Trump is now trying to downplay Project 2025

Donald Trump CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
Donald Trump CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Project 2025 (and its auxiliary Trump’s “Agenda 47”) are a plan by right-wing extremists and other authoritarians to end America’s multiracial democracy and to replace it with a White Christian nationalist plutocracy.

A conspiracy is a plan by two or more people operating in private to advance their interests and goals above those of some other person(s) — or in this context the American people. Project 2025 is not a conspiracy. These plans are exhaustively detailed in a book titled “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise” and are regularly discussed at conferences, in interviews, and in other public forums. Project 2025 and its related plans, like Agenda 47, were not hatched overnight. As author and journalist Anne Nelson and other experts have been extensively documenting, Project 2025 and the other right-wing extremists’ and neofascists' plans to end America’s multiracial democracy have been years and decades in development:

But ignore it at your peril. The massive tome is the latest iteration of a four-decade-long process of crafting right-wing policies to dismantle the federal government, deregulate industry and eliminate consumer protections and public health measures, while installing a regime controlled by fossil fuel interests and the Religious Right. Not coincidentally, the members of its advisory board have been making headlines attacking American institutions at a grassroots level, in preparation for the big takeover—ranging from Moms4Liberty’s assaults on local public schools, to the Koch-founded Institute on Energy Research’s war on climate initiatives.

Project 2025 lays out specifics for hundreds of policy objectives affecting every area of public life. Many of them affect three primary areas: first, the dismantling of environmental regulations, clean energy measures, and climate policy; second, a rollback of civil and political rights for women and LGBTQ populations and the elimination of public health measures; and third, a massive purge of career civil servants and the concentration of power in the Executive branch in the White House, to consolidate an entrenched authoritarian regime.

Public opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown that a large percentage of the American public remains unaware of the existential danger that Donald Trump and his MAGA movement and the other neofascists and authoritarians represent to the country’s democracy and freedom. It is the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to wake the American people up from their sleepwalking and political zombification. As an institution, the American news media has largely failed in this obligation.

Fortunately, there are some news media outlets as well as individual journalists and others with a public platform who are continuing to sound the alarm about the escalating dangers of Trumpism and larger authoritarian campaign to end multiracial democracy in America. Pressed by Politico about Project 2025's extreme attacks on contraceptives, the Trump campaign was forced to issue a statement this week distancing the former president from the plan hatched by his former staffers:

Asked if Trump plans to reimpose the contraception policies he had when president, the campaign referred POLITICO to his Truth Social post, in which he said, he “will never advocate imposing restrictions on birth control, or other contraceptives.” In a statement, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles distanced the campaign from Project 2025’s plans for a second administration, saying no policies are official unless they’re directly announced by the campaign.

This is perilous work. If Trump takes over the White House in 2025, he and his regime will most certainly retaliate against any members of the news media who oppose him.

The New Republic has a new must-read special feature called “What American Fascism Would Look Like." This essential reporting and analysis go far beyond abstract questions and focuses on the severe harm a return to Trump’s regime would cause to the day-to-day lives of the American people.

In their article, “The ‘Day One’ Dictatorship,” Federico Finchelstein and Emmanuel Guerisoli detail how fascism would be made “legal” in the United States by expansive claims of executive power and corrupting and capturing the country’s democratic institutions from within:

This is why declaring a temporary dictatorial government can easily lead to a more permanent one. Trump’s claim of ultra-brief dictatorial powers can easily morph into indefinite ones.

Fascist dictators were not dictatorial heads of normal states. They unleashed illegal forms of extreme repression and terror that radically turned their political systems into unlimited, irreversible dictatorships. This change was made in the name of the one who incarnated the movement and its national revolution. This is why the Nazis claimed that the highest law in Germany was not the command of the dictator but his will. The legality of the old system was in total contradiction with the new legitimacy of the fascist leader.

If Donald Trump becomes president, on January 20, 2025—the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, of all dates—the United States might have a dictator only for that day. But this might be enough to turn the democratic world upside down.

In “The Permanent Counterrevolution”, leading historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat looks to the Mussolini for insights about Project 2025 and the larger right-wing neofascist revolutionary project:

Americans may believe that all this sounds fantastical. Yet the strongman’s special talent is to bring the unthinkable into being. People around the world and throughout history have been caught by surprise at their methods and the scale at which they operate. Bannon, Roberts, Stephen Miller, and other American incarnations of fascism are convinced that counterrevolution leading to autocracy is the only path to political survival for the far right, given the unpopularity of their positions (especially on abortion) and their leader’s boatload of legal troubles. This is why Project 2025 declares that that there is an “existential need” to make “aggressive” use of executive power. The alternative could be defeat.

Mussolini understood that situation well. In 1923, when he was still prime minister of a democracy, he mused about the problem of having one’s destiny decided by the whims of an electorate. “Consent is as changeable as the sands of the seashore,” he wrote, noting there was only one way to deal with “discontented people” who might vote you out: “You prevent it by means of force; by surrounding the mass with force; by employing this force without pity when it is necessary to do so.” Less than two years later, Il Duce announced the start of dictatorship in Italy, ending the right of the population to express its political will.

