Opinion: Trump wants us to know he will stop at nothing in 2025

Photo/Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times / Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after testifying in his civil fraud trial at the State Supreme Court building in Manhattan on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Over the past few weeks, we've gotten a pretty good idea of what Donald Trump would do if given a second chance in the White House. And it is neither exaggeration nor hyperbole to say that it looks an awful lot like a set of plans meant to give the former president the power and unchecked authority of a strongman.

Trump would purge the federal government of as many civil servants as possible and replace them with an army of political and ideological loyalists.

With the help of these unscrupulous allies, Trump plans to turn the Department of Justice against his political opponents, prosecuting his critics and rivals. He would use the military to crush protests under the Insurrection Act and turn the power of the federal government against his perceived enemies.

"If I happen to be president, and I see somebody who's doing well and beating me very badly, I say, 'Go down and indict them.' They'd be out of business. They'd be out of the election," Trump said in a recent interview on the Spanish-language network Univision.

As the former president wrote in a disturbing and authoritarian-minded Veterans Day message to supporters, "We pledge to you that we will 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."

As several of my New York Times colleagues reported last week, he hopes to institute a program of mass detainment and deportation of immigrants living in the country without legal permission. His aides have already drawn up plans for new detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump also intends to circumvent the 14th Amendment so that he can end birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants living in the country without legal permission.

It might be tempting to dismiss the former president's rhetoric and plans as either jokes or the ravings of a lunatic who may eventually find himself in jail. But to borrow an overused phrase, it is important to take the words of both presidents and presidential candidates seriously as well as literally.

They may fail — in fact, they often do — but presidents try to keep their campaign promises and act on their campaign plans. In a rebuke to those who urged us not to take him literally in 2016, we saw Trump attempt to do what he said he would do during his first term in office. He said he would "build a wall," and he tried to build a wall. He said he would try to keep Muslims out of the country, and he tried to keep Muslims out of the country. He said he would do as much as he could to restrict immigration from Mexico, and he did as much as he could and then some to restrict immigration from Mexico.

He even suggested, in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, that he would reject an election defeat. Four years later, he lost his bid for re-election. We know what happened next.

In addition to Trump's words, which we should treat as a reliable guide to his actions, desires and preoccupations, we have his allies, who are as open in their contempt for democracy as Trump is.

Americans are obsessed with hidden meanings and secret revelations. This is why many of us are taken with the tell-all memoirs of political operatives or historical materials like the Richard Nixon tapes. We often pay the most attention to those things that have been hidden from view. But the mundane truth of American politics is that much of what we want to know is in plain view. You don't have to search hard or seek it out; you just have to listen.

And Trump is telling us, loud and clear, that he wants to end American democracy as we know it.