You’ve got to hand it to Donald Trump: He isn’t hiding from the world how he intends to govern if he is elected U.S. president in a year from now.
While the truth-averse former president made it clear from the moment he ran for office in 2015 that he has no use for the rules and conventions of a constitutional democracy, his rhetoric has inched ever further into authoritarian territory since his 2020 election defeat.
On Nov. 11, that devolution crystalized when he gave a rambling two-hour speech that, in the moments when it stuck to script, mimicked the harangues of at least one well-known totalitarian monster.
“In honor of our great veterans on Veterans’ Day,” Mr. Trump said, “we pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, that lie and steal and cheat on elections, and will do anything possible … whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and to destroy the American dream.”
Mr. Trump’s dehumanizing invocation of a domestic infestation of amoral and destructive vermin – a “threat from within,” as he said – is an echo of how Hitler’s Nazi Germany vilified its politically fabricated enemies, including Jews and communists.
It builds on a comment he made two months go, when he said that immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” That, too, echoes Nazi propaganda.
These comments have to be further seen in the context of Mr. Trump’s repeated avowals that, if re-elected, he will use the Department of Justice to exact revenge on his past enemies and silence his future critics – effectively creating a politicized police force and justice system to serve his interests.
Last week, his campaign responded to questions about his use of the word vermin by denying its link to fascism, but then added that the “entire existence” of his critics “will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.” Rhetoric once dismissed as Trumpian overkill is suddenly more ominous.
Mr. Trump has also promised that his government would carry out military and police raids to round up millions of undocumented immigrants and hold them in giant camps until they are deported.
He and his supporters also intend to: purge the government of anyone who doesn’t support him and replace them with proven loyalists; expropriate the endowments of private universities and use the money to fund an online “American Academy” that would teach a Trump-government-approved curriculum; and sic the military on protesters through the use of the Insurrection Act.
Mr. Trump is quite literally running on the platform of turning the world’s oldest democracy into an authoritarian police state. His election next November would be a global disaster – the “biggest danger to the world in 2024,” the British magazine The Economist said last week.
And yet there is an audience for Mr. Trump’s message. He has a huge lead in the polls in the race for the Republican nomination, and a number of recent election polls show him leading against President Joe Biden.
This is history repeating itself, 100 years later. The lessons remain the same. Those who support Mr. Trump in the belief that he will rid their country of “enemies” are mistaken if they don’t realize that they could easily one day wake up and find themselves on the enemies list.
Those who oppose Mr. Trump but dwell in a comfortable complacency believing that he would be brought to heel if he were elected to power, that the Constitution and the courts would never let him get away with his clearly stated plans, or he just wouldn’t go as far as he says, are also mistaken.
The sclerotic Republican Party seems incapable of stopping Mr. Trump. That leaves the job to the Democratic Party. If Mr. Biden is the right person to defeat him, good. But the party’s focus needs to be on ensuring that their candidate can beat Mr. Trump, and on supporting that person with a unified message about preserving America’s freedoms.
If the Democrats allow internal divisions to distract from that mission and undo their unity, they could be end up being remembered as just one more contributor to an unfolding disaster. They can’t let that happen. Mr. Trump has told the world who he is and what he will do. The world should believe him.