Vengeance from the Oval Office
“When someone intentionally harms you or your reputation, how do you react? I strike back, doing the same thing to them only ten times worse.”
So Donald Trump wrote in Think Big and Kick Ass. This single sentence best describes the biggest threat a Trump presidency poses: Retribution.
And we’ve already seen him begin to do this. After a dozen women accused him of sexual assault, Trump, during a closing-stretch rally, vowed to sue them after the election. His campaign said they would sue the New York Times after its publication of stories alleging sexual assault (no such suit has materialized). Trump has verbally attacked reporters and even increased the risk of someone assassinating Hillary Clinton with his “Second Amendment people” statement, a form of stochastic terrorism.
Undoubtedly, his baseless and childish attacks on perceived insulters discourage forthcoming behavior. What women would want to accuse Trump (or someone in his administration, inner circle, etc) of sexual assault when Trump would threaten legal action and rally millions into hatred?
He did all that as a candidate. Now, Trump can pursue his vengeance with the full force of the United States government. It really isn’t difficult to see a Trump administration upset at a newspaper’s coverage ban that outlet from White House briefings or other presidential events. They could even go a step further and bring frivolous legal action against the source. Though any such lawsuit would surely be tossed, many small outlets, already pressured by falling subscription rates, might be bankrupted by legal action. They would naturally become less inclined to write negative stories about Trump, even when warranted and necessary to inform the public.
Organizations such as Planned Parenthood might be punished by Trump for their opposition. Congressional Republican, acting on behalf of Trump could silence such criticisms by cutting off federal funding. Universities whose professors in any way oppose Trump — be it through research, op-eds, or signing letters warning of Trump’s risk to democratic institutions — could see their federal grants dry up. Any form of criticism or opposition could be muzzled by threatening the livelihood of those who stand up to Trump.
Moreover, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, Trump’s administration might be rent-creating. It could reward loyalists throughout the business community while directing puppet administrative appointees to harass dissidents through regulations and investigations. Supporters continue business as normal while opponents tangle with the federal government — de facto rent creation.
It’s incredibly dangerous to have a think-skinned president. He could respond to any slight by foreign leaders with military power or political sanctions while rewarding complimenters (he’s already been smitten by Putin and seems ready to appease his expansionist desires). How easy it could become to manipulate the leader of the free world! Such manipulation will only benefit our enemies.
Trump’s vindictiveness is not a presidential trait. It risks corruption and the end of a small-l liberal society in which opposition and peaceful dissidence ought to be hailed as a democratic strength. It risks rent-creation and foreign policy blunders. It risks creating the very type of systemically oppressive regime against which we rebelled some 240 years ago.