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How to Prepare for a Second Trump Term

If our worst fears end up being realized, it will take a superhuman effort to keep our democracy alive. Here’s how it can be done.

Donald Trump speaks to reporters before his speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The 2024 election may be anyone’s game, but the lineup itself is set. On November 5, voters will once again get to choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden—and the prospect of a second Trump presidency looms. The former president hasn’t left what his return to the White House will mean up to the imagination: Trump has explicitly pledged to further undermine American democracy if elected, and his far-right allies are actively building the political machinery to do it.

Every four years we are told that “this election is the most important of our lifetimes.” Finally, it’s not just idle talk. A second Trump term could spell the end of the United States as we know it—but it doesn’t have to. Though the election is still many months away, and we cannot yet know who will win, we need to begin preparing for the possibility of a Trump victory now, just in case.

This time around we should be under no illusions about what’s at stake. In 2016, as Americans adjusted to the shock of Trump’s upset victory, the same political class that promised us that Trump could not possibly win began to assure us that everything would be OK. Other Republicans would rein in Trump’s worst impulses, the institutions would hold, and Trump would rise to the occasion and respect the gravity of the job he had, perhaps inadvertently, won. Eventually, he’d find a presidential tone and learn the value of uniting the country. As pretty as all those notions were, none were true—and most were laughable, even at the time.

The pundit class is less sanguine about what a second Trump term would look like, yet wishful thinking remains: For example, the alluring fantasy that the legal system will save us has made a return in this primary season. As it turned out, the effort undertaken to strike Trump’s name from ballots using the Fourteenth Amendment’s safeguard against insurrection proved to be a waste of time and energy, as these suits foundered in the Supreme Court. Trump is guilty of insurrection but, unfortunately, neither the Senate nor the judiciary have convicted him. Keeping Trump off the ballot without a conviction opens the door for keeping nearly anyone off the ballot—a specter that was raised in the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion. It’s the sort of door through which conservatives would be thrilled to walk.

The real problem is not that Trump’s name is on the ballot, but that 74 million people voted for Trump in 2020, and many will vote for him again this year. We must stop indulging in magical thinking; no judicial deus ex machina is arriving to absolve us of our responsibility. Instead, we must accept reality and turn instead to the force that could actually prevent a Trump victory: the 81 million people who voted for Biden.

These votes cannot be taken for granted. Biden is a significantly weaker candidate today than he was in 2020. He is too old. He is unpopular. He has alienated and infuriated many progressive voters through his unequivocal support for Israel’s bloody actions in Gaza as civilian casualties continue to rise. Some voters who would never vote for Trump may understandably feel tempted to sit this election out or to vote third party. This is also a form of wishful thinking, and an abdication of the only choice available to us.

Barring a medical crisis, there are only two conceivable versions of America’s future: the one where Biden wins another four years in the White House and continues the status quo or the one where Trump returns to it and unravels American democracy. We must encourage people to choose the better of those two options in the months ahead, even if they would prefer a different one.

But the job doesn’t stop with securing every possible vote for Biden. Again, we look to the past for prologue: While we work to achieve a Biden victory, we must also lay as much groundwork as possible for a coordinated, effective opposition against the kind of insurrection that starts inside the Capitol building, not on the Washington Mall. To stop Trump, we would need a mass movement on a scale not seen in decades: demonstrations that grind social and economic life to a halt and that make government resistance to the will of the people prohibitively expensive. This kind of movement would require levels of organization and cooperation between disparate groups not seen since the civil rights movement. Building this kind of movement will be extremely difficult—which is why it is essential to begin preparations now, instead of scrambling to organize as Trump actively cracks down on dissent.

What should we be prepared to do, to fight for our democratic ideals? We’ll have to deepen our resolve and take a different approach from the scattershot way we collectively dealt with the first Trump presidency. Let’s try to think of a different way that we might band together to confront our worst fears, should they come to fruition.

Imagine that, months from now, you wake up to terrible news: Trump has won a second term. You are devastated and afraid, but not helpless: You know what happens next. Already, labor unions, houses of worship, universities, professional organizations, and other entities capable of mass mobilization are planning demonstrations for inauguration weekend: general strikes, prayer events, teach-ins, marches on the street.

