Donald Trump just gave greater insight into what a second term will be like, and it ain’t pretty. His latest pronouncements – threats, actually – have been compared to the utterances of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. And we know how those turned out.
Richard Nixon ran in 1968 promising a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. The secret turned out to be more war. Another Nixon secret was his extensive enemies lists and plans to use his presidential power to go after them.
Donald Trump is no Nixon. Trump may also be paranoid, megalomaniacal, and obsessed with getting even, but he is very open about his plans. And they’re terrifying – as is his descent into the language of violent political repression. This week he branded his enemies “vermin,” a favorite term the Nazi leader used for those he hated, especially Jews.
Trump has been flexing his fascism increasingly as he plots revenge on “communists, Marxists, fascists, and radical-left thugs,” as he called his enemies in a Veterans Day message. While other presidents, current and former, were honoring American veterans and soldiers who died defending their country, Trump, a draft dodger, will be remembered for having called the fallen heroes “suckers” and “losers,” according to his former chief of staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, whose own Marine son died in combat.
Jason Stanley, the Yale University author of How Fascism Works, said on MSNBC that Trump’s rhetoric “is textbook Mein Kampf. Any antisemite will hear this vocabulary as directed against Jews,” he said.
Trump has shown his vindictiveness to liberal Jews, Netanyahu
Trump’s Veterans Day screed comes on the heels of his Rosh Hashanah message attacking “liberal Jews who voted to destroy America and Israel” by voting against him in 2020, ungrateful for all he did for Israel. “Let’s hope you learned from your mistake.”
He has lamented that “our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative... than the people of the Jewish faith.”
He’s also carrying a grudge against his erstwhile friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for congratulating Joe Biden on his presidential election, for not participating in a covert assassination of an Iranian terror leader, as well as other offenses, real and imagined.
When Biden declared full support for Israel following the October 7 Hamas massacre and rushed to Israel to embrace Israel in person, Trump tried to blame the attack on Biden’s policies, called Israel’s defense minister a “jerk,” praised Hezbollah as “very smart,” and told Israel to “step up their game.” Nikki Haley, a rival for the GOP nomination, said that showed Trump was “confused.”
Lamely trying to clean up his mess, he later said he would ban immigrants from Gaza and any who “want to abolish Israel” or “sympathize with jihadists,” and revoke visas for foreign students who participated in anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian protests.
Trump is telling us his plans, and they're autocratic
Immigration is a hot-button issue for Trump and his isolationist and xenophobic base. He is talking about rounding up undocumented immigrants and putting them in holding camps so they can easily be deported.
Also on his agenda are “strong ideological screening for immigrants,” a new and extended Muslim ban, renewed family separation policies, an end to birthright citizenship, mass deportations, and possible cross-border anti-drug military raids into Mexico.
His speeches, tweets, and rhetoric have been laced with antisemitism, and that stain cannot be erased by moving an embassy, recognizing a capital, or sanctioning an annexation. Or by empty boasts, like his absurd claims that Hamas wouldn’t have attacked if he had been president; Iran would have joined the Abraham Accords; Russia would not have invaded Ukraine, and there would be no inflation.
Trump has an affinity for autocrats and tyrants. He exchanged “love letters” with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, served “beautiful” chocolate cake to China’s Xi Jinping, and took Vladimir Putin’s word over that of all US intelligence leaders.
The “vermin” reference echoes Hitler as well as Benito Mussolini. Not to leave out another tyrant, Trump also invoked the same term Stalin used to describe the news media –“enemy of the people.” They must pay “for what they have done to our once great country,” Trump vowed. So much for freedom of the press.
He likes to falsely accuse the Biden administration of weaponizing the Justice Department, but he is quite open of how he plans to do that and worse.
Trump is unencumbered by any moral compass
Borrowing another bit of Stalinism for good measure, he has been calling for purges of disloyal government workers in his administration and went on Truth Social this week to announce that when he is president, special counsel Jack Smith and other DoJ “losers and misfits” will end up “in a mental institution.”
Those he doesn’t want to toss in a padded cell he wants to hang for treason. Like Gen. Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for communications with China; Joe Biden; Barack Obama and the entire Obama Justice Department; Hillary Clinton; former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Lisa Page; Rep. Adam Schiff; the news media; Congressional Democrats, and a leader of Black Lives Matter.
These words and accusations are not accidental; he and his spokespeople repeat them on social media, on the stump on right-wing broadcasts, and elsewhere, dehumanizing opponents to justify violence against them.
In a second term, Trump can be counted upon to pick a compliant attorney general and order him to use the vast power of the federal government to go after his enemies.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung tried to dismiss criticism of his dear leader’s fascist rhetoric by doubling down on it, saying the critics’ “entire existence will be crushed” if Trump returns in 2024.
The Republicans’ likely nominee is a man unencumbered by any moral compass, devoid of intellectual curiosity, envious of autocrats and dictators, contemptuous of democracy, and hell-bent on revenge. When mixed with his lack of impulse control, that form can be a lethal concoction.
His sister, Maryanne Trump, a retired federal judge who died this week, has called him “cruel” and said, “He has no principles.”
By word and deed, Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that a second term as president would pose a clear and present danger to the rule of law and basic democratic principles. To an American Jewish community that has always regarded a strong democracy as the best defense against the evil tide of antisemitism, his continued popularity – and his support among the Republican leadership – should be a source of the gravest concern.
The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant, lobbyist, and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.