December 5, 2023 - 10:35am

Articles in the forthcoming edition of the Atlantic are bound together by a shared theme, one that will be familiar to readers of the magazine over the past seven years. In the January/February issue of the publication, 24 writers “imagine what a second Trump term would look like”, with new pieces spread across the Atlantic’s website

David Frum heralds the “the danger ahead”; Caitlin Dickerson cautions against Trump’s “anything-goes approach to immigration enforcement”; Anne Applebaum predicts “the end of American influence”. Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg’s prefatory note is titled, “A Warning”, and accuses the former president of “rotten, depraved” behaviour, adding that “both Trump and Trumpism pose an existential threat to America.” The themed edition follows an article from the same outlet last month which claims that the former president has “fully embraced the language of fascism”.

The Atlantic is not alone in sharing its fears about a second Trump administration, nor in pulling the fascism card to describe his rhetoric. Last month, an edition of the Economist featured on its cover a familiar lip-puckered silhouette, with the accompanying editorial titled, “Donald Trump poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024”. That assessment came days after a New York Times poll found that Joe Biden trailed his White House predecessor in five out of six key battleground states ahead of next year’s election.

Most polling aggregators now have Trump leading the race for the Oval Office, in some cases by as many as six percentage points. While his 2016 defeat of Hillary Clinton came as a shock to America’s establishment press, a victory for the Republican hopeful in 2024 is now being treated, if not with grim inevitability, at least as a very plausible outcome. The New Yorker, to give one example, has recently suggested that “the warnings about Trump in 2024 are getting louder”.

Meanwhile, on Monday CNN’s Stephen Collinson outlined “the profound choice that voters could face next year”, citing Trump’s “increasingly unapologetic anti-democratic rhetoric”. The writer claimed that the former president’s “political career is built on an edifice of a spectacular falsehood”, and that a second Trump term “would risk destroying the principle that presidents do not hold monarchical power”. 

The same day, the Washington Post pointed to “the fear of a looming Trump dictatorship”, interviewing several “scholars of 20th-century fascism”. The previous week, the paper had published an opinion piece by columnist Robert Kagan which argued that “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable”, and which, perhaps inadvertently, revealed the extent to which the anti-Trump press needs its villain. “Even today,” Kagan conceded, “the news media can scarcely resist following Trump’s every word and action.” What’s more, the Democrats are in “a mounting panic” over the likelihood of him winning the election.

This commentary has been exacerbated by eye-catching accusations from some of Trump’s noted political opponents. Speaking to CBS News on Sunday, former Republican Congresswoman and longtime Trump critic Liz Cheney argued that she would prefer a Democrat victory in 2024 due to fears that the US is “sleepwalking into dictatorship”. Last month, his old nemesis Hillary Clinton compared the Republican to Adolf Hitler and warned that his return to the White House “would be the end of our country as we know it”. Appearing on ABC’s The View, she warned that “Trump is telling us what he intends to do”, a departure from her previous claims about her rival’s dishonesty.

As America’s press once again prepares to circle the wagons against Trump’s impending return, discussion of the former president’s “violent and authoritarian rhetoric” will dominate print and cable news. He is a “dictator”, a “threat to democracy”, and the harbinger of American fascism on the world stage. Trump’s liberal critics used similar language during his 2016 campaign; they would do well to remember the effect that had.

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.