By Elwood Watson
The late author Maya Angelou once stated, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
Nowhere is that saying more applicable than the latest rantings of Donald Trump.
The former president was asked twice during a Fox News town hall earlier this month if he would rule out any abuse of power as retribution against his critics if he ends up returning to the White House.
“Except for day one,” Trump responded, noting he would use his presidential powers to close the southern border with Mexico and expand oil drilling. “After that, I’m not a dictator.”
No one should be caught off guard by such rhetoric coming from Trump. The twice-impeached former commander-in-chief has made it clear he is still seething about being voted out during the 2020 election. He is storming mad at Mike Pence, his former vice president, for refusing to falsely certify the election results in his favor. The emotions Trump harbors toward his Republican rivals are volcanic levels of seething anger.
The current Republican presidential frontrunner has scurrilously attacked his opponents — referring to them as “vermin” — and has made it clear in no uncertain terms he intends to seek revenge against all who have “wronged” him.
Trump has all but directly stated that one of his major goals during his second term is to fire major segments of the federal bureaucracy and target his rivals for prosecution. The comments have alarmed Democrats and become a chief election argument for Joe Biden as he prepares for a potential round two match against Trump.
“Donald Trump has been telling us exactly what he will do if he’s reelected and tonight, he said he will be a dictator on day one. Americans should believe him,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement.
Last week, Biden told campaign donors he wasn’t sure he’d be running for reelection if Donald Trump wasn’t also in the race, warning that democracy is “more at risk in 2024.” In response, Trump has falsely claimed Biden is the “destroyer of American democracy” as he repeated his longstanding and entirely baseless contention that the four criminal indictments against him show Biden is misusing the federal justice system to damage his chief political rival. Moreover, to pacify the current president’s detractors, Trump has promised to prosecute Biden if he wins.
For the record, Biden has not been involved in any of the more than 90 federal indictments Trump is facing.
From a historical perspective, autocratic leaders rarely change once they return to power. The danger lies in the fact that too many journalists, political observers, pundits, and ordinary folk appear to be under the impression that since the nation did not end up succumbing to fascist state during his first term, that we have nothing to be all that concerned about if Trump gets a second term.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Escaping death the first time does not mean that a person should tempt faith the second time around.
This is also the same president who was able to appoint three Supreme Court justices in one term. These justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – along with Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and occasional swing voter John Roberts would all but likely concur with him on items like immigration, voting rights, and abortion, just to name a few.
The majority of Republican politicians would submit to his demands, out of agreement, fear or resignation. After all, Trump has outlasted, cowered into submission or engineered successful efforts in defeating leading Republican lawmakers who have independent standing and demonstrated any degree of defiance toward opposing him.
The aforementioned realities and possibilities hardly provide any degree of inspiration for those of us who previously had faith in our system of checks and balances. That’s why it is crucial that those of us who are committed to the preservation of American democracy fight like hell to preserve it.
After all, faith and hope may be all we have left if Trump is successful in securing reelection next November.
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker. He is the co-editor of two anthologies, “There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant,” and “The Oprah Phenomenon.” He is the sole editor of the anthology, “Searching The Soul of Ally McBeal: Critical Essays.” His book, “Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board,” was published in 2008.