Trump would have the legal authority under the Insurrection Act to send troops to wage war against fellow Americans at home. PHOTO COURTESY OF MILITARY.COM
Donald Trump is not shy about the strongman rule he will impose if elected president next year. In a Veterans Day speech, he pledged to “root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our Country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American Dream.” He means his political enemies.
Speaking in early March at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland., Trump told supporters: “In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” He repeated, “I am your retribution.”
For him to exact “retribution,” Trump’s allies, as this column previously noted, have drafted a 1,000page document, Project 2025, whose objective, the Associated Press reported, “is to have the civic infrastructure in place on Day One to commandeer, reshape and do away with what Republicans deride as the ‘deep state’ bureaucracy, in part by firing as many as 50,000 federal workers.” This revised version of “draining the swamp” would mean reclassifying tens of thousands of federal employees to enable Trump to get rid of those he deems “corrupt bureaucrats who have weaponized our justice system” and “corrupt actors in our national security and intelligence apparatus.” He means those who would get in his way.
Immigration is also in Trump’s sights: “Following the Eisenhower model, we will carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” he told an Iowa gathering. He plans to round up not only undocumented immigrants but also those here legally but suspected of having “jihadist sympathies.” He would also “revoke the student visas of those who espouse anti-American and antiSemitic views.”
Trump would also revive the travel ban which, as president, he initially imposed against seven Muslim-majority countries, expanding it to “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the country.” He would introduce “ideological screening” for immigrants to keep out “dangerous lunatics, haters, bigots, and maniacs,” as well as those who “empathize with radical Islamic terrorists and extremists.” (Regarding “ideological screening,” Reuters coincidentally reported just days later that Russia was preparing to require foreign visitors to sign a "loyalty agreement" not to criticize official policy, discredit Soviet military history, or “contravene” traditional family values.)
He would also seek to end constitutionally guaranteed citizenship for children of immigrants, unless at least one parent is a citizen.
Trump has also pledged to use the military to suppress protests, would pressure local law enforcement agencies that receive Justice Department grants to, in the words of the AP, “use controversial policing measures such as stop-and-frisk.” He would empower local police to kill suspected shoplifters: “Very simply, if you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store.”
As president, Trump flirted twice with sending the military into the streets. The first was during the demonstrations near the White House following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 in Minneapolis, according to then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper — even though, as the AP noted, Trump made “little effort to address the grievances of black Americans and others outraged by Floyd’s death and the scourge of police brutality …” Trump told Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gatherings, “The next time, I’m not waiting,” and, “I will send in the National Guard until law and order is restored.”
The second time was when Trump supporters’ attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to his former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. Then, according to Miller, it was “to protect demonstrators that were executing their constitutionally protected rights."
Trump would also dispatch the military to “cities such as Chicago and New York to crack down on ‘crime dens,’” the AP reported. Such cities are mostly governed by Democrats and are home to millions of African Americans. It is surprising, therefore, that some polls indicate that African American men are shifting towards Trump. They are becoming increasingly disenchantment over what they see as President Joe Biden’s failure to, as Reuters put it, “push new federal protections against restrictive local voting laws, police and criminal justice reform, student loan debt relief and economic empowerment.” Ironically, it is Republicans in Congress who have blocked proposed legislation dealing with such issues. Some of the disillusioned are said to believe Trump’s colorful claims that the Democratic Party has moved to the left and they also oppose LGBTQ rights policies.
Also, while Muslim and Arab Americans – among others — are understandably outraged by Biden’s lopsided support for Israel in its war with Hamas and are promising not to vote for him, that also could lead to the election of Trump, whose administration, by his own admission, will be hostile towards them. Muslim leaders from eight states, including Florida, met in Michigan Saturday under the slogan “Abandon Biden, ceasefire now,” the AP reported. Muslim and Arab Americans comprise just 3.45 million or 1.1 percent of the nation but they could make the difference in a few swing states. It is a stark choice, especially for them.
But so it is for all Americans. Some analysts are warning that a Trump victory would lead to at least an autocracy and they caution that voters may be deluding themselves by believing his threats are merely aspirational. However, Trump would have the legal authority under the Insurrection Act to send troops to wage war against fellow Americans at home. That 1792 law “lets the president deploy the military domestically and use it for civilian law enforcement,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. It is the main exception carved out in the later Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which bars using federal troops for civil law enforcement duties.
The Chicago Tribune cited National Guard historians as saying that the Guard was deployed domestically 12 times in recent history, starting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, down to President George H. W. Bush during a street uprising in 1992 following the acquittal of all but one of the officers charged in the Rodney King beating in California.
To remove remaining doubts, Trump’s mindset on all of this is being displayed in the courts, where he faces 91 criminal counts and is arguing that any action which a president takes while in office is, by definition, legal.
Also, whether lawsuits are filed over calling out the Guard or over bureaucratic shenanigans, Trump would have an ally in the U.S. Supreme Court, where he installed three conservative Justices, making for a super-majority of six, thanks to the efforts of the billionaire-funded conservative activist Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society.
Trump’s victory at the polls would mean a “dictatorship” more like the authoritarianism of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Brookings Institution senior fellow Robert Kagan wrote in a 6,000-word Washington Post commentary.
It “will not be a communist tyranny, where almost everyone feels the oppression and has their lives shaped by it,” Kagan predicted, “but a form of “tyranny” that “will depend entirely on the whims of one man” and the rights of Americans “will be conditional rather than guaranteed. … But if most Americans can go about their daily business, they might not care, just as many Russians and Hungarians do not care.”
Liz Cheney, the conservative Republican who lost her Wyoming congressional seat for opposing Trump, wants Americans to care. She said in a “CBS News Sunday Morning” interview, “One of the things that we see happening today is a sort of a sleepwalking into dictatorship in the United States.”
If that is so, the sleepwalkers could be in for a very rude shock when they wake up.