There are many reasons not to take Trump seriously. But given the real possibility he might win the election, we need to think through the stated consequence of his policies, particularly given the evident inability of the Republican establishment to restrain him before he holds political office, let alone when he has it.
To take one example: a former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement cautions that Trump’s stated plan to deport all illegal immigrants is foolish but not impossible. What would it look like in practice?
Julie Myers Wood, who headed Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the Bush Administration, told me that she is appalled by parts of Trump’s immigration plan and cautioned critics not to assume that it is impossible. “It’s not as binary as some people suggest,” she said. “You could think of some very outside-the-box options.” A President Trump could permit ice officers to get access to I.R.S. files that contain home addresses. (Undocumented immigrants who pay taxes often list real addresses, in order to receive tax-refund checks.) He could invoke provision 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, in order to detail thousands of local and state agents and police officers to the deportation effort. “You’d put people on a train,” she said. “Again, I’m not recommending this. You could have a cruise ship.”
The American Action Forum, a conservative Washington think tank, ran budget projections of Trump’s plan: raids on farms, restaurants, factories, and construction sites would require more than ninety thousand “apprehension personnel”—six times the number of special agents in the F.B.I. Beds for captured men, women, and children would reach 348,831, nearly triple the detention space required for the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Thousands of chartered buses (fifty-four seats on average) and planes (which can accommodate a hundred and thirty-five) would carry deportees to the border or to their home countries. The report estimated the total cost at six hundred billion dollars, which it judged financially imprudent.
What would this do to America? A logistical exercise of this scale and cost could perhaps be seen as a dark and fascistic stimulus plan, bringing together vast numbers of Americans into an (evil though nonetheless) collective project. The discord this would sow at all levels of American society would lead to further polarisation, inviting ‘tough measures’ to crack down on opposition to this ‘necessary policy’ of the Trump administration and ‘protect our brave law enforcement’ officers.
Even if Trump’s alleged fascism is opportunistic rather than ideological, I find it very easy to see how this policy alone – let alone the other stuff – could lead to an unprecedented militarisation of America and a very rapid descent into actually existing fascism.
If we consider the second-order and third-order effects, high profile injustices and protests against them and reactions to those protests, it’s worth asking how the structures of repression (digital or otherwise) built up in America over recent years might be leveraged against those seen as hostile to the executive? Furthermore, if American troops and law enforcement are widely perceived by the right to be under threat, could this unite currently anti-Trump figures in the security establishment against him?