Trump plans to become a dictator — denial will not save you

Project 2025 is a strategy that has been developed by right-wing think tanks

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published September 7, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is a dictator in waiting. Like other dictators, he is threatening to put his "enemies" in prison – and to do even worse things to them. These are not idle threats or empty acts of ideation: Donald Trump is a violent man who is a proven enemy of democracy and freedom.

These threats of violence against his enemies are part of a much larger pattern of violent and dangerous behavior that is only growing worse as he faces criminal trials and the possibility of going to prison for hundreds of years.

In the most recent example, Donald Trump told Glenn Beck during an interview last week that he is going to put President Biden and other "enemies" in prison when he takes by the White House in 2025.

In a Sunday evening post on his Truth Social disinformation social media platform, Trump was even more explicit with his threats of violence and harm, threatening that he would treat Biden and the other "enemies" like they do in "banana republics":

The Crooked Joe Biden Campaign has thrown so many Indictments and lawsuits against me that Republicans are already thinking about what we are going to do to Biden and the Communists when it's our turn. They have started a whole new Banana Republic way of thinking about political campaigns. So cheap and dirty, but that's where America is right now. Be careful what you wish for!

In "banana republics" the enemies of the leader and the regime are usually imprisoned, tortured, executed, and face death squads and mass executions. Trump himself has publicly expressed his admiration for murderous dictators and autocrats such as Vladimir Putin and N. Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

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The corporate news media — with MSNBC being a notable exception — as is their policy, mostly ignored Trump's most recent threats to kill and imprison President Joe Biden and the other "enemies" of the MAGA movement. Ignoring the danger will not make it disappear or otherwise go away; moreover, to ignore Trumpism and neofascism is to normalize them.

During an interview Saturday on MSNBC, Miles Taylor, who was a senior member of Trump's administration and author of the New York Times' "Anonymous" op-ed, warned that the ex-president's desires to imprison his "enemies" are not new:

A number of folks who worked in the Trump administration with me and have since spoken out against the ex-president, we joke darkly about the fact that in a second term, a number of us will be in orange jumpsuits in Guantanamo Bay. I say that the comment is half facetious because Donald Trump actually did have a vision while I was in the administration to go use the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay to house political prisoners. And in that case what he wanted to do is use it to move people from the southern border to send a message and put them in the same place where people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, sits behind bars, and send a message. The only reason Donald Trump didn't start sending people to Gitmo is because he was convinced it would be too expensive, and the facility couldn't house the number of people he wanted to send there. That was the mindset of the man when he was president of the United States. You have seen him since double down on his intention to again use the justice system for political purposes, and specifically admitting that he would do so to go after his enemies. I think that's very chilling.

In a recent conversation here at Salon, Taylor also issued this warning:

If I were to bet on who is going to be the next president of the United States, I would put my money on Donald Trump. Obviously, that is the last thing I want to see happen. But if I had to make a bet today, despite the impeachments and the indictments, and the widespread opposition to him, I think he's likely to be the next President of the United States. That should be a five-alarm fire for our democracy. Our democracy right now is at very grave risk of going through a period of destruction, and in many ways it already has. … As the saying goes, "Stalin was bad, but the little Stalins were a hell of a lot worse". And that is what we would be seeing in a second Trump term. As bad as Donald Trump will be if he wins a second term, his lieutenants will likely be people who are even more evil than he is. That is going to be true of Trump's successors too because they will be following his authoritarian playbook to win the MAGA base.

During a fake interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson two weeks ago, Trump engaged in obvious acts of mental projection and fantasy as he shared his fears of being assassinated by "the left', the Democrats, the "deep state" and other imagined enemies.

The most foolish and dangerous example of wish-casting is the argument that "Trump can't win anyway" or that he will be in prison or disqualified under the 14th Amendment.

These lies are part of a right-wing disinformation campaign in service to the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election and that it was stolen from him by Biden and the Democrats. No evidence exists to support such claims.

The reality: Law enforcement and other experts have repeatedly warned (and documented) that the greatest threat to the country's domestic safety is from right-wing extremism. One such right-wing terrorist, a neo-Nazi terrorist, murdered three black people at a Dollar General Store in Jacksonville, Florida two Saturdays ago.

The "enemies" that Trump and his next regime want to put in prison or worse, include not just President Biden, the Democratic Party's leadership, and the members of law enforcement who are prosecuting Trump for his crimes, but all people who he and the Republican fascists and MAGA movement deem to be "the enemy" and "un-American".

Here are some specific examples.

If you do not support Donald Trump and the Republican fascists and the MAGA movement (or are deemed insufficiently loyal) you will face prison or worse.

The American right-wing wing has been trained for decades by their news media and other political leaders and influentials to believe that Democrats, liberals, progressives, feminists, progressives and others who are not "real Americans" are to be eliminated and subjected to other genocidal violence.

If you are a black or brown person, a Muslim, Jewish, an atheist, not a White Christian, a members of the LGBTQI community, believe in women's reproductive rights and freedoms, are deemed to be "Woke" or tainted by the "Critical Race Theory Mind Virus" or otherwise deemed to be the Other you will also be targeted by Trump's next regime and movement.

