Project 2025: A 5-Alarm Fire Bell for Our Republic

The merger of billionaire wealth with partisan Republican governance—and their combined efforts to reshape our government in their own corrupt image, the public be damned—threaten the integrity and future of the American experiment.

By Thom Hartmann

The GOP candidates on state for a debate.

The 2024 GOP presidential candidates, minus former President Donald Trump, debate on August 23, 2023. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As we learned from [the August 23] Republican debates, the leading candidates for the GOP nomination all appear to agree on a broad plan to gut American government and replace it with a strongman president and corporate rule.

The modern administrative state, sometimes called the “welfare state” by Republicans, was largely created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Republican Great Depression of the early 1930s. And every day since FDR was sworn into office on March 4, 1933, the GOP has worked feverishly to dismantle his legacy.

Outside of Russia, China, and Hungary, this isn’t true at all for the rest of the developed world.

Nations across the rest of Europe, South America, and Asia imitated FDR’s and LBJ’s America, most going beyond our simple development of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the legalization of unions to further expand opportunity and social mobility for their citizens.

Over the years, the GOP has used a series of plans to reach their goal of a billionaire- and-corporate-owned-and-run America with working people turned into serfs and children in factories instead of school.

For example, Taiwan has the most efficient and comprehensive single-payer healthcare system in the world; Germany requires half of the members of every large corporation’s board of directors to come from the ranks of organized labor; Luxembourg has the highest national minimum wage in the world at roughly $19.50 an hour (they calculate it monthly).

All of Europe is pledged to reduce greenhouse gasses to get climate change under control, and they require chemical companies to prove their new compounds are safe before introducing them into food or the environment (the “precautionary principle”).

Prisons across the rest of the developed world are committed to rehabilitation and only in America are run for profit; every other developed country carefully regulates the possession of guns; pharmaceuticals are inexpensive—at least half, and sometimes a 10th of their cost here in the U.S.—in every other developed country in the world.

Republicans and the billionaires who fund them reject all of that.

They want to abandon modern ideas like prohibitions on child labor and the age of consent; worker and workplace protections and unions; free, quality public schools and colleges; civil rights and the power of women to make their own healthcare decisions.

They’re dedicated to taking America back to the era before the New Deal and, as Steve Bannon said, “deconstructing the administrative state.”

Over the years, the GOP has used a series of plans to reach their goal of a billionaire- and-corporate-owned-and-run America with working people turned into serfs and children in factories instead of school.

In 1971, it was the Powell Memo, written by Virginia tobacco lawyer Lewis Powell and delivered to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It called for a right-wing takeover of America’s schools and colleges; building out a corporate-friendly media infrastructure; packing the courts with pro-corporate, anti-labor conservatives; and the wholesale purchase of Republican politicians at both the state and federal level.

The following year Richard Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court and over the next quarter century he used that position to put many of his own suggestions into law. In addition to decisions gutting the powers of unions and deregulating industry, Powell’s major achievement was authoring the 1978 Boston v Bellotti decision that struck down hundreds of state and federal anti-corruption laws, explicitly allowing corporations and their senior officers to bribe politicians for the first time in American history.

No other developed country in the world tolerates this; outside of the United States, you only find it in developing countries that have been taken over by corrupt autocrats.

Two years later, when Ronald Reagan cut a traitorous deal with the Ayatollah to hold the American hostages in Iran long enough to destroy Jimmy Carter’s chances in the 1980 election, the Heritage Foundation stepped up with a plan to further gut the rights and powers of working-class people and elevate corporate and billionaire power.

They called it the Mandate for Leadership and, at the time, The Washington Post said it was “an action plan for turning the government toward the right as fast as possible.”

Reagan adopted over half of Heritage’s suggestions and in some cases went even farther, cutting enforcement of our anti-trust laws; ending the Fairness Doctrine; slashing the top income tax rate on the morbidly rich from 74% down to 27%; declaring all-out war on unions; gutting the EPA, Education, and Labor Departments; and selling off federal lands for pennies on the dollar to mining and drilling operations.

