Donald Trump has said that he would be a “dictator” on his first day in office.
And a review of his campaign’s plans and messaging shows part of what that may mean: a sweeping range of day-one executive orders aimed at remaking the Constitution and the federal government as we know it.
On his first days in office, Trump is planning on issuing orders which would end birthright citizenship, give himself the authority to fire tens of thousands of federal civil servants, and force federal bureaucrats to obey culture war dictates.
Through executive action, Trump plans to proclaim extreme new interpretations of baseline provisions of the Constitution, dramatically expanding the reach of presidential authority while upturning principles of law and American society, like birthright citizenship, that for decades have been taken for granted. Many of the proposed orders are likely to spark court fights, setting up legal battles over bedrock issues destined for a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court.
Other proposed day-one orders lean into the culture wars with real-world consequences, like one which would bar federal agencies from running programs supporting gender-transition education. Another, less seriously, would reinstate Trump’s vaunted “National Garden of American Heroes,” a park which would feature sculptures of Irving Berlin, William F. Buckley, Abraham Lincoln, Alex Trebek, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Shirley Temple, and others.
There isn’t anything new about presidents issuing rafts of executive orders on their first day in office. But while new administrations typically issue orders which set new policy and proclaim the values of the new presidency, what distinguishes the Trump plans is the ambition of what he’s proposing.
“The substance and content of some of these proposals go far beyond what presidents have done with executive orders,” Blake Emerson, a law professor at UCLA who studies executive power, told TPM.
The proposed orders come in several buckets:
- Executive orders which strike at key constitutional questions
- Reissuing and expanding executive orders from his first term
- Culture war proclamations
- Rescinding Biden-era executive orders
A Trump campaign spokesman did not return TPM’s request for comment.
Trump’s campaign, along with a cottage industry of MAGA think tanks, have laid out what they believe his day-one agenda should be in part through what they call Agenda47, the closest thing the Trump campaign has to a platform.
At the center is the most extreme measure: an executive order aimed at rescinding birthright citizenship.
The Trump campaign describes the proposal in conclusive language, saying that they’ve already arrived at the “correct interpretation” of the 14th Amendment. Under that interpretation, to be described in a day-one executive order, the children of undocumented immigrants and tourists would no longer receive citizenship. Federal agencies, like the Social Security Administration, would be ordered to stop issuing passports, social security numbers, and other markers of citizenship under the order.
“They must go back,” Trump said in a statement accompanying the announcement, referring to the children of illegal immigrants.
The order would likely be met with near-instantaneous legal challenges, but, Emerson said, would be “unprecedented” in its use of executive power: having the White House proclaim, literally by fiat, a new interpretation of the Constitution.
“He can’t change the Constitution with an exec order,” John Woolley, a professor at UC-Santa Barbara who studies executive orders, told TPM. “But he can make things difficult.”
Trump has committed to a number of culture war executive orders as well. One would ban gender transition education in federal agencies, another would ban “ESG investments,” yet another would reverse a Biden executive order promoting diversity. One proposal from the Heritage Foundation-backed Project 2025 envisions an order banning government programs from supporting the teaching of “critical race theory.”
These may seem like ill-defined values statements, but Trump has said that he would issue another order on day one: a broadened version of his Schedule F proclamation from late 2020. In non-legalese, that’s an executive order which would empower him to fire any federal civil servant with policymaking responsibilities for any reason; a category of people which reaches into the tens of thousands.
Trump has framed it as a plan to “shatter the deep state” on the first day, an explicitly political undertaking.
The result, some civil service experts say, could be the mass exodus of professionals. That would lead to some politicization, but, more swiftly, a decapitation of the functioning of several government agencies.
It’s genuinely unclear from the plans that the Trump campaign has released which government functions they want preserved, in order to use for their own ends, and which they want incapacitated.
One promised day-one executive order, for example, calls for a reinterpretation of the 1974 Congressional Budget Control and Impoundment Act, a bedrock law to the modern budgeting system which, among other things, mandates that the executive branch use funding allocated by the legislative.
Trump himself ran afoul of this law in 2019, when he withheld money that Congress allocated to Ukraine as part of a political extortion scheme to coerce Kyiv into damaging Trump’s then-opponent, Joe Biden. Now, he’s proposing to order federal agencies to use the law to identify where programs can be cut, and push to “overturn the limits” that the law places on the executive.
Other plans, including one put out by the Heritage Foundation, would see Trump issue a day-one executive order gutting the Environmental Protection Administration. That would include “explicit language requiring reconsideration of the agency’s structure with reference to fulfilling its mission to create a better environmental tomorrow with clean air, safe water, healthy soil, and thriving communities.”
Many of these proposals would likely run into a buzzsaw of litigation. Federal employees, their unions, and good government groups would sue to block some of them from going into effect.
But in the meantime, Trump would likely be able to unleash massive shifts in policy. One proposal, for example, would ban the federal government from supporting efforts to fight “dis” or “mis” information; another would bring back the travel ban on Muslim countries.
Emerson, the UCLA professor, said that many of them appear to work in tandem. He described the civil service firing order, for example, to TPM as a one-two punch: executive orders which lay out bans on right-wing culture war hobbyhorses, and an executive order with the muscle to fire people who disobey.
“You have a really potent combination where people could be getting fired from civil service posts because they’re not toeing the line on critical race theory, or what have you,” Emerson said.