Dictators and other authoritarians expand the category of "the enemy" in response to political necessity and the whims, grievances, and others mercurial needs and impulses of the leader(s). This dynamic is even more powerful in a political personality cult such as Trumpism.

Even more so in personality cult such as Trumpism. No American, not even Trump's MAGA supporters and other Republican voters, will be safe from being put in prison or targeted for violence by the next Trump regime.

Trump and his advisers are actively creating the infrastructure for him to follow through on his plans to be a dictator when/if he retakes the White House in 2025. Trump's Agenda 47 is a plan to radically remake the presidency and American government (and American society) in service to his neofascist vision that includes such goals as ending birthright citizenship, criminalizing migrants and refugees, putting homeless people in camps, instituting national stop and frisk laws, restricting freedom of the press, ending academic freedom at the country's universities and colleges and other institutions of higher education, replacing quality public education that teaches critical thinking and the country's real history with a form of fascist "patriotic" indoctrination, ending environmental regulations, more gangster capitalism and power for the richest Americans and corporations, reversing the progress of the civil rights movement and the Black Freedom Struggle, taking away the rights of gays and lesbians and other queer people, further restricting women's civil and human rights, and ending US support for Ukraine.

Project 2025 is a strategy that has been developed by right-wing think tanks and interest groups such as the Heritage Foundation. The main focus of Project 2025 is to launch a blitzkrieg assault on the American government by ending career civil service and replacing it with Trump loyalists with the goal of eliminating any internal opposition to the Trump dictatorship. In essence, these Trump loyalists will place his vision above the Constitution and the rule of law.

Salon's Areeba Shah explains more:

A network of conservative groups is gearing up for the potential reelection of Donald Trump, actively enlisting an "army" of Americans to come to Washington with a mission to disassemble the federal government and substitute it with a vision that aligns more closely with their own beliefs and ideas, according to The Associated Press

Organized by the Heritage Foundation, the sweeping new initiative called Project 2025, offers a policy agenda, transition plan, a playbook for the first 180 days and a personnel database for the next GOP president to access from the very beginning to take control, reform, and eliminate what Republicans criticize as the "deep state" bureaucracy. Their plan includes the possibility of firing as many as 50,000 federal employees.

Democracy experts view Project 2025 as an authoritarian attempt to seize power by filling the federal government, including the Department of Justice and the FBI, with unwavering Trump supporters, which could potentially erode the country's system of checks and balances.

"The irony of course is that in the name of 'draining the swamp', it creates opportunities to make the federal government actually quite corrupt and turn the country into a more authoritarian kind of government," Matt Dallek, a professor at George Washington's Graduate School of Political Management, who studies the American right, told Salon. 

Those who remain in denial about the realities of Trump's plans to become a dictator and the country's worsening democracy crisis, would likely object to these warnings with foolish deflections such as Trump is just making "empty threats" and that he is "disorganized and not disciplined" and "the law would stop him" because "of American Exceptionalism" and "the institutions and the guardrails of democracy…".

Such voices have learned little, which seven years later is a choice, from the Age of Trump, the horrors it unleashed, and the system's failures that vomited it out.

By definition, fascists and other authoritarians such as Donald Trump and his fake populist MAGA movement do not care about the law or "institutions". The cry "that's illegal!" is one of the final things that many people in societies around the world have said when an authoritarian and their forces take power.

In addition, the last seven years have also highlighted how vulnerable and weak America's governing social and political institutions are to neofascism and other forms of authoritarianism and illiberalism. A second Trump regime, and the Republican Party and "conservative movement" more generally, have gained great experience with exploiting these vulnerabilities and are now trying to fully explode them – from both inside and outside the country's governing institutions.

The most foolish and dangerous example of wish-casting is the argument that "Trump can't win anyway" or that he will be in prison or disqualified under the 14th Amendment. Trump is a symbol and leader of a movement. The decades-long neofascist campaign to end multiracial pluralistic democracy will continue without him and will likely become even more effective and dangerous if a committed and disciplined ideologue in the mold of Ron DeSantis were to become its leader.

Or perhaps those members of the news media, political class, and among the general public who want to ignore or downplay Trump's escalating dictatorial threats would heed the warnings of former Republicans, the same people who helped to create the circumstances for Trump and the MAGA movement's rise to power?

As a group those Never-Trumpers and other pro-democracy voices from the "conservative" movement are sounding the alarm, almost screaming, that Donald Trump means everything that he says about becoming a dictator for life and getting revenge on those people who dare(d) to oppose him. Those same people are also warning, repeatedly, that Trump's chances of winning the 2024 Election are much higher than the mainstream news media and pundit class want to admit.

If Donald Trump was a private citizen and he was threatening his neighbors with violence and other harm, he would likely be put in jail or otherwise removed from society. But Donald Trump is not a regular person. He is a former president who commands the loyalty of tens of millions of people. When a person tells you who they are believe them. That wisdom and warning most certainly applies to Trump and his MAGAites and the other neofascists and members of the white right. Denial will not save you no matter how much you wish it would.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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