Former President Donald Trump’s campaign is developing plans to use the federal government to punish his political opponents if he wins a second term next year, and critics — including some prominent Republicans, even some staffers from his first term — say these plans would imperil American democracy.
On the campaign trail, Trump has made numerous public references to exacting revenge upon detractors and rivals, including promising to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden for unspecified crimes. Earlier this month, in a speech and in a post on Truth Social, he referred to left-wing Americans as “vermin.”
Historians said such dehumanizing of one’s political opponents is frequently used by fascist dictators. Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung responded by saying, “Those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”
According to the Washington Post, Trump has privately said he would direct the Department of Justice to investigate officials from his first term who have since criticized his tenure, including:
Former White House chief of staff and retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly
Former Attorney General William P. Barr
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark A. Milley
Former Trump White House special counsel Ty Cobb
According to his advisers, Trump intends to fire up to tens of thousands of career government professionals and replace them with his allies, and will refuse to spend congressional appropriations on programs he opposes.
The New York Times has reported that Trump’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration will include:
Using military funds to erect detention camps
Using a public-health emergency law to shut down asylum requests at the border
Ending birthright citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants
Trump also reportedly plans to send the military into Mexico to combat drug cartels, with or without the Mexican government’s permission.
A number of high-profile Republican elected officials, conservative legal scholars and veterans of Trump’s first term in office have said Trump’s intentions would weaken the justice system and threaten the rule of law. Here are some of the most notable criticisms:
“He cannot be the next president, because if he is, all of the things that he attempted to do, but was stopped from doing by responsible people around him at the Department of Justice, at the White House Counsel’s Office, all of those things, he will do. There will be no guardrails.”
“His policies are not centered around improving the lives of his supporters or Americans in general, it’s centered around consolidating power for Trump, and that way he can wield it to enact that revenge on anyone he deems as an enemy. And that is what is scary.”
“I am more worried for America today than I was on January 6. … [Trump’s] election would be catastrophic for America’s democracy.”
“Making prosecutorial decisions in a nonpartisan manner is essential to democracy. The White House should not be meddling in individual cases for political reasons.”
“He doesn’t think in policy directions when he makes decisions, certainly in the national security space. It’s all connected with how things benefit Donald Trump. … In a second Trump term, we’d almost certainly withdraw from NATO.”
“Donald Trump represents a failure of character, which is changing, I think, in many respects, the psyche of our nation and the heart of our nation. And that's something which takes a long time — if ever — to repair."