These events will happen in every major city—people do not need to travel far to participate—and last for a few days at most. The five million people who marched in the 2017 Inauguration Day protests made headlines, but the demonstrations offered little more than emotional catharsis. Their ultimate ineffectiveness transformed #Resist from a declaration of real-world defiance into social media posturing before the year was out. The demonstrations you will join in 2025, on the other hand, must send a firm message to the Trump administration from day one: The American people are both able and willing to bring everyday life to a screeching halt if necessary.

In the lead-up to the inauguration, there are calls to violent resistance on social media. These calls are met with instant condemnation from all the organizations listed above, and anyone who attempts violent resistance is quickly expelled from events. Organizers understand that a democracy that replaces politics with violence is no longer a democracy and that we cannot save our system of government with methods that actively destroy it. They also understand how deeply foolish kinetic resistance would be. Like any authoritarian, Trump is very comfortable with the idea of violence and will happily jump at any provocation, real or imagined, to unleash the various armed groups at his disposal upon his enemies. Anything that helps him claim that public safety requires a crackdown plays directly into his hands.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first attempted to remove judicial oversight from the Israeli government and roll back democracy in that country, huge numbers of Israelis came together every Saturday for months to protest this slide into authoritarianism. After the Inauguration Day protests, something similar takes shape in the United States. Activists and community leaders tap connections made at those initial protests to maintain pressure on the Trump administration. People do not sink into hopelessness in the way many did after those initial protests in 2017. They remain civically engaged, and a sense of real community begins to form.

During Trump’s first term, activists made the dangerous, if understandable, mistake of labeling every objectionable policy decision a harbinger of fascism. This time around, activists and community leaders understand the difference between the terrible policies we expect of any Republican president—things like rolling back environmental regulations or cutting the taxes of wealthy Americans—and policies that threaten human rights and the structure of American democracy, like declarations of martial law or legal repression of minority groups. Organizers understand that placing a bad tax bill in the same category as internment camps for undocumented immigrants undermines the case against internment camps. It makes these camps feel like less of a threat to democracy than they actually are.

When Trump inevitably crosses one of those red lines, activists spring into action. Within a few days, the types of demonstrations seen on Inauguration Day once again bring American life to a standstill. Organizers issue a specific, measurable policy demand: Step back from that red line, or the protests will continue. They do not repeat the mistakes of Occupy Wall Street or the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, which made generalized demands without a clear victory condition. Instead, they look to actions like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which made enormous progress toward ending Jim Crow laws by targeting a specific type of segregation in a single town, rather than taking on the entire system at once.

Everyone involved in these protests understands that Trump will look for an excuse to end their opposition by force. They also understand that a violent crackdown on a clearly peaceful protest can galvanize people to action.

Activists remember the swift and dramatic response to Trump’s decision to send Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol into Portland, Oregon, to put down the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Before the feds showed up, the Portland protests had all but petered out, and many citizens sympathetic to BLM had grown frustrated at the property damage and violence that sometimes accompanied these protests. Once armored agents with loaded M4s began breaking up protests, however, the demonstrations ballooned from a couple hundred people into thousands.

Fox News told the world that Portland was burning to the ground; had that been true, Portland residents might have supported federal intervention. But residents could see with their own eyes that their city was not burning, and so they showed up en masse to oppose the actual danger: armed federal agents actively violating the First Amendment. Mothers, veterans, and people from other broadly respected walks of life formed groups, made T-shirts, and came to the protests together. When activists and journalists published footage of police tear-gassing and brutally assaulting those peacefully protesting mothers and veterans, the protests grew even larger. It only took a few weeks before Trump withdrew his army from the city. Talk of sending DHS and Border Patrol to other cities ceased. Regular people faced down men in body armor with loaded M4s—and won.

These days, it doesn’t always feel like such victories are imminent. You are afraid a lot of the time. Nothing about these protests is easy, comfortable, or safe. But you do not feel helpless, because you put in the work in the days leading up to the inauguration to ensure that you were ready to push back. Maybe you became more active in a charitable or mutual aid organization. Maybe you began to attend lectures or local political events and made connections there. Maybe you talked to your church leaders or the professors at your local university. You became more active and involved in your community, so you were ready to push back—not by #Resisting, but by doing something real.

Trump supporters often call themselves patriots and real Americans, but that has never been true. Real Americans strive to move this nation closer to the as-yet-unrealized American dream of freedom, equality, and democracy. Real Americans do not bow their heads to authoritarians or acquiesce to laws that violate inalienable human rights. Should Trump win in 2024, it will be up to the true patriots to push back against his anti-American agenda. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We must begin to prepare today.