When It Comes to Trump, Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

When events seem stranger than fiction, we can underestimate the likelihood of them coming to pass.

When It Comes to Trump, Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
Photo by Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP

Over the past decade or so, Donald Trump has done a masterful job of dominating the news cycle. There have been his barefaced lies, his pointed jibes, his braggadocio, his unapologetic misogyny. There was the time he told Americans to drink bleach. And though many have appropriately been surprised, appalled or even flat-out confused by the commentary that’s earned him a national front page or a prominent broadcast segment, many have also been thrilled by the absurdity of it. 

We’ve moved into a new media phase now, with reports, day after endless day, of Trump sitting at his trial in a Manhattan courtroom where he’s accused of falsifying business records to cover up payments to the actor, director and porn star, Stormy Daniels. Each day concludes with details about how much time the former president has spent slumping in his chair or glaring at those around him. 

Sometimes I find myself guffawing—because the only alternative is to cry—at the sheer outlandishness of the situation: a world in which a former U.S. president faces 34 felony counts; and where debates about whether an incumbent president can pardon himself from prison are not only legitimate, but also necessary.

I’m profoundly concerned about what will happen next. But I’m also profoundly concerned about the theatrics of this media circus. When something so ludicrous is happening that it’s more redolent of fiction than reality, we downplay the likelihood of it reaching its dystopian conclusion. The human body is capable of amazing defense mechanisms. Might we be underestimating the chances of Trump winning a second term because that scenario is simply too uncomfortable to imagine?

It’s happened before. So let us be prepared. 

In April 2017, the Center for American Progress policy institute published a briefing paper entitled “100 Days, 100 Ways the Trump Administration Is Harming Women and Families.” That report elaborated on how the administration was imperiling women’s retirement security, threatening child care assistance, stalling paid family and medical leave, and stacking the courts with anti-choice judges. And that was just in the first 100 days. 

Seven years have passed since then and even though Trump has long left office, the echoes of his presidency are loud, most obvious in how the fall of Roe v. Wade is starting to change the fabric of America. Indeed, the war on women’s reproductive rights is raging. Trump has demonstrated unequivocally that brazen misogyny is not only not a crime, but that it doesn’t even disqualify you from doing one of the most powerful jobs on the planet— a job which should, ideally, demand the most infallible moral compass. He’s also provided implicit license to other leaders—as well as ordinary people—to mimic the way he talks, acts and opines. 

Political reporters have noted that what came in Trump’s first term is a grim augury of what could be about to unfold. In an interview Trump did with TIME that was published Tuesday, we got a taste of exactly what those consequences might be.

He said he’d allow red states to monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans.

Trump told the journalist Eric Cortellessa that, as president, he could carry out a deportation operation designed to remove more than 11 million people from the U.S. He said he’d be willing to build migrant detention camps and deploy the military at the border and inland.

He said he’d allow red states to monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans.

And he would, he said, be willing to fire a U.S. attorney who doesn’t carry out his order to prosecute someone. Needless to say, this would break with a tradition of independent law enforcement that dates—as Cortellessa points out—back to America’s founding.

“I don’t think it’s a big mystery what his agenda would be,” said his close adviser Kellyanne Conway in the article. “But I think people will be surprised at the alacrity with which he will take action.”

Trump indicated that he’s also considering pardons for every single one of his supporters accused of attacking the Capitol back in January 2021. As a reminder, hundreds of these have pleaded guilty or been convicted. 

So yes, we should be thinking about this scenario as a real possibility rather than a nightmarish theory that will just disappear.

And yes—finally—we should also be thinking about things like the Supreme Court. There have been calls in recent weeks and months for Sonia Sotomayor, the liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justice to retire. Many have dismissed these as sexist. But, writing for the Guardian last month, Arwa Mahdawi asks: have we already forgotten what happened when Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t retire and then died while Trump was in office? Have we already blanked out that the highly conservative Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to take her place just eight days after RBG passed? Have we already forgotten what happened next? As Mahdawi concludes, “[Sotomayor’s] retirement would be a huge loss. But if the worst-case scenario does transpire, it’s nothing compared to what the rest of us are set to lose.”

Josie Cox is a journalist, author, broadcaster and public speaker. Her book, WOMEN MONEY POWER: The Rise and Fall of Economic Equality, was released in March.

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