Trump Plots Against His Enemies

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Donald Trump often says outlandish things, but he is not bluffing about his plans to jail his opponents and suppress—by force, if necessary—the rights of American citizens.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

Dangerous Plans

Donald Trump has been promising for two years to return to office and seize the machinery of government in order to exact revenge on his enemies. He’s not kidding: The Washington Post reported yesterday that Trump’s allies are planning to execute multiple assaults on democracy from the moment he takes office, including the possibility of deploying the United States armed forces on Inauguration Day to put down any demonstrations against Trump’s return to the White House.

“Critics,” the Post meekly added, “have called the ideas under consideration dangerous and unconstitutional,” as if these are ordinary policies that have “critics” rather than plans for a dictatorship that should appall every American. At the least, this is a much more important story right now than Trump’s general monkeyshines in court today in New York. (To her credit, the Post associate editor Ruth Marcus discussed the story in an op-ed today and said, “It is time to be very, very afraid.”)

In addition to gutting the right of Americans to engage in protests—a privilege Trump will apparently reserve only for his admirers—Trump and his aides are reportedly assembling a list of people to be investigated, prosecuted, and possibly jailed. His enemies list is large; according to the Post, it includes:

Onetime officials and allies who have become critical of his time in office, including his former chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and former attorney general William P. Barr, as well as his ex-attorney Ty Cobb and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, according to people who have talked to him, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump has also talked of prosecuting officials at the FBI and Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter said.

Trump also wants to go after President Joe Biden for “corruption,” which (like so many of Trump’s accusations) is pure projection. If Trump follows through on all of this lunacy, half the government will spend its days investigating the other half, while the military is put on alert in case too many Americans object to Trump’s destruction of their constitutional rights.

If you’re wondering how Trump plans to accomplish all of this, he likely has no idea. But his cronies at the Heritage Foundation (including former administration officials) do, and they are busily making plans. They’ve even written them down in something called Project 2025, a detailed blueprint for a right-wing takeover of the United States government. Trump, who seems to be losing his grip on reality more each day, might be devolving into a flaming piñata of offensive nonsense, but his enablers and the authors of Project 2025 know exactly what they’re doing.

I wrote about Project 2025 a few months ago, and I summarized it as “a lot of putative big-think from wannabe conservative intellectuals such as Ken Cuccinelli, Ben Carson, Stephen Moore, and Peter Navarro.” Most of it is silly, but it is also dangerous, especially in its clear intention to assist Trump in capturing both the federal justice system and the U.S. armed forces. (The chapter on the Defense Department was written by former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who wants to root out “Marxist indoctrination” in the U.S. military and purge the senior officer corps.)

Trump is, to put it mildly, an emotionally disordered man. But such men are usually only a hazard to their families and themselves, especially if they lack money or power. Trump has both, but even more important, he has people around him willing to use that money and power against American democracy. As the Post report reveals, these henchmen are now trying to turn Trump’s ravings into an autocratic program; without their aid, Trump would be just another motormouthed New York executive living on inherited money and holding court over a charred steak while the restaurant staff roll their eyes. With their support, however, he is an ongoing menace to the entire democratic order of the United States.

Trump has told his voters that he is their vengeance; in reality, he is mostly a vessel for people around him to satisfy their thirst for power and status. But Trump also relies on millions of voters who love his tough talk, and who likely would have no problem with the idea of jailing prominent Americans for their political views, especially after years of being schooled by the right-wing media to identify Trump’s enemies as their own.

But other American voters—even those who despise Trump—can’t seem to unite long enough to face the authoritarian danger taking shape right in front of them.

The coalition of prodemocracy voters—I am one of them—is shocked at the relative lack of outrage when Trump says hideous things. (The media’s complacency is a big part of this problem, but that’s a subject for another day.) For many of us, it feels as if Trump put up a billboard in Times Square that says “I will end democracy and I will in fact shoot you in the middle of Fifth Avenue if that’s what it takes to stay in power” and no one noticed.

