The really dangerous thing about a President Trump

As we all begin to consign ourselves to the fact that Donald Trump is at this point the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination, a few writers have (correctly) pointed out that, as far as platforms go, Trump’s isn’t exactly worse than those of his opponents.

To take two of the best examples, Matt Yglesias at Vox reminds us that Marco Rubio’s platform is much more worrisome than Trump’s. Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine points out that Trump, being driven by ego rather than by ideology, isn’t at all committed to the brand of conservatism he is promoting on the trail. They aren’t wrong:

Ted Cruz is to the right of Trump on immigration. Marco Rubio is to the right of him on domestic surveillance and civil liberties restrictions for Muslim-Americans. Rubio’s tax plan also looks like what would happen if George W. Bush took acid. Cruz’s looks like what would happen if Jerry Falwell rose from the dead and spent a weekend with Grover Norquist. Both Rubio and Cruz have all but promised to start at least two wars in the Middle East. Both Rubio and Cruz have emphatically promised to appoint reactionary Supreme Court justices who would bolster corporate power while repealing a century of social progress. Unlike Trump, they sound like they might have the first idea as to what they’re talking about, and how to go about doing so.

Trump has been successful because he has spoken to the racism at the core of the conservative id, but much of his conservatism is performed. Where he’s been able to — which is to say, on issues where the Republican base never really agreed with their elites — he has broken with GOP orthodoxy. That means he’s come down on the right side of issues like free trade, the social safety net and even (sort of) reproductive health — albeit for the wrong reasons.

Additionally, the worst parts of Trump’s agenda are plainly unworkable. His mass deportation plan is downright sadistic on paper, but will be logistically impossible to implement. Same goes for his ban on Muslims entering the United States — it’s all bluster until a candidate starts talking about banning immigration from entire countries that happen to have a high proportion of Muslims, which is the bigoted and counterproductive immigration policy we could actually pursue.

Hand each of the GOP frontrunners a Republican Congress and free rein to tinker with the Supreme Court, and Trump would likely do the least (though still a large amount of) damage in the form of public policy. What makes him really dangerous, by contrast, is the way in which he would as president completely discard democratic norms, which could have far-reaching consequences in the day-to-day life of people who don’t share his politics.

For starters, Trump openly embraces the use of violence in support of his persona and his agenda. Last August, when Trump was just beginning to gain traction in the race, he called two Boston-area supporters who beat up a homeless man in his name “passionate.” It’s been downhill ever since. Just last night, Trump said of a protestor at a rally that “I’d like to punch him in the face.” Lines like that have become a common enough occurrence that they’re barely even news anymore, and that desensitization to calls for violence suggests that, under a President Trump, angry white men would be openly encouraged to attack people who belong to groups that Trump has otherized. The Department of Justice under President Trump would likely do as little as possible to ensure that they were prosecuted.

One of the first groups that would be the subject of Trump and his mob’s fury would be the press. Despite the fact that free (and at times fawning) media has been one of the single greatest contributors to Trump’s rise, he and his supporters hate the press. Occasionally, the press tells them things they don’t want to hear, which they think is completely unfair and smacks of establishment bias. Naturally, Team Trump has thus far handled this perception in the least adult ways possible:

Going beyond simply telling his mob that anyone who doesn’t report favorably on the things he says is bad and possibly deserves violence, Trump has gone to great lengths to restrict the press’s ability to cover him in the first place. He has threatened to “blacklist” reporters who don’t stay in designated media “pens” during his rallies, and he has revoked media credentials from entire newspapers who have run editorials criticizing him. Extend that behavior to the West Wing and consider how his administration would handle the White House Press Corps. Every president frames issues and manipulates the press; President Trump would smash the press. And he’d do it with the full support of half the country.

Once the press had been effectively neutralized, it isn’t hard to imagine Trump using the new tools he’d have at his disposal as president to target other types of dissidents. He could take the national security infrastructure we have been assured is only meant for defense against foreign threats and turn it on American citizens — going well beyond the current Republican candidates’ promises to limit these restrictions of civil liberties to Muslims. A President Rubio or Cruz may not listen to the Black Lives Matter or Fight for $15 movements, but a President Trump would likely be openly hostile toward them. If Trump is already openly calling for violence against protestors at his rallies, what’s to stop him from directing the FBI to extensively monitor and in some cases arrest dissidents on, ahem, trumped-up charges? He seems fairly convinced that they’d deserve it.

This manner of silencing dissenters — and I mean really silencing them; not the “silencing” you hear about today when college students disagree with each other — would make it rather difficult to run against Trump in his re-election campaign. It’s hard to tell whether he’d even consider such a challenge to be legitimate, or whether he’d simply sue the eligibility out of whichever challenger emerged. And if you think the media’s unending, ratings-chasing coverage of Trump is a problem now, imagine the state it’d be in by year three of a Trump presidency — after outlets who don’t play his game have been effectively neutralized. As president, Trump would almost certainly continue to undermine basic democratic norms, and the media would be incapable of effectively calling him out for doing so.

That’s a much bigger problem than any one policy.

So, yes, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz wield more dangerous sets of white papers than Donald Trump does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should be more worried about either of those two becoming president. Just because he’s the frontrunner for the Republican nomination now doesn’t mean we have to rationalize his success.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Opinionated Cat Lover

    Lies? Speculation, for sure, but lies? Well, I hope we never find out.

