Like most newspapers across the country, the Chicago Tribune has cut its staff and coverage drastically. Much of their national and international news is purchased from either the New York Times or the Associated Press and runs in the paper’s second section.
There was an exception in today’s Tribune, which ran a New York Times story prominently at the bottom of the first page. I don’t always love the Tribune’s editorial positions, especially when they’re addressing union issues, but they nailed it this time because the story addresses news of profound significance. You’ve probably read or heard about it elsewhere by now but I’m going to follow the practice of my favorite online writer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who first summarizes news stories he wants to react to and then follows it with a section he calls “My Take.”
The article reports on the ongoing work of right-wing thinkers, some of whom are former Trump staffers while others are connected with conservative think tanks like The Heritage Foundation. This group is preparing plans for reorganizing the executive branch of government in 2025, assuming the Republicans regain the White House. Their guiding principle is to “seize” (their word) any locus of power in the executive branch not currently under the total control of the president. One primary target is the regulatory agencies – the EPA, the FTC, the SEC, etc. – and eliminate any autonomy these agencies have over appointments and policies which conservatives have come to see as obstacles to the implementation of presidential will. They contend that, collectively, they are part of the “deep state” that is at work to undermine conservative policies.
The Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office would now act as implementers and enforcers for the President, much as former president Trump tried to shape them during his term in office. Presumably, this includes mobilizing the FBI and the CIA to support the President as he sees fit.
Finally, all employees of the executive branch of government would now serve at the President’s will and could be dismissed if he feels they are acting in ways at odds with his wishes and mandates, thus overriding more than a century of civil service policies.
My Take: This is one of the scariest policy agendas I have ever encountered. Please tell me what I’m missing here. Those Founding Fathers that our Federalist Society- shaped Supreme Court justices are so fond of quoting in their “originalist” decisions were trying to create a form of government that was the antithesis of the monarchy against which they had rebelled. All their decisions and plans were informed by the desire to constrain the leader of this new Republic from exercising absolute power. This is what the whole system of checks and balances was about. It’s true that the 2025 plan addresses only the executive branch, presumably leaving the legislative and judicial branches to continue to carry out that checks and balances function, but it’s inevitable that this strong-man model of government would move to encroach on those other branches in ways that would concentrate even more power in the president’s hands. I think they call that dictatorship.
The right-wing architects of this policy are taking a calculated risk by broadcasting these plans so far ahead of the next presidential election. They are obviously assuming that a large enough segment of the voting population will find this dictator-lite model attractive enough to get behind. Certainly, the Republican base is already infected with conspiracy theories about the sinister deep state. In their view it must be eliminated to clear the way for the president to overcome the socialist, communist, fascist elements attempting to destroy our country. But how does that play with the other 70% of the voters?
I will be sorely disappointed if the Democrats don’t find a way to use this announcement from the Heritage Society and their friends to raise the alarm for most Americans and help them see the terrifying threat to individual rights – those very rights conservatives claim to be defending – represented by a government that concentrates so much power in the hands of a single individual. Although the plans are supposedly intended for use by any Republican who might win in 2024, there is a clear hope that it will be Donald Trump in whose hands these new powers will fall. That makes the ideas being promoted doubly frightening since he has demonstrated his lack of understanding of democracy and his ability to use his power for revenge against his opponents and enemies, rather than for the collective good.
These frightening proposals need to be taken seriously and attacked now that they’re out in the open, so that it’s clear to anyone even close to the fence how dangerous they are to the form of government that has made us the envy of the rest of the world. These 2025 ideas make the strongest possible case for opposing a second term of office for Donald Trump.
I didn’t intend to make this the entire focus of this week’s posting. It’s much wonkier than I tend to be and readers who enjoy my more personal entries may be disappointed, but there’s a thin line for me between the personal and the political. What I’ve written about here constitutes a personal threat to me.
One more thing. A teacher friend reminded me yesterday that he and his colleagues will report to work on August 14th. In some parts of the country the start of school is even nearer. So, I’m sending to teachers here in Chicago and elsewhere my hope that you will take full advantage of the remaining refueling time available to you. Teaching is hard work. You deserve this time to recharge. Your students will be the better for it.