Trump hasn’t taken out billboards, but at his rallies and press events he’s shouting it all as loud as he can, and the people around him are making plans to carry out his wishes. Meanwhile, millions of voters are folding their arms like shirty children and threatening to sit out the election because they don’t like their choices. Some are threatening to withhold support, in particular, for Joe Biden if they don’t get their way about student loans, climate change, or policy toward Israel. They are living in a booming economy that is outperforming any other developed nation since the start of the pandemic on many measures—and they are miserable and angry about it.

Many voters resent hearing all of this. They think they are being bullied into a binary choice between two candidates they do not like, and so they engage in wishcasting: If only someone could beat Trump for the GOP nomination (no one will); if only Biden would step down (he won’t); if only America didn’t rely on the Electoral College (it does); and so on. Trump and Biden are headed for a showdown unless illness or death intervenes. Even if Trump goes to prison, the Republican Party has become so fully corrupted that he could likely still run and get the nomination anyway. And the Electoral College isn’t going anywhere, either.

If American democracy falls in 2024, the chief culpability will rest with Trump, his aides, and the elected Republicans who enabled him (either out of fear or venality or both). But if Trump manages, one last time, to squeeze 271 electoral votes out of a distracted and sullen American electorate, much of the blame will also rest with voters who couldn’t be bothered to put aside their petty beefs and particularistic interests long enough to link arms at the ballot box and defend the American system of government.


Today’s News

  1. Donald Trump testified in the New York civil fraud trial.
  2. Israeli troops surrounded the northern half of the Gaza Strip and attacked it with air strikes as the U.S. continues to negotiate a humanitarian pause.
  3. A poll released yesterday shows that Joe Biden is behind Trump in five out of six crucial battleground states.

Evening Read

Owen Freeman

Female Spies and Their Secrets

By Liza Mundy (From 2019)

Are women useful as spies? If so, in what capacity? Maxwell Knight, an officer in MI5, Britain’s domestic-counterintelligence agency, sat pondering these questions. Outside his office, World War II had begun, and Europe’s baptism by blitzkrieg was under way. In England—as in the world—the intelligence community was still an all-male domain, and a clubby, upper-crust one at that. But a lady spy could come in handy, as Knight was about to opine.

In a memo “on the subject of Sex, in connection with using women as agents,” Knight ventured that one thing women spies could do was seduce men to extract information. Not just any woman could manage this, he cautioned—only one who was not “markedly oversexed or undersexed.” Like the proverbial porridge, a female agent must be neither too hot nor too cold.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

Trevor Hart / GalleryStock

Read. Tick Season,” a new poem by Robert Wood Lynn.

“Fresh again from summer / and its fields of unrepentant grass, / we strip down in the dooryard / of my little house, check each other over / for ticks.”

Listen. In The Atlantic’s newest podcast, How to Keep Time, co-hosts Becca Rashid and Atlantic contributing writer Ian Bogost examine our relationship with time and what we can do to reclaim it.

Play our daily crossword.


Regular readers of the Daily know that I love time-travel stories. I was mesmerized by The Time Tunnel as a kid, I was stunned by the gut punch at the ending of the original Planet of the Apes, and I never missed an episode of NBC’s Timeless as an adult. Perhaps a better way to put it is that I am fascinated by the idea of contingency, of the small turns in life that can change one’s life or the course of great events. (I’ve raved here about the series Counterpart, which explored this concept brilliantly while offering the best television I’ve ever seen.)

Usually, these shows are about immense events, such as world wars. But I recently discovered a gem of a limited series about time travel and a single murder, an import on Netflix from Britain titled Bodies. I can’t describe it without giving away too much of the plot, but the mystery centers on a body that appears in a London alley—the same body, in the same position, with the same wounds—in 1890, 1941, and 2023. (It shows up one more time, but … nope, I’m not going to spoil it.) Detectives in each era try to find the killer, and soon enough there’s a reveal, and a logical paradox, that is wonderfully intricate.

I will warn you: This is not for casual watching. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll be lost. But if you hang in there, it’s worth it, and you’ll never again hear the tender expression know you are loved without shuddering just a bit.

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Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.

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