In the wake of this week’s terrifying news of the New York Times/Siena College polls showing Donald Trump beating President Biden in must-win battleground states, keep in mind two words and spread them: Insurrection Act.
It’s been 31 years since a president last invoked the act and dispatched troops domestically to enforce federal law. That’s the longest stretch of nonuse in the Insurrection Act’s roughly 240-year history, befitting the disquieting power it confers. Back then, President George H.W. Bush sent the military, at the request of California Gov. Pete Wilson, to quell the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after four police officers were acquitted for their horrific, video-recorded beating of Rodney King.
But if Trump is reelected, the law’s next invocation could well come soon, on Jan. 20, 2025 — Inauguration Day. You’ve been warned.
Anticipating widespread protests against his second term, Trump and allies reportedly are drafting plans to invoke the Insurrection Act in his first hours back in the White House — thereby confirming the expected protesters’ likely point: Trump is a danger to liberty and constitutional governance.
And that’s just one of many MAGA plans in the works, as the Washington Post reported this week, all aimed at making good on Trump’s central promise of the 2024 campaign: “retribution.” (A third word to remember, and repeat.)
According to the Post, Trump allies — purported intellectuals and Cabinet wannabes in far-right think tanks — are “mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish [his] critics and opponents,” even naming individuals to be investigated and prosecuted. For what, you ask. TBD.
Among the targets are some of the top appointees of Trump’s four years as president (“Only the best people,” he’d said), who learned firsthand that he was and is unfit for office: John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general and Gold Star father who was White House chief of staff and Homeland Security secretary; former Atty. Gen. William Barr (“I’m quivering in my boots,” Barr told the Post sardonically); retired Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, formerly the nation’s highest-ranking military officer as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and a passel of officials at the Justice Department and FBI. Oh, and he’s already told us he’ll “go after” Biden and his family.
The Post account builds on an earlier one in the New York Times about the “Project 2025” plan for a new Trump administration — er, autocracy. The newspaper’s report said Trump’s second-term objectives include taking control of independent agencies, including the Fed, that are meant to be free of political interference; impounding congressionally appropriated funds he doesn’t like; gutting the civil service and returning to the partisan 19th century “spoils system”; and purging the Defense, State and intelligence departments of disloyal officials — disloyal to Trump, that is.
As Tom Nichols, a national security analyst and former Republican, wrote in the Atlantic, what’s afoot are “plans for a dictatorship that should appall every American.”
Indeed, every American should be appalled. Yet nearly half of the electorate supports this would-be despot, polls show, including a CNN poll released Tuesday. More voters think Biden is the mentally suspect codger of the two. But an unprecedented number of former presidential appointees attest that it’s Trump — “He has a very fragile ego. … Something happened to him as a kid,” Barr theorized recently. They all but implore us to never let their former boss darken the door of the Oval Office again.
We’re talking about former Pentagon and intelligence chiefs, other Cabinet secretaries, members of his White House inner circle — even his vice president! As I said, it’s unprecedented. Not even Richard Nixon, post-resignation, invited such opprobrium from former acolytes.
Despite this, too many voters are disengaged, grumpy that their choice seems to be coming down to Trump vs. Biden. As if those choices were comparably distasteful when, in fact, one is vanilla and the other is nitroglycerin.
Trump, returned to the presidency, would sit at the apex of a government whose foundation is the rule of law. Yet his obnoxious outbursts this week in his New York civil trial over financial skulduggery were just the latest evidence of his disdain for the law and the judicial system. And we haven’t even gotten to his three criminal trials for seeking to overturn Biden’s election and making off with government documents. No one — not witnesses, prosecutors or judges — is immune from his attacks and the death threats that follow.
Then there’s the flip side of Trump’s promises of revenge: the rewards and pardons he’ll dispense to convicted Jan. 6 rioters and schemers, cronies in legal peril and, of course, himself. He’ll try, if there’s a next time, to make good on his past claim that under the Constitution’s Article 2, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
Fact check: He doesn’t.
As president, Trump was thwarted in his unhinged, unconstitutional and unethical impulses by those former administration officials he now assails. Kelly told the Post, “The lesson he learned was to find sycophants.”
Well, the folks at Project 2025 have that covered. They’re compiling names of thousands of potential appointees for a second Trump administration who are sure to be “conservative warriors.”
So what guardrails might protect us from Trump 2.0?
There is the military, which, as Milley made himself aware, can refuse an illegal order. The Insurrection Act, however, gives a president broad authority to order the military into action in this country; the Supreme Court in 1827 said the power to use troops domestically “belongs exclusively to the President, and … his decision is conclusive upon all other persons.”
There are the federal courts, which mostly served the republic well against Trump’s postelection scheming. There’s the Senate, given its power to confirm presidential appointees, though that’s a thin reed indeed given Republicans’ fealty to Trump.
The best guardrail is not electing Trump, period.
Repeat: Insurrection Act. Retribution. Because he’s warned us.