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Opinions | Yes, Trump has an agenda for a second term. It’s all about him.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/30/2020 Fred Hiatt

It’s not true that President Trump has failed to outline his goals for a second term.

Sure, the Republicans failed to adopt a platform at their nominating convention, accelerating their slide from party to cult.

And, true, if you look on Trump’s campaign website, you will find a great deal of boasting about (largely imaginary) accomplishments — and no plans for a second term.

But to an extraordinary degree, Trump’s actions in the closing days of his first presidential term tip us off to how he hopes to reign — yes, reign — in a second. If we return him to office, we won’t be able to say we didn’t see it coming.

And what is “it”? Not any particular ideology, philosophy or program.

No, what Trump is openly showing us is his intention to reshape the U.S. government from an institution designed to serve the nation and its people to one that caters to one man’s whims, prejudices, grudges, vanity and profit.

The most significant tell comes in an executive order that Trump issued on Oct. 21 creating a “Schedule F” for government workers. It would remove civil-service protections from potentially tens of thousands of civil servants, allowing Trump to fire them at will.

How would he use this power? We have seen his willingness to fire those already without protection simply for doing their jobs in an honest way — intelligence community leaders who wouldn’t lie about Russia and Ukraine, for example. We have heard him disparage those he can’t yet fire — the “idiot” scientists who won’t echo his claim that covid-19 is going away.

Schedule F would let the president fire those scientists and anyone else who might stand in his way — who respect facts and data, who resist his efforts to wield government as a weapon.

Some observers say: Don’t worry, he’s too incompetent to demolish our democracy. Yes, when it comes to the real work of government, to caring for the American people, to protecting the national welfare, he is incompetent. The proof is in the pandemic.

And some of Trump’s efforts to warp the government have been slowed, either by public outcry or judicial integrity. (Sadly, “integrity” and “Republican senators” can’t be fit into the same sentence; the Senate has played no role in slowing his depredations.)

For example, Trump had his pliant attorney general, William P. Barr, intervene on his behalf in a slander case filed by a New York woman, E. Jean Carroll, who had accused him of raping her in late 1995 or early 1996. Barr said Trump was acting in his official capacity when he denied the allegation by calling her a liar and saying “she’s not my type.” Only the “bizarre political environment” could explain any objections to the Justice Department’s intervention, Barr said. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan threw Barr’s argument out of court.

Trump may lose again in his effort to deny federal health and transit funds to cities whose Democratic mayors annoy him. Seattle, Portland and New York have sued to challenge his efforts to spend and withhold taxpayers’ money in the manner of a czar.

But even with those setbacks — and even before Schedule F goes into effect — Trump or the people around him have gained competence at one thing: corrupting the federal government.

We’ve seen it just in recent days.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s primary source of expertise on climate change, a Trump loyalist removed the chief scientist who dared ask political appointees to sign the agency’s scientific integrity policy, as the New York Times reported. A number of climate change skeptics have been moved in.

At the agency that oversees the Voice of America and other international broadcasting agencies, Trump’s recently installed flunky has fired competent editors, refused to extend visas for essential journalists and, most recently, issued an order that he says revokes the firewall shielding journalists from political interference. The goal is to morph some of the world’s most respected, independent news agencies into Trump Propaganda Radio.

Already, we have seen Trump direct millions of taxpayer dollars to his businesses, as The Post has documented despite administration efforts to conceal and cover up. We have seen him demand that his political enemies, including Democratic nominee Joe Biden, be jailed. We have seen his affinity for dictators in countries where he has, or has hoped to land, business deals. We have seen him try to use the government’s enormous power to punish companies that displease him. We’ve seen him pressure health officials to approve drugs and vaccines before they’re ready, to help him win reelection.

But we’ve seen, too, his frustration at resistance from what he considers the “deep state” — otherwise known as public servants with integrity.

Now, he has declared open war on the very idea of integrity and independence in government. If we reelect him, he will take full possession.

Read more from Fred Hiatt’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more:

Dana Milbank: Trump just made Biden’s closing argument for him

Karen Tumulty: The country knows exactly who Trump is this time. But does it know itself?

Hugh Hewitt: We will survive this, too, no matter who wins

Alan Alda: I cannot remain silent as Trump rejects science and endangers lives

Catherine Rampell: Trump didn’t build his border wall with steel. He built it out of paper.

a man standing in front of a cloudy sky: President Trump with reporters outside the White House on Friday. © Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post President Trump with reporters outside the White House on Friday.
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