If we fail and allow the GOP to sweep the 2024 election, the 2025 Trump regime may represent the kind of authoritarian moment that resembles the Thermidorian Reaction of late 18th Century France with its White Terror. Trump has promised reprisals and even threatened executions, all supported by military force applied to the civilian population.
Herbert P. Kitschelt, a political scientist at Duke, emailed a selection of likely Republican initiatives:
The new government will use regulatory measures to support the sectors and industries that support it most in terms of electoral votes and party funding: carbon industries, the construction sector, domestic manufacturing.
The Republican regime will exit from all participation in efforts to stop global warming.
The politics of a populist Republican administration will aim at undermining American democracy and changing the level playing field in favor of a party-penetrated state apparatus.
Kitschelt cited Viktor Orban as a model for Trump in achieving the goals of:
Undermining the professionalism and neutrality of the judiciary, starting with the attorney general’s office.
Undermining the nonpartisanship of the military, using the military for domestic purposes to repress civil liberties and liberal opposition to the erosion of American democracy.
Redeploying the national domestic security apparatus — above all, the F.B.I. — for partisan purposes.
Passing libel legislation to harass and undercut the liberal media and journalists, with the objective to drive them economically out of business, while consolidating conservative media empires and social websites.
The politics of cultural polarization, Kitschelt argued, “will intensify to re-establish the U.S. as a white Christian evangelical country,” although simultaneously efforts will be made to attract culturally traditionalist strands in the Hispanic community. The agenda of the culture war may shift to gender relations, emphasizing the traditional family with male authority. At the margin, this may appeal to males, including minorities.
Kitschelt’s last point touches on what is sure to be a major motivating force for a Republican Party given an extended lease on life under Trump: the need to make use of every available tool — from manipulation of election results to enactment of favorable voting laws to appeals to minority voters in the working class to instilling fear of a liberal state run amok — to maintain the viability of a fragile coalition in which the core constituency of white noncollege voters is steadily declining as a share of the electorate. It is an uphill fight requiring leaders, at least in their minds, to consider every alternative in order to retain power, whether it’s democratic or authoritarian, ethical or unethical, legal or illegal.
When Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia in 1999, he did not become dictator overnight. It took him many years to crush independent media, make the oligarch class dependent on him, and suppress organized political opposition.
Are you afraid of a Donald Trump dictatorship? Well, know this: The only thing you have to fear is fear of Tyrannus Trumpus itself.
The case for panic also rests on reports that Trump allies are aggressively preparing to purge the government of the sort of weak-kneed officials who internally resisted Trump’s designs last time. In a second term, some worry, Trump and his consiglieri would not be held back by legal limitations or even court rulings.
Other academics have made politically urgent warnings about Trumpian authoritarianism, such as Yale sociologist Philip S. Gorski who writes,
the election of Donald Trump constitutes perhaps the greatest threat to American democracy since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There is a real and growing danger that representative government will be slowly but effectively supplanted by a populist form of authoritarian rule in the years to come. Media intimidation, mass propaganda, voter suppression, court packing, and even armed paramilitaries—many of the necessary and sufficient conditions for an authoritarian devolution are gradually falling into place.
In Weimar Germany, Hitler and other agitators benefited from the squabbling of the democratic parties, right and left, the endless fights over the budget, the logjams in the legislature, the fragile and fractious coalitions. German voters increasingly yearned for someone to cut through it all and get something — anything — done. It didn’t matter who was behind the political paralysis, either, whether the intransigence came from the right or the left.
In his book The Revolution Betrayed, Leon Trotsky alleges that the rise of Joseph Stalin to power was a Soviet Thermidor for not restoring capitalism, yet still being a counterrevolutionary regression within the regime of the USSR, just like the Thermidor in France did not restore the monarchy but did, in his opinion, reverse revolutionary gains.
Some Marxist-Leninists argue that Nikita Khruschev's rise to power in Russia, and his economic policies were a kind of Thermidor within the Soviet Union. A CIA document considers Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin may have marked the "Thermidor" of the Russian Revolution.