By Rick Wilson
In the early 1980s, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer plastered New York with a series of guerilla art posters from a series she called “Truisms.” My absolute favorite of the lot was one that rings profoundly true in the politics of this fallen era: “Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise.”
A quick scan of just a handful of dozens of headlines in the last few weeks should raise your political hackles.
‘A revenge term’: what would another four years of Trump look like?
Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans
Trump Warns He Could ‘Certainly’ Indict Political Opponents if He’s Reelected
Over and over again, the language is of revenge, retribution, vengeance, purges, rough justice, and the extermination of “vermin.” I’ll skip making yet another Hitler comparison and cut to a more contemporary example I’ve written about before.
In the years before the Rwandan genocide, the government propaganda station RTLM attacked the Tutsi minority as snakes, cockroaches, and vermin. In just 100 days, a million Tutsi were slaughtered, a genocide speed run fueled not by the modern digital tools of persuasion, propaganda, and communication but by old-fashioned AM radio.
Language matters, and when authoritarians promise revenge, believe them.
The revenge they offer to their followers is almost always against an imaginary oppressor, a religious or class difference made worse by their actions, or an excuse for the violence they’ve been planning all along.
Why Trump has promised his base over and over again, “I am your retribution,” will become quite clear the moment his doll hand touches the Bible on a cold January day in 2025.
Kill All The Normie Appointees.
The premise of gentry Washington and some in the media before his first inauguration was that they would staff the Administration with grownups.
You know, good guys. People who would rein Trump in and channel his worst impulses toward conservative ends. Trump once promised, “I can be the most Presidential person ever.” I heard the story of “I’m taking one for the team” hundreds of times and even warned my GOP colleagues in a 2017 op-ed for the Washington Post: If You Work For Trump, It’s Time To Quit.
With Johnny McIntee (Trump’s eager 1st term personnel director and zampolit) in charge, no one will be appointed to even the lowest Schedule C position in government without a clean slate of Trump credentials. No one will get a pass. They will be even weirder and even less qualified than the first iteration. Under the proposed Schedule F system, the President has hiring and firing authority more broadly defined since the U.S. set up a civil service system over 100 years ago.
Expect a hiring process long on loyalty and nothing else. They’ll hire appointees as snitches to monitor the agencies they’re assigned to for signs of political disaffection, disloyalty, or even independent thought. They will mindlessly execute illegal policies.
Why? Because they know that an authoritarian government needs implementers, not experts. It requires obedience and action. It needs people willing to — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — just follow orders.
This time, they’ll focus on the Department of Justice first, stacking every appointed position with loyalists of the highest order, followed by taking control of the intelligence community from top to bottom. In the name of national security, expect the FBI, DHS, and other agencies to be staffed, directed, and politicized by the most edge-case Trumpers imaginable.
Imagine Secretary of Defense Mike Flynn, Attorney General Ted Cruz, DHS Secretary Stephen Miller, FBI Director Dan Bongino, and National Security Advisor Seb Gorka. That’s if we’re lucky. It’s the people you don’t know in MAGA world who will make that army of incel weirdos look like Lincoln and the Team of Rivals.
Move Fast and Break Everything
Steve Bannon’s notorious strategy of “flooding the zone with shit” will be writ huge in the early going of Trump 2.0.
Trump was surprised to win in 2016, and there was essentially no pre-planning for a transition. They didn’t get off the mark quickly enough with their catalog of horrors in 2017; they will not make that mistake again;
On the very first day, Trump will sign a broad swath of executive orders to dismantle as many of the firebreaks, rules, norms, and boundaries constraining the President’s executive power.
They’ll move fast and dare the courts to catch up with them.
Working with their allies in Congress, investigations of political opponents, Donald Trump and his team will begin, in parallel with the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and any other federal agency they can be used to harass and intimidate Trump’s target list.
You will also see mass suspensions or firings as career civil service members speak out or oppose illegal, unjust, or cruel policies.
They intend to move so fast on so many fronts that it will be impossible for the media to understand what’s happening, much less illustrate it to the public. They’ll cycle faster than the decision loop of the press, the courts, or the civil service.
The Radical Legal Solution
Remember, there won’t be any of those mentioned above (and largely imaginary) grownups in the room this time, particularly the kind who had the audacity in the first Trump Administration to declare specific presidential actions illegal, inappropriate, or terrible precedent.
Instead, they’ll have an army of new lawyers without the integrity and restraint of a Bill Barr, Jeff Sessions, Pat Cipollone, Pat Philbin, or Don McGahn from the first term.
If Trump Wins, His Allies Want Lawyers Who Will Bless a More Radical Agenda
Well, of course, they do. Trump and his followers know that a radical second term requires hundreds of lawyers willing to take radical action. This note from the above article should chill you: “But in a striking shift, Trump allies are building new recruiting pipelines separate from the Federalist Society.” Process that for a moment: the Federalist Society isn’t sufficiently radical for the second Trump term.
The new breed of “America First” lawyers won’t tell the President or his appointees that something insane and illegal must not happen; they’ll lube the system, flood the courts with lawsuits and motions, and declare that Trump’s word is the law.
Since 2016, there’s been time for an entire generation of young, reckless, radical legal thinkers to rise from the bubbling fever swamp ecosystem of right-wing law schools and firms. They’re young, eager, and revolutionary. Perhaps they’ll form a Nationalsozialistischer Rechtswahrerbund for this era.
