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Trump’s Authoritarian Promise

The creepy candor of his candidacy.
November 16, 2022
Trump’s Authoritarian Promise
VANDALIA, OHIO - NOVEMBER 7: Supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump await his arrival at a rally for Ohio Republicans at the Dayton International Airport on November 7, 2022 in Vandalia, Ohio. Trump is campaigning for Republican candidates, including U.S. Senate candidate JD Vance, who faces U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) in tomorrow's general election. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Tuesday night, as he announced his candidacy for president in 2024, Donald Trump largely stuck to a script. He eschewed many of the rants and tangents that pad his rally speeches, particularly about the 2020 election. Even so, Trump made it clear that if he returns to power, he will rule as a lethal authoritarian. Here are four of his promises.

1. He will send military force into American cities against their will.

“I will restore public safety in American cities and other communities that need our help,” said Trump. “And if they don’t want our help, we’re going to insist that they take our help.”

“We sent in the National Guard in Minneapolis and in other places” in 2020, Trump noted. But “these are all Democrat cities,” he lamented, and “the governors and mayors . . . don’t want to ever ask to do anything, because they don’t want to shake things up. . . . So we’re going to go and help them even if they don’t want the help.”

2. He will impose immediate, one-day trials for people charged with selling drugs.

Trump cited China as his model. He said President Xi Jinping had explained to him that in China, “if you get caught dealing drugs, you have an immediate and quick trial. And by the end of the day, you’re executed.” Trump said this is why drug dealers sell their poison in America instead of China: “Why should they sell there and risk their lives every time they sell, when they can come to the United States, and nobody even cares?”

The solution, Trump concluded, was to match China’s speed and severity. “That’s the only answer,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to solve the problem. And I hope politicians are listening. Because they should do it quickly.”

3. He will execute all drug sellers.

“We’re going to be asking everyone who sells drugs, gets caught selling drugs, to receive the death penalty for their heinous acts,” said Trump. He didn’t specify drug kingpins or sellers who cause deaths. He said execution would apply to everyone who sells drugs.

4. He will seek to eliminate early voting.

“I will immediately demand voter ID, same-day voting, and only paper ballots,” said Trump. “Paper ballots, same-day voting, voter ID.” The former president didn’t distinguish between mail ballots and in-person ballots. By insisting on same-day voting, he effectively ruled out early in-person voting, which irks some Republicans because it’s widely used by Democrats.

There’s no valid “election integrity” argument against early in-person voting. It’s just as secure as same-day in-person voting, with the same voter ID requirements or lack thereof. The only reason to rule it out is to make it harder for some people—people you don’t like—to vote.

If Trump were to return to the presidency, he would attack civil liberties and our constitutional republic in other ways. He proved as much by attempting a coup last year. But his speech on Tuesday showed that even when he’s on his best behavior, his instincts are barbaric, and his ambitions are authoritarian. He must never be given power again.

William Saletan

William Saletan is a writer at The Bulwark.