How Trump is becoming more authoritarian

Donald Trump has been clear about his intentions to govern in a more authoritarian way if he’s president again. But what does that actually mean?

An authoritarian is someone who amasses power to amass more power, often exploiting gray areas in the law to do it — or ignoring the rule of law outright. In some senses of the definition, Trump fits the mold, says Meredith McGehee, a government ethics expert who formerly headed the bipartisan political reform group Issue One. For example: Trump ignored dozens of court rulings saying he had lost the 2020 election as he tried to stay in power anyway.

Now Trump and his allies are aspiring to break even more norms to get what they want. Trump has said that if he were elected for a second term, he wouldn’t be a dictator “except for Day One.”

“Since he has been president, his public statements indicate he has great frustration with using the system as it currently is,” McGehee said, “and when he makes a comment, ‘Yeah, I’d like to be dictator for a day,’ that indicates he does not value the democratic process as it has been traditionally viewed by the American political system.”

Here are some of the authoritarian-like actions Trump or his allies say he’ll take in his second term:

Rounding up undocumented immigrants and keeping them in mass deportation camps: Trump and his allies want to put together one of the biggest U.S. deportations of the past century, using the military to raid communities and hold potentially millions of migrants in mass detention camps before deporting them, The Washington Post’s Isaac Arnsdorf, Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report. To get around Congress — which might not give him the money to do this because it might be illegal — Trump would divert military funds, the New York Times reports.

“The illegals are going home,” Trump adviser Stephen Miller declared recently.

Use the federal government to target his enemies: Trump says he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden. He has also talked privately about using the Justice Department to investigate top people in his first administration who now publicly criticize him, The Post’s Isaac, Josh and Devlin Barrett report.

“This is Third World country stuff, ‘arrest your opponent,’” Trump has said of his indictments, despite the fact that they are based on his actions, and that there’s no evidence of political motivation. “And that means I can do that, too.”

Make it harder to protest against him: Trump’s allies are considering how they could wield a Civil War-era law, the Insurrection Act, to use the military to clamp down on civil protests against him.

Legal and political experts worry this could do a lot of damage to democracy as we know it. “This is an existential moment for the country,” Michael Steele, a former head of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview this fall. “Do you really want to live in a country where the president of the United States is going after his political enemies?”

Trump will need allies to help him carry this all out, which is what worries McGehee. He didn’t quite have that in his first term; his second could be different. As Trump’s former chief of staff John F. Kelly told The Post: “The lesson the former president learned from his first term is don’t put guys like me … in those jobs. The lesson he learned was to find sycophants.”

Josh Chafetz, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, added in a recent interview: “If a president is truly determined to make himself a dictator, the question at the end of the day is whether the military and other force-deploying agencies of the federal government are willing to go along. If they are, there’s not much Congress or the courts could do about it.”

What’s up with the Republican investigation into the Biden family?

House Republicans are struggling to find a reason to pursue impeaching Biden. But they’re still digging: The president’s brother, James Biden, testified to House Republicans behind closed doors Wednesday, saying the president had no involvement in his business deals. Hunter Biden will testify next week.

Here’s what’s going on and what could come of all this.

The allegations: House Republicans allege that Hunter and Joe Biden were illegally doing business together.

Have Republicans been able to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing? No, despite more than a year of investigating. Hunter Biden is charged by the federal government with illegally buying a gun and dodging taxes. He faces two trials this year and potential jail time if convicted.

But despite years of investigating, neither House Republicans nor a Trump-appointed federal prosecutor have found any evidence of illegal business dealings with his father. In fact, most of those who have testified to the House have said the opposite.

It’s not that Hunter Biden’s actions were perfect; he clearly traded on his name, and ethics experts have raised concerns that Hunter Biden’s work abroad allowed foreign companies to have a sheen of authority and presented a conflict of interest for his father. But there’s no evidence he and his father were illegally benefiting from shady business deals.

Was everything about Hunter Biden made up? Not necessarily; Republicans keep claiming they need to do more digging. But the allegation that topped their list — that Joe Biden accepted a bribe when he was vice president — seems to have been entirely made up. The Justice Department just indicted the informant who gave them that tip, saying this person has significant ties to Russian intelligence.

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