    The speculation in the article is based on what Trump has done so far in the campaign. It’s not hard to follow from what he’s done so far to what the article alleges he’ll do in the campaign.

    He’s skipped a whole debate because he wanted to make a statement about how ‘unfair’ the press is to him. This is fact, and this is truth. This is history, and his disdain for the press is well known. We can’t be sure he won’t revoke the press passes of MSNBC and Americablog and other liberal outlets who dare criticize him for being President, but it wouldn’t be a bad choice to put money on a bet that by the third year of a Trump presidency, dissent will result in at least one major media outlet and multiple minor outlets, including ones like Americablog, being shut out of Washington.

    His support for his supporter’s violence is documented. The web is full of video and text of him supporting the thugs that beat up protesters. While we can’t be sure that a Trump Presidency will see brown-shirted (figuratively) thugs roving in bands looking for those ‘not loyal enough’, again, just based on his followers behavior in the Primary so far, you won’t do bad in Vegas betting on that outcome.

    When you combine suppression of the press with suppression of the populace, you set the stage for scenarios like this. Everyone here can see that, except the Trumpets. I guess we know what you are. :)

  • goulo

    Unfortunately the polling I’ve seen says that many people ARE buying into the government’s desire for backdoors, and siding against Apple and strong encryption. E.g.
    http://www.people-press.org/2016/02/22/more-support-for-justice-department-than-for-apple-in-dispute-over-unlocking-iphone/

    “51% say Apple should unlock the iPhone to assist the ongoing FBI
    investigation. Fewer Americans (38%) say Apple should not unlock the
    phone to ensure the security of its other users’ information”

  • Vlad Vondoom

    So many lies in such a short article… LOL

  • it’s not good when your best hope should one of the major candidates win is that they won’t follow through on the crazy shit they said in the campaign. Trump may not. Cruz will give it everything he’s got. Rubio? Depends on who plays the Dick Cheney role in that White House. Ugh. Hopefully none of them will become president.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Nixon called them ‘bums’ and created a lynch mentality. He’s totally responsible just as Obama is totally responsible for civilian deaths in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  • gratatt

    Nixon did not order those kids at Kent State killed. That was an overzealous guardsman who gave that order. Nixon was a crook, not doubt, but he didn’t do that.

  • gratatt

    No, actually, they aren’t that stupid.

  • gratatt

    I’m pretty sure a Trump presidency would end in a military coup. I don’t think our armed forces will stand by and let him do those things to the American people, or at least I hope not, but you never know. All I know is that if he is elected, we are doomed as a country. Other leaders have said they will not work with him, so we would be completely isolated. I think there would be a strong possibility he would be assassinated.

  • nicho

    He could take the national security infrastructure we have been assured is only meant for defense against foreign threats and turn it on American citizens

    Yeah, I think that ship has pretty much sailed. The government is trying to pressure Apple into providing a backdoor into everyone’s iPhone under the guise of investigating terrorism on a single phone. And most Americans are buying into the subterfuge.

  • Bill_Perdue

    This is nothing new. Pigs like LBJ and Nixon presided over the murders of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, Nixon encouraged the murders of students at Kent State and Obama ordered the murder by drone of at least six Arab or muslim US citizens and thousands more in other military actions against civilians from Libya to Pakistan.

    The question is not whatever or not Trump is a fascist but whether fascism will triumph in 2016. Trump separates himself from the other rightwing politicians in both parties by his rabble rousing. Trumps politics, at their core, illustrate the sleaze and depravity at the heart of the Democrat and Republican parties.

    Trump himself is an authoritarian buffoon, a crude racist who rejects the claims and import of the Black Lives Matter movement (just like Obama), a mad dog warmonger (just like Obama and the Clintons) a rabid union buster (just like HRH HRC and Obama), an autocratic member of the bankster clan whose temperament guarantees that he’ll add to the police state built by the Clintons, the Bush’s and Obama.

    The central difference between Trump and the other Republicans on the one hand and HRH HRC and the other Democrats on the other is that Democrats lie better about what they really stand for. Obama pretends to be against racism but deported over two million honest working people struggling to better their lives and he refuses to stop his racist murders of Arab-americans in spite of the protests of the ACLU, the CCR and many others.

    Both parties have been attacking unions, clawing away at the standard of living of working people, engaging in unending war against Arab and muslim peoples to steal their oil, gutting the Bill of Rights and creating even wider levels of income inequality.

    The Democrats will also oppress, brutalize, impoverish and murder those who are not the ruling class, BUT — since they are mercifully not crazy, not like those frothing, sputtering, Neanderthal Republicans — the Democrats will know exactly what they’re doing every step of the way.

    Trump is clearly a racist who rejects the aspirations of communities of people of color to rid themselves of murdering, racist cops and end their reign of terror and brutality. So is Rahm Emanuel, architect of Obama’s attack on the UAW and the Chicago Teachers Union and political leader of the successful cup that imposed Obamacare/Romenycare on working people.

    Rahms regime in Chicago, a machine as corrupt and right wing as that of Richard J Daley, who organized the police riot against antiwar protesters in 1968, along with the commanders of the Chicago police and the States Attorney have been covering up murders by racist killer cops. Just how many is anyone’s guess since some have yet to come to light.

    Trump and Rahm Emanuel are union busting, racist scum. Neither are fascists, they’re just ordinary, run of the mill politicians of the Democrat and Republican parties. Cross posted.

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