If the last five years have taught us anything it’s this: the fact that something being unimaginable doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. So, it’s worth considering the prospect that Donald Trump becomes President after the 2024 election whether by getting enough votes to win the Electoral College under the current rules, or by having a Democratic victory overturned. Trump has made it clear that, in such an event, he would wish to secure at least a third term in office and perhaps a life presidency.
Even if Trump chose not to attempt the necessary constitutional change, by 2028 he would be in a position to nominate a family member as the Republican candidate and to ensure that his candidate was declared President regardless of how Americans voted. After that, the Trumps would have effectively untrammeled power, with a compliant Congressional majority and a far-right Supreme Court. There’s no obvious reason why they couldn’t rule for decades as Putin and others have done.
What would life be like in the US and elsewhere in such a case? I’ve tried to think about the political options for resistance, both through electoral politics and through direct action, and concluded that there is no obvious prospect of success. So, I think of something like the US South before and during the Civil Rights struggle, with one-party government and resistance suppressed by extra-legal violence.
The big difference is that, unlike in the Civil Rights era, there will be no federal government to step in and change things. And emigration won’t be a serious option for most.
Maybe life would continue more or less as normal, particularly in cities and in Democratic states, assuming that state-level democracy survived. Or maybe things would get a lot worse. The literature of dystopia (1984, The Man in the High Castle, The Handmaids Tale) offers one way of thinking about life in such a world. Less dramatically, we could look at Russia and Hungary as possible models – certainly the Republicans are doing so.
At the global level, what’s left of the post-Cold War global order would be replaced by a system of competing, or co-operating, autocracies. The remaining democracies, like Australia and the EU would need to keep their heads down and avoid attracting too much attention.
I don’t want to spend too much time discuss the plausibility of this scenario. What I want to do is to imagine what life would be like for people in the US and elsewhere in the event of a Trump Presidency for Life or hereditary rulership, and what, if any, responses would be possible.