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Writers at 'The Atlantic' examine what Trump's second term could look like

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This country is about to start an election year, and Donald Trump remains the leading Republican candidate. The Atlantic magazine marks that development with an entire issue devoted to Trump. Twenty-four writers argue that if given a second chance in power, he would warp the U.S. Justice Department, prosecute his enemies, disempower experts, promote his own loyalists and trample on the checks and balances at the heart of American government. The magazine editor is Jeffrey Goldberg.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: What we were thinking was that we have to do whatever we can do, while there's time, to put out in plain English what we think will happen if Trump is elected again. At the very least, I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror, and I want to be able to explain to my children and my grandchildren, we tried. We tried to tell people what was coming. And we failed, but we at least tried.

INSKEEP: Now, Jeffrey Goldberg edits a publication that's been around since 1857. In recent years, its journalists and opinion writers have made it one of the few magazines that are still relevant. The Atlantic is nonpartisan, and its writers include people from differing political views who argue that Trump's Republican Party is off the rails.

GOLDBERG: This is not just analysis of the previous four years of Donald Trump, the first term. We've been listening carefully to what Donald Trump and his people have been saying about what they want to do the next time. And I wanted to just highlight for our readers and for whoever comes and sees these stories - I want to highlight for them the consequences of these promises that he's been making.

INSKEEP: What are some of the promises?

GOLDBERG: Well, for instance, the destruction of what you and I think of as an apolitical government bureaucratic class. So he's talked about revamping the system, firing people who are insufficiently loyal to him and hiring loyalists, not experts, not the best people in their fields but loyalists Donald Trump has promised, among other things, to try the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, for treason. If he's given the power to, he will upend the way we pick generals in this country. Donald Trump does not want generals to be loyal to the Constitution. He wants generals to be loyal to him. How do we know this? Because he said it.

INSKEEP: There's also a kind of ideology that I guess people would have an opportunity to vote for if Trump proves to be the Republican nominee, which he is favored to do. And that's the idea that the experts don't know what they're talking about and that the president, as the elected official in the executive branch, should be able to do anything that he wants.

GOLDBERG: Right. This devotion to the idea that expertise doesn't matter. What matters is a strong man. What matters is authoritarian tendency. What matters is loyalty.

INSKEEP: Wouldn't the checks and balances that exist in our system restrain Donald Trump? I particularly think of Senate confirmations for cabinet officials. You would imagine that senators - or a majority of them anyway - would want competent people to surround the president, as they tried to do last time.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. Well, let's ask Mitt Romney what he thinks about that - you know, Romney, among others. Romney's getting out, of course, because he doesn't believe his colleagues in the current Republican caucus are willing or able to stand up to Donald Trump. He says they understand what's going on, but they won't stand up to it.

INSKEEP: One of the articles in this issue focuses on the role of the media, which is, of course, touching on your very job. It's by George Packer...

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Who's a distinguished journalist. And he writes that covering Trump brought CNN, The Times, The Post, The Atlantic and other outlets larger audiences. But much of that profitable coverage takes place in a glass booth that seals out a hostile or indifferent public. Are you worried that those media who are concerned about Trump will end up just talking to themselves again?

GOLDBERG: Yes, of course, of course. And we have to be careful not to think of people who vote for Trump as deplorables, to borrow a word. I do worry about our ability to communicate across lines, geographic and ideological and dispositional lines, but it doesn't mean that we don't try.

INSKEEP: George Packer also writes that Trump, quote, "corrupts the press by obsessing it and baiting it into abandoning independence for activism." Did you think about that very risk while putting together an issue that's entirely about Donald Trump?

GOLDBERG: Yes. And I've said to our staff all along - and I've been saying this for seven years - I said, look. We're not in the resistance, OK? We're journalists. To me, being in the resistance means that you cover up the flaws and foibles and weaknesses of the other side - right? - or other parties or other candidates. We don't do that. We'll cover Joe Biden's age. We'll cover the foreign policy failures of the Biden administration. We'll cover whatever we have to cover. We are not in the resistance. We are just trying to use our eyes and ears to describe reality.

INSKEEP: Jeffrey Goldberg is the editor of The Atlantic. Thanks so much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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