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An intrusive thought about Trump 2024

What if the worst happens?

7 min read

A fragment of American flag

I come from families of forced migrants. On one side, my father’s earliest memories are of the unspeakable horrors he endured in a concentration camp in Indonesia. On the other, my great grandfather’s Ukrainian village was burned down by the White Army as part of a vicious pogrom.

The trauma of these events echoes through generations.

Although I intellectually know it to be true, it’s hard to imagine that these things happened to my family. I’m sitting on a sofa as I type this on my MacBook Pro; music is gently emanating from my Sonos. In about an hour, I’ll pick our son up from daycare and walk him home. He’ll probably ask for a banana as a snack. I’m thinking tonight might be a good night to order delivery food for dinner.

I’m lucky, of course: I’ve been fortunate in my life, so I have a house where I live comfortably with my family, and I’m also fortunate to not have been born in a place where I might be subjected to violence. I don’t live under authoritarian rule.

There’s nothing separating me from my dad’s experience but time; there’s nothing separating me from the experiences of people who do live under threat of authoritarian violence but chance. The walls of my comfortable safety are paper thin.


I’ve got this thought about Donald Trump that I can’t get out of my head.

It goes like this:

Let’s say he wins in November. That in itself is not something I’m hoping for, but I’ve lived through four years of his Presidency before. His values are very far from my own, and I think he will cause great harm, but eventually those four years will be over and a cleanup can begin.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that he follows through on the promises of Project 2025, an action plan produced by over 100 collaborators including the Heritage Foundation, Turning Point USA, and the Conservative Partnership Institute. Those include:

Project 2025 includes immediately invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy the military for domestic law enforcement and directing the DOJ to pursue Trump adversaries. Project Director Paul Dans, a former Trump administration official, said in September 2023 that Project 2025 is "systematically preparing to march into office and bring a new army, aligned, trained, and essentially weaponized conservatives ready to do battle against the deep state."


Reactions to the plan included variously describing it as authoritarian, an attempt by Trump to become a dictator, and a path leading the United States towards autocracy, with several experts in law criticizing it for violating current constitutional laws that would undermine the rule of law and the separation of powers.


[…] forces would "go around the country arresting illegal immigrants in large-scale raids" who would then be taken to "large-scale staging grounds near the border, most likely in Texas" to be held in internment camps prior to deportation. Trump has also spoken of rounding up homeless people in blue cities and detaining them in camps.

These ideas seem surreal; far-fetched; absurd. That can’t happen here, it’s easy to think to myself, from the sanctity of my Starbucks-and-Amazon bubble.

Just like it couldn’t have happened in Western Europe a hundred years ago. Just like there’s no way Madison Square Garden could ever have been filled to capacity with Nazis. (Incidentally, did you know Americans used to salute the flag with right arms stretched, palms out, Hitler-style, until the Second World War? I didn’t. And did you know that Hitler took his inspiration for the treatment of the Jews from Jim Crow America? Or that Oregon joined the Union as a literal white supremacist state?)

Look, I’m not saying this will happen. But it’s worth considering: what if it did? Concentration camps for undesirables; military enforcing authoritarian rule on the streets; political opponents imprisoned? It’s all right there in the plan, endorsed by some of the biggest names in conservative politics.

Some people welcome these plans, or don’t see them as a big deal. If that’s you, know that we can’t be friends, and I have no intention of letting you close to my child.

Some people will simply turn away and ignore it, because it doesn’t apply directly to them. Getting involved is too political. As the writer Naomi Shulman famously noted:

Nice people made the best Nazis.

Or so I have been told. My mother was born in Munich in 1934, and spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves. When things got ugly, the people my mother lived alongside chose not to focus on “politics,” instead busying themselves with happier things. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away.

There are a lot of so-called “nice people” in waiting: people who want to keep their heads down, people who don’t want to become activists, people who want to support their country no matter what it does.

Everyone knows the famous Pastor Niemöller quote, but it bears repeating:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Of course, not everyone will be a collaborator, either through willful support or passive acquiescence.

There are the people who resist: the brave ones who stand up for something in the face of enormous opposition. My grandfather led the resistance against the Japanese in Indonesia; other members of my family were members of the resistance against the Nazis in Europe. I can’t imagine the bravery that this entailed; the sacrifices that needed to be made. Hollywood tales of the resistance are often sanitized to be palatable as entertainment: the actual reality of the history is far more horrific.

Or there are the people who simply leave. Not everyone can; infamously, America turned away scores of Jews who were hoping to seek refuge from the Nazis, and success is dependent on visas, a certain amount of wealth, and luck. But if you’re able to leave, it might well be the right thing to do. No amount of loyalty to a country or desire to stick the boot into an authoritarian regime is worth risking the lives and well-being of your children. There is no shame, in the face of this kind of dark turn, in getting the fuck out.

So, that’s my thought.

My thought is that the worst is perfectly possible.

And if the worst happens, I do not want to acquiesce, and I do not want to be associated with people who do.

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