In 1971, White House Counsel John W. Dean, III was consulted on Richard Nixon’s proposal to wreck retribution on enemies of his administration. Nixon was frustrated with what his vice president, Marylander Spiro Agnew, called “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Nixon White House aides developed a plan to deal with these enemies and shared it with Dean, who summarized the memo describing Nixon’s plan: “This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”
Flash forward to 2023 and an ex-president who shares Nixon’s feelings of persecution. Donald Trump has shared his plans to screw his enemies with the public. Be grateful for Trump’s lack of self-control. He is telling us before the election how he plans to abuse presidential power. He is letting us know that if he returns to the White House, he plans to engage in more impeachable offenses.
Last Thursday, Trump told journalist Enrique Acevedo that the Biden administration and others who don’t want to see Trump back in power have “weaponized” the FBI and Department of Justice, “they’ve released the genie out of the box.” Biden’s alleged action, in Trump’s view, justifies his plans.
Trump, of course, is not president, so, he told Acevedo, his actions would not influence his own election. “You know, when you’re president and you’ve done a good job and you’re popular, you don’t go after them so you can win an election,” he told Acevedo.
Elsewhere, Trump has suggested that he will persecute enemies of the MAGA movement. “I am your retribution,” he tells crowds at his rallies. He also shouts, “I am your justice.” Translation: Trump will screw his political enemies on behalf of his followers. (The logic that putting Federal District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in prison helps his followers escapes me.)
Nixon never saw himself as anybody’s “retribution.” Trump, however, casts his planned paybacks as selfless acts—he will screw those who have persecuted him on behalf of his followers, a group that also feels victimized by the “deep state.”
How has Trump been persecuted? Among other things, such as the theft of the 2020 election, the four indictments and 91 felony charges, as well as the New York civil fraud case and E. Jean Carroll defamation case (the one where the judge said Trump committed rape in the 1970s in a department store dressing room).
Trump’s rationale is that two wrongs make a right. That concept is not in the Bible, but it is the same rationale Trump has embraced to evade taxes and engage in shady business practices.
In his interview with journalist Acevedo, Trump also suggests that he will use the power of government to influence future elections, presumably ones where he will not be on the ballot (unless, of course, he determines the 22nd amendment that establishes presidential term limits does not apply to him.) As Trump puts it: “They have done something that allows the next party … if I happen to be president and I see somebody who is 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.”
As my fellow writer for the Spy, Maria Grant, wrote, “Be Afraid of Trump—He’s Coming for You.”
Trump’s plans are wholly reprehensible and more consistent with the Third Reich than any American precedent. If implemented, the ability of the American people to choose their leaders would be undermined if not eliminated as Trump plans to put his political opponents “out of business.” Confidence in our system of justice would be weakened because judges and prosecutors would be seen as political agents with no loyalty to the law or the Constitution.
And perhaps even more destructive, an atmosphere of fear would be pervasive. Once opposition to Trump or Trumpism is seen as triggering retribution, the First Amendment would be effectively repealed. Many writers would be afraid to write, and politicians would think twice before speaking out against Trump.
Nixon’s “enemies list” contributed to his eventual resignation from office. Once the list of hundreds of political opponents, journalists, businesspeople, and even celebrities was published, the public was shocked. The belief that American presidents did not engage in that type of behavior was shattered.
Trump makes Nixon seem like a saint, but fortunately Trump, a man never able to fully control himself, has let us know his plan. We still have time to keep him out of the White House. We still have time to fight for decency, justice under the law, and democracy.
J.E. Dean, no relation to John W. Dean, III, did not serve in the Nixon administration. He is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.