Additional reading: Some of the Lawyers Who May Fill a Second Trump Administration
Sell The Gentry Image to the Press: Project 2025
The Heritage Foundation, since 1980, presented Republican Presidents with a conservative reformist plan for the shape, scope, and operations of government. These plans have, in the past, reflected a limited-government conservatism. As Heritage is now entirely inside the MAGAverse, their new vision will be a slightly scrubbed version of the Trumpian “kill the deep state” ideal.
The media will, by design, be drawn into the minutiae of the policy implications of the Heritage plan. They’ll parse and dive deep into the what-ifs and historical comparisons, only to miss that this plan is a Potemkin village to hide what’s really happening.
The most eager point made by Trump goons like Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon is that on day one, Trump will begin to deport 10 million illegal immigrants from the country. Yes, they hate immigrants, but this will come because it’s a perfect moment to deploy the full power of the state, expand government, and usher in a precedent for executive power gone wild.
In the first term, they tried and failed, still not having a firm hand on the range of government or the scope of his powers, but that won’t be the problem this time. They’ll roll past court rulings they find objectionable until they can elevate it to a friendly federal court or Trump’s hand-picked Supreme Court.
What does deporting 10 million people look like? Far beyond the powers of today’s currently constituted federal law-enforcement system, so of course, they’ll deploy the military as much as they can, likely working with friendly Republican governors. They’ll activate National Guard units at scale. They’ll hire private contractors because Erik Prince isn’t very busy now.
You should also expect to see a Civilian Immigration Corps (or some such nonsense) formed because what could go wrong with a quasi-military immigrant-hunting organization?
If you were shocked by the images of kids and cages the first time, wait till you see kids in the new Manzanars. Ten million people require a gulag system, not the facilities of the Federal government.
For all the horror, the expulsion of millions of immigrants will feed the MAGA media machine an endless diet of footage to keep the base happy.
There’s nothing more your generic red hat MAGA bro sporting a Ford F-250, wispy goatee, dollar store Oakley sunglasses, erectile dysfunction, and fierce love of Donald Trump adores more than seeing screaming Honduran kids separated from their parents and shoved behind barbed wire.
Yes, there’s a fierce hatred of immigration wrapped up in the white replacement panic of today’s Republican party, but all of this is a trial run for something even worse.
Enemies of the State
Trump has an enemies list.
More importantly, Steve, Bannon, Roger Stone, and the rest of the Trump apparatus have an enemies list encyclopedic in depth.
Who’s on it? I know I am.
Anyone who ever brought a legal case against Donald Trump for his many crimes is on the list. Anyone from the first Administration who was critical after their departure or — the sin of sins, declared themselves Never Trump — is on the list. Hell, the entire Never Trump movement is on the list, to be honest. No one who has publicly criticized Donald Trump should ever feel safe again.
They will use the legitimate investigations of Donald Trump to justify a legal revenge campaign. They’ll say, “Well, you put the January 6th political prisoners through hell, so now it’s our turn.” When I tell you America has never seen anything close to this, some of you will respond, “But Joe McCarthy.”
It’s close, but it’s not the same. Small pockets of government drove the Red Scare era’s attempt to root out communism. (McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, to be sure), but we’ll see a whole-of-government effort in a second Trump term.
Further reading: Donald Trump vows to lock up political enemies if he returns to White House.
See y’all in GITMO.
Leverage The Deniers
Professional Republicans, the Beltway consultacracy, the lobbyists, the big donors, and the GOP gentry media will play their role to the hilt for a third election cycle.
These are the people promising to harness Trump’s voters to “form a permanent governing coalition” and who said, “What’s the downside of humoring him?” before the bloodshed of January 6th. They’re the same who, for a few moments during the attacks on the Capitol, condemned Trump, then skittered to the exits when an impeachment motion could have blocked his return forever.
They will lead the change in denying what every American will witness.
The life cycle of their denial will run like this:
Step 7 is the one they’re missing. Ultimately, no matter how many games they play, the monster is always hungry; even the defenders of Trump will face the wrath of his new order if they make the slightest mistake.
Trump’s Recipe for a Shockingly Raw Power Grab
Trump and allies plot revenge, Justice Department control in a second term
Much of the harm done in Trump’s first term came from the ignorance, impulsiveness, stupidity, venality, mental incapacity, unimaginable corruption, and blistering pig-ignorance of a man profoundly unfit to command the nation at any level. It also came from an administration divided into competing pools of influence and interest.
They will not make those mistakes twice.
Remember: Republicans always tell you what they’re going to do. It’s almost Wilson Rule 3 at this point. Democrats keep waking up with a stunned look, saying, “They did what??” even though Trump and the MAGA media warned them over and over again that the outlandish promises were precisely what they intended to execute.
You won’t escape it. No American will.
All the Overton Window pushing of the MAGA intellectual class (irony, it’s what’s for dinner) about Americans needing a Red Caesar will have come to pass, with the reality that every Cesar, every authoritarian, every dictator takes the power they are given, and abuses it until the system breaks.
For everything Trump and his allies are willing to post and say publicly, there’s a darker undercurrent, a plan designed by intense and keen minds eager to end American liberty and democracy, to submerge this republic in a swift tide of oppression, violence, and disorder.
And they told us exactly what was coming.