipe for mayhem.

“It would be chaotic,” said John F. Kelly, Mr. Trump’s second White House chief of staff. “It just simply would be chaotic, because he’d continually be trying to exceed his authority but the sycophants would go along with it. It would be a nonstop gunfight with the Congress and the courts.” . . .

Mr. Trump and his allies also want to transform the civil service — government employees who are supposed to be nonpartisan professionals and experts with protections against being fired for political reasons.

The former president views the civil service as a den of “deep staters” who were trying to thwart him at every turn, including by raising legal or pragmatic objections to his immigration policies, among many other examples.


The article makes clear that Republicans want to strengthen the presidency of any Republican president that comes into power--even if it is not Trump. But putting this much power in the hands of ANY president is dangerous--especially if the president likes to surround himself with "Yes men" (or women). We can see an extreme example of that in Putin's Russia. Putin surrounded himself with people who were reluctant to tell him "no", either because they feared losing their lucrative access to Kremlin power or because they feared tasting concrete from an upper story window.  When you surround yourself with people who are afraid to push back against your worst ideas, you are likely to make faulty--even disastrous--decisions based on bad information. No one dared to tell Putin that his military was much weaker than it was thanks to corruption and inefficiency throughout their military procurement and maintenance programs. And no one told Putin that the Ukrainians were likely to put up the resistance that they did. Politco reports


Maintaining a luxurious lifestyle disincentivizes top security officials from giving expert advice that might disappoint the autocrat and cost them access to corruption networks. In the case of Ukraine, this would have meant the risk of reporting to Putin that the country he wanted to invade would put up a fight, that civilians were not looking forward to joining the “Russian world” and would likely greet troops with Molotov cocktails rather than bread and salt, as per local tradition. In this way, the corrupt loyalty of Putin’s top officials might have backfired and contributed to intelligence failures and erroneous risk assessments in Ukraine.


Too much unchecked power concentrated in the hands of any president would be dangerous. But Trump isn't just any president, and we are very lucky there were adults in the room to act as guardrails early in his presidential term. Kim Jong Un had been rattling his nuclear saber for years, and Trump scared many when he returned the favor.





But the situation may have been much scarier than is commonly known. Miles Taylor, was a former chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump’s third Homeland Security Secretary. He was also a Republican until he left the party in frustration over its extremism in May 2022. He told Mehdi Hasan that officials at Homeland Security feared that we could stumble into a nuclear war because Trump was handling our relations with North Korea in such a reckless and unpredictable way. They were so alarmed that things could spill out of control that they held a series of very sensitive meetings to prepare for a nuclear strike on the U.S. homeland. He also expressed fear that there would not be cooler heads around Donald Trump in a second term who could guide him away from taking actions that would lead to a nuclear strike against the U.S.



This NBC news report further explains how close we came to nuclear war with North Korea.

Behind closed doors in 2017, President Donald Trump discussed the idea of using a nuclear weapon against North Korea and suggested he could blame a U.S. strike against the communist regime on another country, according to a new section of a book that details key events of his administration.


Trump's alleged comments, reported for the first time in a new afterword to a book by New York Times Washington correspondent Michael Schmidt, came as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un escalated, alarming then-White House chief of staff John Kelly.

The new section of "Donald Trump v. the United States," obtained by NBC News ahead of its publication in paperback Tuesday, offers an extensive examination of Kelly’s life and tenure as Trump's chief of staff from July 2017 to January 2019. Kelly previously was Trump's secretary of homeland security. For the account, Schmidt cites in part dozens of interviews on background with former Trump administration officials and others who worked with Kelly. . . .


"What scared Kelly even more than the tweets was the fact that behind closed doors in the Oval Office, Trump continued to talk as if he wanted to go to war. He cavalierly discussed the idea of using a nuclear weapon against North Korea, saying that if he took such an action, the administration could blame someone else for it to absolve itself of responsibility," according to the new section of the book.


The article goes on to describe several different attempts that Kelly and top military leaders used to try to steer Trump away from his recklessly confrontational approach towards North Korea. Nothing seemed to work until Kelly appealed to Trump's "narcissism."


Kelly convinced the president he could prove he was the "greatest salesman in the world" by trying to strike a diplomatic relationship, Schmidt writes, thereby preventing a nuclear conflict that Kelly and other top military leaders saw as a more immediate threat than most realized at the time.


John Kelly has not denied this report. I would take his non-denial as confirmation that the gist of it is correct. If so, we were lucky to dodge a bullet in Trump's first term. But will we be that lucky if he surrounds himself with "Yes men and women" whose main qualification is loyalty to him and who he can fire on a whim in his second term?

This column explains why it is dangerous for us to establish an imperial presidency. This pertains to any president with insufficient checks and balances. But a Trump imperial presidency would be especially dangerous because it will quickly transform into a dictatorship. I discuss this in more detail in my next column.


Next: Trump Wants To Become A Dictator, And His Thirst For Power Could Lead To Civil War-->

Trump Will Become a Dictator--Introduction/Table of Contents