Now the partly-billionaire-funded Heritage Foundation has laid out a second-stage plan for the next Republican administration, whether it’s Trump or somebody else, whether it’s next year or in future presidential election cycles.

They call it Project 2025. With it, they intend to finally and fully seize control of and transform America. With it, they will rule.

Ideologues on the right correctly see the Trump administration as having been a bumbling mess. Nobody expected him to win the election, not even Trump himself (he and Roger Stone had already registered the URLs and put together a “Stop the Steal” campaign claiming “election fraud” to distract and kneecap incoming President Hillary Clinton).

Nobody realized how effective Putin’s interventions—his 29 million Facebook ads and message posts targeting a million or so people in six swing states who’d been identified as persuadable by the GOP and passed along to Russian Intelligence via Paul Manafort—would be.

When Trump was declared the winner he didn’t even have a victory speech ready, was totally unprepared to govern, and it took the better part of three years for Trump and his corrupt clown car to get their act together. Most of the time he and his son-in-law were too busy making money out of their connection to the White House. They’ve corruptly taken home billions in the years since 2016.

So this time the right-wing billionaires and their GOP lackeys aren’t taking any chances.

First up, they want to deconstruct the Civil Service, taking much of the federal workforce back to 1882. There’s an amazing backstory here.

Way back in 1881, a man named Charles Guiteau thought he’d properly bribed President James Garfield by giving the president, during an in-person visit in the White House, a speech he’d written for Garfield to use. Garfield was polite but didn’t offer Guiteau a federal job, which provoked a murderous rage: Shortly thereafter, Guiteau met Garfield’s train and shot him twice, killing him.

The explicit and institutionalized practice of exchanging gifts and personal loyalty for federal jobs dates back to the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), arguably the second-most depraved president in American history behind Trump (which is probably why Trump hung his picture in the Oval Office). His favorite nickname for himself—given him by the Cherokee he slaughtered with the Trail of Tears—was “The Indian Killer.”

Jackson had elevated the practice of bribing the president to get federal jobs into an art form: it was called the “spoils” or patronage system and was insanely corrupt. It was also, by 1883, routine.

After Guiteau failed to gain his “spoil” or “patronage” from Garfield and killed him, President Chester Arthur oversaw the writing and passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. It separated all those government jobs from the administration in power, turning federal workers from patrons of the president into permanent bureaucrats whose first loyalty was to the nation instead of the guy who happened to be in the White House at any particular time.

It also outlawed bribing the president for a job. The goal, which it accomplished and has held for 140 years, was to end corruption in the bureaucratic branches of the federal government.

Donald Trump wanted to functionally end the Civil Service and replace the top levels of the nation’s 2.7 million federal workers with people loyal exclusively to himself. He did this through an October 21, 2020 executive order, Schedule F, (which Biden reversed on his first day in office) that reclassified those workers out of their Civil Service jobs and into political appointee positions doing the exact same work.

The next Republican administration will almost certainly put Schedule F back into force, reestablishing the 1829 spoils system for the federal government. As Paul Dans, director of Project 2025’s “Presidential Transition Project” and a former Trump administration official, told The Associated Press:

We need to flood the zone with conservatives.

Next up, Project 2025 proposes to kill off federal efforts that may inhibit the profits of the fossil fuel industry and the billionaires it’s created who are helping fund both the GOP and Heritage.

As Scott Waldman wrote for Politico:

Called Project 2025, it would block the expansion of the electrical grid for wind and solar energy; slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice office; shutter the Energy Department’s renewable energy offices; prevent states from adopting California’s car pollution standards; and delegate more regulation of polluting industries to Republican state officials.

