Could Donald Trump’s second presidency have descended into dictatorship? A sudden outpouring of dystopian warnings has America talking about the possibility less than a year before the US election.
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Dark scenarios about what could happen if the twice-impeached Republican ex-president wins in 2024 appeared within days of major US media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Atlantic.
The dire predictions also came from leading Republican Trump critic Liz Cheney, who said the country was “asleep in dictatorship” and that she was weighing her own third-party presidential run to try to stop him.
Together, they paint a bleak picture of an angrier but more disciplined Trump than during his first spell in the White House, one who will exact revenge on his perceived enemies and possibly try to stay in power beyond of the two-term limit in the US.
President Joe Biden, who faces a rematch in his bitter 2020 contest with Trump, said the warnings supported his own claim to defend US democracy.
“If Trump hadn’t run, I’m not sure I would have run. But we’re not going to let him win,” the 81-year-old Democrat said at a campaign event in Massachusetts.
Biden cited Trump’s own harsh language on the campaign trail, saying his opponent’s description of his opponents as “vermin” echoed language used in Nazi Germany.
“Trump is no longer hiding the ball. He’s telling us what he’s going to do.”
‘President for life’
Trump, 77, and his allies responded as they always do, by fighting fire with fire. He accused Biden himself of being a “democracy destroyer” and even reposted one of the most critical articles on social media.
Conservative Fox News described it as “media panic”, while pro-Trump Republican senator and author JD Vance told X that “everyone should take a chill pill”.
But the sudden increase in warnings – against a backdrop of Democratic angst over polls showing Trump now leading Biden despite facing more criminal trials – is surprising.
The most revealing piece appeared in The Washington Post by conservative commentator Robert Kagan, with the headline: “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We must stop pretending.”
Comparing him to the power-grabbing Roman emperor Julius Caesar, the lengthy article says neither the US Constitution nor the Supreme Court can prevent Trump from becoming “president for life” if he so chooses.
Kagan wrote that if Trump survives the trials he faced in trying to rig the 2020 election and hold power illegally, and win the next election, he will actually feel that he is above the law and can get away with anything thing.
The New York Times examines the ways a “second term could unleash a darker President Trump” than his tumultuous first presidency from 2017-2021.
Trump “has been praising autocrats for decades” and is likely to follow their example by packing the civil service with loyalists and using the Justice Department to crack down on opponents, it said.
In scenes reminiscent of a dystopian movie, it is said that Trump will also build migrant detention camps and use the military against protesters under the US Insurrection Act.
The Atlantic magazine meanwhile dedicated its entire January-February 2024 issue to what a Trump presidency might look like, with an editor’s note titled simply: “A Warning.”
Some of the most ominous forebodings come from Cheney, the former Republican lawmaker and daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, whose opposition to Trump has made her a party pariah.
“This is a very dangerous moment,” he told NBC on Sunday.
“There’s no question” Trump will try to stay in office beyond 2028, he said, adding that the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by supporters seeking to overturn Biden’s election victory was just one you “practice run.”
For his critics, Trump’s autocratic side has long been apparent.
Trump already faces trial for conspiring to inflate the results of the 2020 election, with prosecutors saying Tuesday that evidence shows he is determined to “stay in power at any cost.”
His language has worsened in recent months, with him describing migrants as “poisoning the blood of our country” and suggesting that his former military chief should face death for treason.
But in the looking-glass world of Trump and his allies, he is always the victim.
“Joe Biden is the real dictator,” Trump said in a photo posted on his conservative Truth Social network.