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 toward government power. The Reaganists who used to dominate the party primarily saw government as the problem: if it could be cut or eliminated entirely, free markets would provide everything America needed. But a new report on plans being developed for Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House shows just how much that has changed. Rather than marginalizing or eliminating federal agencies, Republicans now want to do something far more disturbing: take effective control over them to go after 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 labor protections from thousands of senior civil servants, at once eliminating a large part of the institutional experience and memory of the civil service. That would allow them to be replaced by a “cadre” loyal to Trump’s America First agenda, most of them likely in their 20s and 30s with no government experience, who owe their newfound prominence only to Trump. Ideologically zealous and extremely loyal, they would try to reshape the government in the image of Trump.

Whoever developed this plan certainly had a keen eye for Trump’s greatest weakness as president. He emptied some agencies, most notably the State Department, by expelling officials. But ignorant of how the government worked and too impulsive to focus on a long-term program of change, he had little success in actually forcing most agencies to implement his America First agenda. It often appeared that Trump found his own administration more useful to him as a political foil than a tool in his hands. Trump seemed to have decided that there was no point in trying to control the “deep state” when he could portray himself as its victim.

What seems to have changed in the interim is Trump’s desire for revenge. According to the Axios report, Trump’s top priority in a new administration will be to “clean house” in the intelligence community, DoJ and FBI. The 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. Instead, they are the places you need to corrupt if you are determined to break the law and go after your opponents. Trump – notoriously shy, impulsive and vindictive – wants to do just that.

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

What will be done with this power? Some of them are darkly predictable. With the Justice Department finally under control, the next Republican president would be free to launch criminal investigations against political opponents. The brutality of immigration enforcement would increase dramatically, while environmental regulations would languish unenforced. Right-wing extremists would not be harassed as long as American Muslims had their rights violated. Corruption and venality would become rampant across government as the checks and balances were removed and inexperienced hackers got their first taste of power.

Given the scale of the federal government and the sheer weirdness of conservative politics, other consequences are difficult to understand. Whether it’s vaccines, Disney movies, or whatever else is stirring up the Fox News faithful, the government would be far more receptive to your views. At the same time, the things that really matter – from nuclear security to protecting the country from terrorist attacks – would be overlooked. A public service bent on the will of the modern conservative movement would not be a place that respected science, rationality, or legality. Precisely what might come under the weight of an attack on these principles is difficult to predict. But something definitely would.

While Trump brings his own particular set of grievances to the venture, any future Republican president is likely to follow a similar plan. Given the sheer scale of change they want to impose on the United States, today’s conservatives act 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 doesn’t strike future historians as a grim prelude to something far worse, they should never be allowed to do so.

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