Opinion | What Worries Me Most About a Trump Presidency

Government, like fish, rots from the head down. Mr. Trump’s example freed up cabinet members to award huge contracts to their friends, business associates and political allies, while others ran their departments like personal fiefs. After the State Department’s inspector general was fired, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s use of official trips for clandestine meetings with conservative donors and his family’s alleged misuse of staff members for tasks like walking his dog, picking up his wife from the airport and fetching his takeout came to light. And, in addition to being accused of improperly accepting gifts from those seeking influence, several other cabinet members were alleged to have used government funds for private travel. These may seem like banal infractions, but taken together, they are a reflection of who Mr. Trump is and how he governs.

Throughout his life, through Trump-branded wine, chocolate bars, sneakers, NFTs, ties, MAGA paraphernalia, a $59.99 Bible (of all things) and, most recently, his Truth Social meme stock ploy, he has shown an unstoppable drive to enrich himself at all costs. He sees politics, like business, as a zero-sum game in which he wins only if someone else loses. These are the instincts that drive corruption, kleptocracy and grift. And, if past is prologue, we’re looking at a much more damaging sequel.

In a second term, Mr. Trump will have more freedom and power to undertake grift. He has already vowed to use pardons to protect supporters and possibly even himself from efforts to curb corruption (which may explain the nonchalance with which his son-in-law Jared Kushner has greeted criticism about the conflicts of interest raised by his recent real estate investments in Serbia and Albania, as well as the Saudi, Qatari and Emirati investments in his wealth fund). And he and his political advisers are building a deep bench of committed and loyal employees who could corrode and potentially destroy mechanisms of accountability in government, paving the way for kleptocratic leaders to entrench themselves in the bureaucracy where many would be able to remain past Mr. Trump’s term. And the mere presence of a phalanx of unquestioning lieutenants in the civil service will ensure that other civil servants fear retribution for objecting to the self-enrichment.

Naturally, I worry about other things, too, particularly the possibility of political violence. Mr. Trump could well claim he has won the election no matter the vote count and call on his supporters to rise up to ensure his takeover. Even before the votes are cast, his supporters are threatening election officials, judicial officials and state legislators, trying to intimidate them into either helping Mr. Trump or stepping aside to be replaced by Trumpists.

But legal, law enforcement and security obstacles are still in place to slow down or stop these efforts. We must remember that this time around, President Biden will still be president, able to control the military and federal law enforcement, and Congress has amended the outdated and vague Electoral Count Act to make it much harder for Mr. Trump’s congressional allies to contest a Trump loss in the electoral college or on Capitol Hill.

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