If enacted, it could decimate the federal government’s climate work, stymie the transition to clean energy, and shift agencies toward nurturing the fossil fuel industry rather than regulating it. It’s designed to be implemented on the first day of a Republican presidency.

After ensuring fossil fuel industry profits and the further wilding of our weather, Project 2025 would effectively dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, presumably on behalf of the petrochemical and other polluting industries that are also big GOP donors.

It would either end or downsize the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance, and the Office of Public Engagement and Environmental Education. Like the process Trump began, it would shatter the EPA into pieces, moving regional offices and cutting its workforce by “terminating the newest hires in low-value programs.”

It would also block states from advancing any agenda that may prevent the further expansion of carbon pollutants that are driving global warming by “ensuring that other states can adopt California’s standards only for traditional/criteria pollutants, not greenhouse gasses.”

One of the most disturbing aspects of Project 2025 and other plans for future Republican presidencies is their consolidation of power in the hands of the president, reflecting the way government is run in Hungary, China, and Russia rather than the checks-and-balances envisioned by our nation’s Founders.

They would outright end the operational independence of the Department of Justice and the FBI, turning both into tools (or weapons) the president alone could wield.

The Federal Reserve, with its ability to turn on the monetary spigot to ensure “the good times roll” or turn off the spigot to induce a recession would also become the president’s political plaything.

Ditto for the Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to not only regulate but even shut down over-the-air radio and TV broadcasts that displease it, as well as wielding a largely today-unused power of censorship over cable TV and the internet.

And the Federal Trade Commission, which has the power to grant billion-dollar favors or inflict severe punishments on companies, would lose their independence because they could be used to reward or destroy companies that have earned the favor or ire of the president.

As Russell Vought, president of one of the 65 far-right organizations on the Project 2025 advisory board, told The New York Times: What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them.

This is all a reflection of what, for several decades, has been called the Unitary Executive Theory. It argues—erroneously—that a strongman president like Putin, Xi, or Orbán is what the Founders and Framers had in mind.

As professors Karl Manheim and Allan Ides of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles famously wrote in 2006:

In fact, the theory of the unitary executive is anything but an innocuous or unremarkable description of the presidency. In its stronger versions, it embraces and promotes a notion of consolidated presidential power that essentially isolates the Executive Branch from any type of congressional or judicial oversight.

And it is much more than an academic theory. Rather it is an operative way of thinking about and applying Executive Branch power that has had and will continue to have real-world consequences for our republic and for the international community. In attempting to understand and appreciate the significance of unitary executive theory, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that it is a product of the late-20th century and not a legacy bequeathed from the founding generation.

The theory, which in fact is more about power that it is about law, grew out of a somewhat perverse reaction to abuses of presidential power that had come to light during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Such events as President Johnson’s fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident and President Nixon’s secret war in Cambodia, among many other similar abuses of presidential power, led to efforts to curb what was perceived as an increasingly imperious Executive Branch…

The almost immediate response to this reform movement was a redoubling of efforts to consolidate and amplify presidential power. The theory of the unitary executive grew out of this reactionary response.

Project 2025 and other efforts by the GOP to consolidate power in the Executive branch, as well as their recent successes at packing the courts and buying off Republican members of Congress, should be a clanging five-alarm fire bell for our republic.

This neofascist ideology of “rule by the rich” has been explicitly embraced by both Trump and DeSantis (who, this June, sent a senior advisor, David Dewhirst, to work on Project 2025), and the themes and contents of the plan are also regularly invoked on the campaign trail by Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley.

The merger of billionaire wealth with partisan Republican governance—and their combined efforts to reshape our government in their own corrupt image, the public be damned—threaten the integrity and future of the American experiment.

But it can only come about if we fail to awaken people, mobilize them, and vote.

Step one, then, is to wake people up to what the GOP and its billionaire patrons are planning. Pass it along.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream (2020); The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America (2019); and more than 25 other books in print.

This article was published on August 23, 2023 at Common Dreams.

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