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Democracy is (yet again) on the ballot in 2024

U.S. Department of Justice, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1907019

This surely isn’t news to readers of LGM, but if Donald Trump wins in 2024 then we are quite likely to see the dawn of an era of national-level electoral authoritarianism. As Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley report in Rolling Stone:

DONALD TRUMP… always has revenge on his mind, and his allies are preparing to use a future administration to not only undo all of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s work — but to take vengeance on Smith, and on virtually everyone else, who dared investigate Trump during his time out of power.

Rosters full of MAGAfied lawyers are being assembled. Plans are being laid for an entire new office of the Justice Department dedicated to “election integrity.” An assembly line is being prepared of revenge-focused “special counsels” and “special prosecutors.” Gameplans for making Smith’s life hell, starting in Jan. 2025, have already been discussed with Trump himself. And a fresh wave of pardons is under consideration for Trump associates, election deniers, and — the former president boasts — for Jan. 6 rioters.

The preparations have been underway since at least last year, with Trump being briefed on the designs by an array of attorneys, political and policy advisers, former administration officials, and other allies. The aim is to build a government-in-waiting with the hard-right infrastructure needed to turn the Justice Department into an instrument of Trump’s agenda, according to five sources familiar with these matters and another two people briefed on them.

I do not for a minute doubt the overall accuracy of this report. This is just the next phase of what Trump and his loyalists did in his first term, the steps they took in preparation to mount a coup d’état (or “autogolpe” for those too ‘sophisticated’ to call blocking the legitimate transfer of power a “coup”), what they were already planning for a second term, and what they’ve publicly promised to do if Trump wins in 2024.

In his next term, Trump won’t mess around with appointees who think of themselves as guardrails. If the Republicans hold one or both chambers of Congress, they’ll make sure he has a free hand. If Democrats control both chambers, Trump will simply ignore them. Along the way, we’ll get a good view of what actual weaponization of the Justice Department looks like.

This year, close advisers to Trump have begun the process of assembling lists of the names of federal personnel who have investigated the former president and his circle for years, and are attempting to unmask the identities of all the DOJ attorneys and others connected to Smith’s office. The obvious purpose of this, according to one source close to Trump, is to “show them the door on Day 1 [if Trump’s reelected]” — and so “we know who should receive a subpoena” in the future.

Such subpoenas would of course be instrumental in Trumpland’s vows to its voters that, should he return to power, Trump and his new attorney general will launch a raft of their own retaliatory “special counsel” and “special prosecutor” probes to investigate-the-investigator, and to go after their key enemies. 

Many of us use the phrase “Orbánization” to talk about U.S. democratic deconsolidation. But that would be one of the better outcomes of a Trump second term. Hungary is a peaceful, “velvet glove” autocracy. Trump’s America is likely to involve a lot more violence, repression, and instability.

In sum, anyone involved with a putatively “left” or “centrist” third-party campaign in this cycle is ipso facto a moral degenerate.

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