Robert Kagan: “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.”

This is a chilling, and sober and not hyperbolic, analysis:

It is hard to fault those who have taken Trump to court. He certainly committed at least one of the crimes he is charged with; we don’t need a trial to tell us he tried to overturn the 2020 election. Nor can you blame those who have hoped thereby to obstruct his path back to the Oval Office. When a marauder is crashing through your house, you throw everything you can at him — pots, pans, candlesticks — in the hope of slowing him down and tripping him up. But that doesn’t mean it works.

Trump will not be contained by the courts or the rule of law. On the contrary, he is going to use the trials to display his power. That’s why he wants them televised. Trump’s power comes from his following, not from the institutions of American government, and his devoted voters love him precisely because he crosses lines and ignores the old boundaries. They feel empowered by it, and that in turn empowers him. Even before the trials begin, he is toying with the judges, forcing them to try to muzzle him, defying their orders. He is a bit like King Kong testing the chains on his arms, sensing that he can break free whenever he chooses.

And just wait until the votes start pouring in. Will the judges throw a presumptive Republican nominee in jail for contempt of court? Once it becomes clear that they will not, then the power balance within the courtroom, and in the country at large, will shift again to Trump. The likeliest outcome of the trials will be to demonstrate our judicial system’s inability to contain someone like Trump and, incidentally, to reveal its impotence as a check should he become president. Indicting Trump for trying to overthrow the government will prove akin to indicting Caesar for crossing the Rubicon, and just as effective. Like Caesar, Trump wields a clout that transcends the laws and institutions of government, based on the unswerving personal loyalty of his army of followers…..

t is worth getting inside Trump’s head a bit and imagining his mood following an election victory. He will have spent the previous year, and more, fighting to stay out of jail, plagued by myriad persecutors and helpless to do what he likes to do best: exact revenge. Think of the fury that will have built up inside him, a fury that, from his point of view, he has worked hard to contain. As he once put it, “I think I’ve been toned down, if you want to know the truth. I could really tone it up.” Indeed he could — and will. We caught a glimpse of his deep thirst for vengeance in his Veterans Day promise to “root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our Country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American Dream.” Note the equation of himself with “America and the American Dream.” It is he they are trying to destroy, he believes, and as president, he will return the favor.

What will that look like? Trump has already named some of those he intends to go after once he is elected: senior officials from his first term such as retired Gen. John F. Kelly, Gen. Mark A. Milley, former attorney general William P. Barr and others who spoke against him after the 2020 election; officials in the FBI and the CIA who investigated him in the Russia probe; Justice Department officials who refused his demands to overturn the 2020 election; members of the Jan. 6 committee; Democratic opponents including Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.); and Republicans who voted for or publicly supported his impeachment and conviction.

But that’s just the start. After all, Trump will not be the only person seeking revenge. His administration will be filled with people with enemies’ lists of their own, a determined cadre of “vetted” officials who will see it as their sole, presidentially authorized mission to “root out” those in the government who cannot be trusted. Many will simply be fired, but others will be subject to career-destroying investigations. The Trump administration will be filled with people who will not need explicit instruction from Trump, any more than Hitler’s local gauleiters needed instruction. In such circumstances, people “work toward the Führer,” which is to say, they anticipate his desires and seek favor through acts they think will make him happy, thereby enhancing their own influence and power in the process.

Nor will it be difficult to find things to charge opponents with. Our history is unfortunately filled with instances of unfairly targeted officials singled out for being on the wrong side of a particular issue at the wrong time — the State Department’s “China Hands” of the late 1940s, for instance, whose careers were destroyed because they happened to be in positions of influence when the Chinese Communist Revolution occurred. Today, there is the whiff of a new McCarthyism in the air. MAGA Republicans insist that Biden himself is a “communist,” that his election was a “communist takeover” and that his administration is a “communist regime.”…

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