This Friday America enters a perilous era when a man who trusts Vladimir Putin more than Americans in Congress, the military or our intelligence services takes the oath of office. Whether our republic endures Donald J. Trump’s clearly divided loyalties may well depend on how smartly Americans respond to our new president, with his insatiable lust for money, power, and public adoration.
Based on my almost three decades of Trump watching, here is some of what to expect in the days ahead:
First, a rapid fire set of actions designed to dazzle supporters and overwhelm opponents who cannot focus on every executive order and fast-track bill in Congress.
If Trump proceeds with his plan to build a wall just inside the U.S. border with Mexico, pay close attention to the authorizing language. Congress will likely be asked to exempt the project from environmental review and routine disclosures about the contracting and construction process. The bill may even allow expedited seizure of privately held land under our Constitution’s eminent domain clause.
The justification for this? National security, of course.
Second, expect Trump to also use national security to crack down on dissent. Protests must be peaceful or they will play in Trump’s authoritarian hands. Trump only needs a few riots to justify invoking Article I, Section 9 of our Constitution in which the second word is crucial:
“The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”
Similarly, if Trump wants to severely curtail demonstrations he may well circumvent the Posse Comitatus Act, an 1878 law that prohibits the use of the Army and other military personnel against Americans, but exempts the National Guard.
Having revealed (thanks to videotape) that an undercover LAPD officer provoked the May Day 1982 riot in Los Angeles, I know how vulnerable protesters are to agents provocateurs. To avoid giving excuses for official violence and locking up protesters without court hearings, those planning demonstrations must organize peace squads to surround anyone who takes any violent action, penning them in while asking police to arrest them.
Next, expect Trump to curtail public access to government information, perhaps including removing reporters from the White House. Similarly, unwelcome Freedom of Information Act requests will be slow-walked and the already inadequate budget for processing such requests will likely be slashed in the name of reducing burdens on taxpayers.
Also, enforcement of civil rights and voting rights will wither. Existing litigation may also be allowed to fail by the simple expedient of missing filing deadlines or declaring the government is no longer interested in the issues.
Aid and comfort to racist laws that block people from voting will likely get little attention from Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, despite his claimed conversion to embracing equally the rights of all Americans.
Almost immediately, expect demands that civil servants who work on climate change, job safety, and pollution resign or be fired.
My plea to these civil servants: Make Trump fire you. Yes, it will be unpleasant to spend a year or two while your case is adjudicated. You may even be assigned to a windowless room with no work to do, but quitting just opens up your job to someone hostile to the work you care about. Besides, you’ll get paid while the process is underway and, if you get an administrative law judge with integrity, you may get your job back.
Expect budgets and executive actions targeting specific workers and sections of agencies for termination, including possibly invoking the Holman Rule, an 1876 law that lets Congress reduce the wages of any federal employee to a buck a year. This would raise the interesting question of whether the constitutional prohibition to a “Bill of Attainder” applies only to criminal matters or includes civil wrongs, such as targeting civil servants because they did their duty.
Expect Trump to pay no attention to red ink in the federal budget even though he ran for office railing against federal debt. By spending borrowed money Trump can temporarily juice the economy, creating jobs.
And expect Trump’s behavior to become more erratic, as I have long warned, once the pressures of being president weigh on his immature, narcissistic personality. We saw one early sign of this Sunday when the London newspaper The Times published its interview with the president-elect.
Notice how the answer below has nothing to do with the question, but is the kind of nonsense expected from a random blowhard on a bar stool:
Question: Can you understand why eastern Europeans fear Putin and Russia?
Answer: Sure. Oh sure, I know that. I mean, I understand what’s going on, I said a long time ago—that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago. Number two—the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right—and now—it was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, they have a whole division devoted now to terror, which is good.
And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries but a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, NATO is very important to me.
The answer goes to a core issue with Trump: his utter lack of empathy for anyone else. A man who made no apologies for putting the life of a sickly infant in jeopardy over money, as Trump did to his grandnephew William Trump in 2000, has no capacity to understand the fear of people in the former Soviet Union about a murderous autocrat taking away their freedoms. There is a lesson in that for Americans who take their freedoms for granted.
Anyone who thinks that our Constitution will save us from Trump’s instincts does not understand that it is a piece of paper that can be ignored by a president determined to emulate Vladimir Putin’s autocratic style.
Be wary. Be watchful. But most of all don't be dumb and play into Trump’s hands.