From the noisy crowds with MAGA hats that fill Trump’s rallies to the quiet fanatics in suits such as Miller and Roberts to a party leader who announces he will act as a dictator on “day one” of his administration, Trumpism is what fascism looks like in twenty-first-century America. If Trump returns to the White House, get ready for a new round of “shocks to the system.” Authoritarians often tell us what they are going to do, and Trump, the GOP, and the political operators of Project 2025 are open about their plans to occupy power and carry out a counterrevolution designed to keep them there indefinitely.

In what could be a prequel or part of a director’s cut of Alex Garland’s much-discussed new film “Civil War”, Brian Stelter outlines a scenario where the autocrat Donald Trump and his regime basically outlaws freedom of the press and terminates the First Amendment.

I’ll never forget an interview I conducted on CNN, one week after crowd-size-gate, with Mahir Zeynalov, an analyst and journalist living in Turkey who was smeared, sued, and deported by the Turkish government in 2014 after reporting on a corruption investigation.

“Whenever I look at what President Trump and his team are doing here in the United States, I’m like, wait a second. I have seen this movie before. It’s all familiar to us,” Zeynalov told me. “And I’m not talking about a country like Iran or China, where autocrats are crushing or strangulating the media. I’m talking about Turkey, a country that was somewhat democratic a decade ago, with a somewhat independent media, and is now turning into a state where at least one journalist is being put behind bars—since last summer, on average—every day.”

He continued: “And if there’s anyone who is saying that this cannot happen here in the United States, they are significantly underestimating how leaders, including in democratic countries, can undermine media freedom, and, with that, democracy.”…

Maybe you think I’m overdoing it, and maybe I am. Maybe there will be no precipitating incident, no crackdown, no threat to America’s First Amendment tradition. But at a moment when the country desperately needs government oversight to stop generative AI from obliterating the media business and government support to salvage what remains of the local news economy, Trump is offering none of the above. Instead, he is vowing to investigate media outlets that challenge him. His fans have been primed for revenge and for freedom from fact. If the chill descends in 2025, no one can claim to be surprised.

Jason Stanley, author of the bestselling book “How Fascism Works”, warns that Project 2025 is an assault on critical thinking and education meant to create compliant subjects who lack the emotional and intellectual skills to be responsible citizens in a democracy:

The tactic of painting all of one’s political opponents as Marxists and communists, and claiming that they dominate the institutions, is a hallmark of the classic European fascist regimes of the mid–twentieth century. Today, it is employed as a justification to fire teachers and professors and replace them with loyalists and ultranationalists. Even a democratic nation’s greatest universities are not immune from being destroyed by this strategy, as one can see in India today. Now and in the past, schools and universities are and have been central targets of fascism. Attacks on education, including political works deemed obscene, are, to use a cliché, canaries in the fascist coal mine.

Education in a liberal democracy introduces students to the diverse perspectives through a nation’s history, in order for people to foster a kind of empathy and understanding for one another; what my father in his work called civic compassion. Democracy is a system where we let ourselves be affected by our fellow citizens’ perspectives. Cutting students off from exposure to the perspectives of their neighbors therefore preempts democracy. Such erasures are more conducive to an education for authoritarianism, where an autocratic leader can more easily set groups against one another, relying on mutual estrangement and mutual misunderstanding. “Parents’ rights” is an expression used to cover for an illiberal public culture. Using the language of rights and freedoms to erase oppressed groups’ perspectives is a familiar vocabulary trick from America’s past (“states’ rights”).

Stanley continues, “Bringing educators under gradually more and more intrusive laws restricting their freedom creates a general climate of fear and intimidation. When such laws target anyone who challenges the greatness of a nation, or its heroes, it’s not a positive sign for democracy."

Trump has made it abundantly clear that a far-right attack on education will be central to his new administration from its beginning, promising to “sign a new executive order to cut federal funding for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender insanity, and other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content on our children” on day one of his administration. Eliminating the Department of Education is a goal of Project 2025, along with many other changes that would dramatically reduce the federal government’s ability to intervene on potential civil rights violations. The honest teaching of Black history and protections for LGBTQ youth will be illegal in K-12 education. The American university system is the crown jewel of the world’s higher education system. As far as it is possible, a Trump-led federal government will seek to transform it radically at all levels, with Hillsdale College as its model. The intent is the burying of any civic compassion in the educational system.

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Yet many in the mainstream news media refuse to use the correct and most accurate language to describe the danger or political reality more generally in the Age of Trump. Project 2025, the MAGA movement, today’s Republican Party and the larger right-wing are not “conservatives.” In reality, they are radical reactionary extremists who are engaging in a campaign of cultural and political revolution to return the country to the Gilded Age if not before.

To be certain, there is a growing number of voices among the mainstream news media who are finally, and directly, speaking out about Trumpism and neofascism and how the stakes in the 2024 election are existential for the future of the country and its democracy. However, many of those voices are too late and therefore lack the credibility to be taken seriously. This is especially true of the centrists and other establishment types who spent years denying that Donald Trump and the MAGA movement and this version of the Republican Party and the “conservative” movement were enemies of real democracy. Why believe such alarm-sounders now, when they have been so wrong for so long? I do not. I know I am not alone in that sentiment.

To awaken from and escape the Age of Trump and this worsening democracy crisis, the American people need more pro-democracy journalism that illuminates, informs, and gives them solutions. Unfortunately, such work is an outlier in American mainstream news media that largely remains ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the Age of Trump, the global democracy crisis, and what comes next with the 2024 election and beyond.