The Republicans’ agenda for a second Trump term is much more radical than the first

The Republicans’ agenda for a second Trump term is much more radical than the first

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Today’s Republican Party has a new attitude towards government power. The Reaganites who used to dominate the party primarily saw government as the problem: if only it could be cut or eliminated altogether, the free market would provide everything America needed. But a new report on plans being drawn up for Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House shows just how much that has changed. Instead of sidelining or eliminating federal agencies, Republicans now want to do something far more disturbing: take effective control of them to persecute their enemies and implement a radical agenda.

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At the heart of the new plan, as reported by Axios, is the intention to remove employment protections from thousands of senior public officials, eliminating in one fell swoop a large slice of the competence and institutional memory of the civil service. This would allow them to be replaced with a “framework” true to Trump’s agenda for America First, most of them probably in their 20s and 30s with no experience in government who owe their newfound importance only to Trump. Ideologically zealous and loyal to guilt, they would try to reshape the government in Trump’s image.

Whoever developed this plan has certainly had a keen eye on Trump’s greatest weakness as president. He has emptied some agencies, most notably the State Department, forcing staff to leave. But unaware of how government worked and too impulsive to stay focused on a long-term change agenda, he has had little success in forcing most agencies to implement his America First agenda. It often seemed that Trump saw his own government more useful to him as a political obstacle than as a tool in his hands. Trump seemed to have decided that there was no point in trying to actually control the “deep state” when he could have instead retreated as himself a victim of him.

What appears to have changed in the meantime is Trump’s desire for revenge. According to the Axios report, Trump’s top priority in a new administration will be to “clean the house” in the intelligence community, DoJ and FBI. Loyalists will be installed in place of the current leadership. Why these places? The standard conservative criticism of the civil service is that everyone in it is liberal, but this is certainly not true of these agencies. Rather, they are the places where you must bribe if you are determined to break the law and persecute your opponents. Trump – notoriously thin-skinned, impulsive and vengeful – wants to do just that.

But this isn’t just a problem limited to Trump. The conservative movement as a whole increasingly dreams of turning the state against its enemies. The people at the center of the movement today are more likely to idolize Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán than Ronald Reagan is. They are not motivated by the belief that the government’s job is simply to get out of the way, but they want to use it to impose a radical agenda on American society. And the recent overturning of Roe v Wade provides a model for how a complacent conservative judiciary can allow government officials to take away even the most basic of human rights.

What will be done with this power? In part it is sadly predictable. With the Justice Department finally under control, the next Republican president would be free to initiate criminal investigations of political opponents. The brutality of immigration enforcement would increase dramatically while environmental regulations would remain unenforced. Right-wing extremists would not be harassed while American Muslims violated their rights. Corruption and venality would become rampant throughout the government as checks and balances were removed and inexperienced hackers had their first taste of power.

Given the reach of the federal government and the sheer strangeness of conservative politics, other consequences are difficult to understand. Whether it’s vaccines, Disney movies, or whatever else is agitating Fox News faithful, the government would be much more responsive to their views. At the same time, the things that really matter – from nuclear safety to protecting the country from terrorist attacks – would be overlooked. A civil service bent to the will of the modern conservative movement would not be a place that respects science, rationality or legality. It is difficult to predict exactly what it might give under the weight of an attack on these principles. But something would definitely do.

Although Trump brings his particular set of grievances to the firm, any future Republican president is likely to follow a similar project. Given the magnitude of the changes they want to impose on America, today’s conservatives behave more like revolutionaries. And like all revolutionaries, they want to take control of the state and launch an offensive on as many fronts as possible. If Trump’s first term is not to appear to future historians as a grim prelude to something far worse, he will never be allowed to do so.

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