Trump wants to turn the government into a weapon for personal revenge

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Frankly, I am worried.

Donald Trump’s 2024 platform is hair-raising from a constitutional point of view. Putting aside the possibility of our withdrawal from global commitments, there is the abolition of birthright citizenship and a vow to immediately expand his first-term ban on Muslims entering the country. Then there is the scariest, his sinister plot to have revenge on his political enemies — and to weaponize the Justice Department to accomplish his goal.

Last Sunday, the Washington Post ran a chilling piece about Trump’s plans for a second term. It starts: “Trump and his allies have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations.”

Yet, if you listen to the pollsters, few are paying attention. In a discussion before the third Republican debate, pollster Nate Silver said that Trump is a shoe-in to get the GOP nomination, asserting that the 75 percent chance that other pollsters are giving Trump to become the nominee “seems too low,” adding that Trump’s chances are closer to 90 percent. And if he gets the GOP nod, CNN polls show him leading Biden in four key swing states that will determine the outcome.

Now, polls are not necessarily indicative of the election outcome. We learned that in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia last Tuesday. But they’re enough to make us stand up and take notice.

Don’t count on any of the pending litigation to save us from The Donald. A trial date has not even been set in Georgia, and in Florida, Judge Aline Cannon, who has said she will adhere to her previously set May 20 trial date, but signals that she will decide next year whether to postpone the trial, maybe until after the election.

The January 6 trial in DC with its March 4 start date is the most promising for a trial before the election. But Trump’s lawyers may have throttled the timetable with motions that could tie the legal system in knots as the defendant runs out the clock. Trump’s claim of blanket immunity — which is sure to go down in glorious defeat, since it is equivalent to a claim that he is above the law — may take time to be decided at the appellate level, and more time if it goes to the supremely partisan Supreme Court.

But even if Trump is convicted on all 91 felony counts pending against him, he will not be disqualified from running for office or taking office if he wins. There is the litigation pending in 21 states to disqualify Trump under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. But those cases are unwinding slowly, and, even if one is successful, the Supreme Court will certainly intervene, and it is hard to see a Republican court taking the decision away from the voters.

Trump has said he wants to “terminate the Constitution” to restore himself to power, an insurrectionary act in and of itself. The basic idea is to enhance executive branch power in the hands of the president with neither checks nor balances. Among Trump’s goals are defunding the Justice Department and dismantling the FBI, breaking up Homeland Security and doing away with Education and Commerce. The president would take complete control of the independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, which sets the rules for television and internet.

On the eve of the 2020 election, Trump, in a dead giveaway of what he has in mind, signed an executive order creating the possibility of firing federal employees in policy positions “at will.” The order was a self-evident attempt to politicize the civil service, an expression of Trump’s paranoia about a “deep state” that was out to get him.

This measure would allow Trump to fire career employees he believed weren’t loyal to him, like FBI agents who were investigating him or Justice Department lawyers who insisted he toe the line. Fortunately it didn’t happen, because Biden was elected and one of the first steps he took in office was to rescind the executive order.

But plans are on the drawing board to reinstate this execrable measure. In the summer of 2022, Trump’s coterie of toadies contemplated purging career federal civil servants and replacing them with Trumpists. This crew should be familiar to those following the Trump criminal cases: Mark Meadows, Jeff Clark, Peter Navarro and Kash Patel, to name just a few.

Trump has made retribution the centerpiece of his campaign, and the Poststory paints a terrifying picture, detailing some of the dangerous ideas Trump and his allies have floated:

  • Appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden and his family, based on unsupported allegations of corruption.
  • Investigate people whom he appointed who have become critical of his performance in office.
  • Close the separation between the White House and the Justice Department that prevents presidents from using prosecutions as a tool for political advantage or personal revenge.
  • Draft an executive order permitting the military to be deployed in the United States pursuant to the Insurrection Act, so soldiers could be used against the protests that would be certain to break out if he were reelected

As Trump himself said in New Hampshire last month: “This is third-world country stuff, ‘arrest your opponent.’ And that means I can do that, too.”

Right you are, Donald. It’s the stuff of autocracy, a police state, smacking of the Gestapo, the Stasi and the KGB. It’s a blueprint for tyranny. Putin never had it so good.

Trump’s campaign spokesman declined to respond to the Post story. His silence speaks volumes.

This is no longer a left-right issue. So far, our precious self-governing democracy has endured, but Americans should understand that what Trump is prepared to do should he be reelected is unlike anything we have seen before. Should he win the next election, he may never relinquish power. It would be an unmitigated disaster.

James D. Zirin, author and legal analyst, is a former federal prosecutor in New York’s Southern District. He is also the host of the acclaimed public television talk show and podcast Conversations with Jim Zirin.

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