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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Want to know what Trump will do? Listen to what he says.




By Jamelle Bouie


One of the most enduring bits of folk wisdom about American politics is the notion that a promise made on the campaign trail is almost never a promise kept. The only thing you can count on from a politician, and especially a presidential candidate, is that you can’t count on anything.


This isn’t actually true. There is, in fact, a strong connection between what a candidate says on the campaign trail and what a president does in office.


In his 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton stressed jobs, unemployment, taxes and health care — encapsulated in his campaign’s refrain, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He followed through, in the first two years of his administration, with a proposed economic stimulus bill, a proposed health care reform bill and an upper-income tax increase.


George W. Bush, in his 2000 campaign, emphasized education reform and tax cuts and followed through in the first months of his administration with No Child Left Behind and a large upper-income tax cut.


Barack Obama, in his 2008 campaign, stressed health care, jobs and tax cuts for the middle class. He followed through with an economic stimulus bill — which included, among many other things, a middle-class tax cut — and a large, ambitious health care bill that eventually became the Affordable Care Act.


Even Donald Trump, not principally known for telling the truth, acted on the promises of his 2016 campaign. He promised, for example, to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and he tried to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He promised to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, and he tried to ban Muslim immigrants from the United States. Trump’s overt racism in office, his confrontational posture toward North Korea and Iran, and even his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election were all also presaged by his rhetoric on the campaign trail.


What a candidate and a campaign say matters. How a candidate and a campaign say it also matters.


With these truths in hand, let’s look at the rhetoric of Trump’s current campaign for the White House. At rallies and in interviews, the former president rails against his political opponents as enemies of the nation.


“The threat from outside forces,” Trump said at a rally last year in New Hampshire, “is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within.” He said that one critic, Mark Milley, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, deserved to be executed for his actions during Trump’s final month in office. To Trump, any attempt to contain his authority was tantamount to treason.


Other critics, Trump has said, are “vermin” and “thugs.” He’s called for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution and has said that if elected again, he would have “no choice” but to lock up his political opponents. He says that migrants from Central and South America “are poisoning the blood of our country.”


When told, outright, that he’s using the language of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini — the language of fascism — Trump embraces it.


“That’s what they say. I didn’t know that, but that’s what they say. Because our country is being poisoned,” Trump said in a recent interview with Howard Kurtz of Fox News. “Look, we can be nice about it — we can talk about, ‘Oh, I want to be politically correct’ — but we have people coming in from prisons and jails, long-term murderers … They’re all being released into our country. These are murderers; these are people at the highest level of crime. And then you have mental institutions and insane asylums … and then you have terrorists pouring in at a level we have never seen before.”


There’s no way in which any of this represents a statement of policy or future plans. There are no proposals to glean from the former president’s attacks, his invective or his endless denunciations. You could say, if you were inclined to do so, that it was just rhetoric — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


That would be a huge mistake. We may not be able to give an exact accounting of the consequences of Trump’s violent and fascistic rhetoric if he were granted a second term in office, but rest assured, there would be consequences. Given the power of the federal government and the total backing of the Republican Party, invested with the legitimacy granted by the Constitution, freed from the shackles of legal scrutiny and consumed with a thirst for vengeance — “I am your retribution,” he tells his supporters — there is no question that Trump would act on the desires he has expressed on the campaign trail.


As promised, he would free the Jan. 6 rioters who were prosecuted and imprisoned. As promised, he would unleash federal law enforcement on his political opponents. As promised, he would do something about the people he says are “poisoning the blood of our country.” He would try to be, as he has said to much applause from his supporters, a dictator “only on Day 1.”


Of course, if there’s one promise I do expect Trump to break if he gets back into the Oval Office, it’s that one. If Trump does want to be a dictator, I highly doubt it will be for just one day.


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