Until the final weeks of Trump’s term, the guardrails of American democracy seemed to hold firm. The institutions of the federal government remained relatively intact, and civil servants largely secure and uncorrupted. The United States experienced democratic backsliding but not democratic collapse.
In a second term, however, a newly emboldened Trump could well attack democracy itself. The MAGA Republican Party of his making has openly explored ways to transform states where they control all branches of government. States that were once pluralistic democracies with at least some chance of a transfer of power are coming to resemble one-party regimes directed by a minority of the population. (Anne Applebaum’s report from Tennessee is a case history in point.)
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s putative rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, has turned his state into a laboratory for testing how a determined, calculating, uninhibited authoritarian can maximize executive power. In many respects, he has already accomplished at the state level what Trump did not have the discipline and focus to do at the federal level. And DeSantis has created a blueprint for other Republican state leaders to follow.
Just as state Republicans have become more ruthlessly autocratic in their methods, a new Trump presidency would be much more efficiently goal-oriented at the federal level. A huge transformation of the administrative state is being deliberately planned. The government agencies and civil service he has decried as the “deep state” would be purged or politicized, and the “retribution” he has promised against his enemies would also be carried out. The “unitary executive” theory long promoted by some Republicans would become the reality of an unabashed authoritarianism. [Continue reading…]