Former president Donald Trump, currently under impeachment for a second time and facing trial in the U.S. Senate, once mused about the possibility that the United States might someday have a “president for life.”
Be like Xi?
Trump’s president-for-life fantasy became public after CNN obtained an audio recording of his remarks at a closed-door, high-dollar Mar-a-Lago fundraiser on March 3, 2018:
“Don’t forget, China’s great, and Xi’s a great gentleman. He’s now president for life… President for life… No, he’s great. And he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
The crowd laughed and applauded.
Later in March, China’s legislature rubber stamped changes to the country’s constitution to remove presidential term limits, voting 2,958 in favor, two against and three abstaining. The National People’s Congress also voted to add “Xi Jinping Thought” — whatever that is — to the constitution and create “supervisory commissions” to investigate party members and government workers.
According to NPR’s report at the time, the changes essentially ended Chinese reforms that began after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. A limit of two consecutive presidential terms had been in place since 1982. Xi had become, in effect, president for life.
The jokes keep coming
In June 2019 CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote an opinion piece entitled “Donald Trump just keeps ‘joking’ about serving more than 2 terms as president,” which cited several more examples of Donald Trump floating the idea of staying in office beyond two terms. Cillizza didn’t believe Trump had a grand plan for changing the Constitution to occupy the White House more than eight years, but he did believe that there was “a stack of evidence that Trump either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the idea of the presidency as a stewardship, a public trust – dating back to George Washington – that is meant to be handed off after a bounded time period.”
Was Trump joking? Maybe.
Putin joins the fun
Vladimir Putin, by hook or by crook, has managed to stay in power in Russia for over twenty years — longer than any Kremlin leader since Stalin. Putin is in his second six-year term since becoming president again in 2012, which followed four years as prime minister and eight years as president before that. Putin would have been ineligible to run for another term in 2024.
In early 2020 Putin proposed changes that would allow parliament more power, leading to speculation that he would run for speaker. But really, who wants to be speaker when they can just keep running for president?
In mid 2020, during a pandemic and after delay, complications, and a questionable election, Russian voters approved constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more terms.
According to an AP report, “The amendments that would allow Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030, are part of a package of constitutional changes that also outlaw same-sex marriage, mention ‘a belief in God as a core value’ and emphasize the primacy of Russian law over international norms. Voters could not cast ballots on the individual amendments, only on the entire group.”
Any similarity to policies espoused by America’s religious right (also known as white Christian nationalism) or Donald Trump’s declared “America first” doctrine might be coincidental.
Will Putin run for another term? Two more terms? Will Putin become president for life? Stay tuned.
The best-laid plans
“We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well. We’ve already handled it very well. CDC has been terrific. Very great professionals. And we’re in very good shape. And I think China is in very good shape also.” – Donald Trump, January 22, 2020
As it turned out, whatever plans there might have been to handle the novel coronavirus, it wasn’t handled well.
Prior to the pandemic, it seemed that Trump was planning to run on the supposed strength of the U.S. economy and America’s presumed security in the world. The pandemic took a wrecking ball to both of those arguments.
Trump had attacked the press and news media as “fake news” throughout his presidency. The phrase first turned up on February 1, 2017 — mere days after his inauguration — and it would reappear in hundreds of records catalogued by the American Presidency Project (a great resource).
Why would an American president so relentlessly attack the so-called Fourth Estate? Because discrediting the media clears the way for spreading misinformation and getting it out first. Remember, people tend to believe the first information they hear, AND they give preference to information which confirms what they already believe.
If the media are purveyors of “fake news,” who cares what they say?
The big lies
Notice that I said big lies, plural.
We must start this conversation by noting that the sheer number of lies by President Trump totals in the TENS OF THOUSANDS. The Washington Post fact checker puts the number of false and misleading statements by Trump at 30,573. The most frequently repeated lie was some variation of the claim that Trump “built the greatest economy in the history of the world.”
The repetition of that claim supports the idea that Trump wanted to run for reelection on the economy. Anything that didn’t help that strategy was in the way.
We must also consider Adolf Hitler’s conception of the “big lie.” I have deliberately avoided comparing Trump and his administration to Hitler and the Third Reich. Lately, however, it has become impossible to avoid seeing parallels to historic fascist propaganda and ideology. Just this week, a chilling analysis of a film shown at the January 6 rally was published. The article “Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda” is a must-read.
For now, I will assert that a few of the biggest lies had to do with voter fraud (a lie which appeared in a big way in Spring 2020) and stealing the election (which became a major theme much closer to November 3).
The lie that launched a thousand lies
The biggest and most depressing lie? That Trump won the 2020 election. He didn’t. This lie enabled all sorts of other lies and desperate schemes. The biggest lie, along with the biggest dodges — refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, to accept the certified election results, and to concede that the election was lost, fair and square — combined to make the January 6 insurrection possible. To many of Trump’s hardcore followers, it made violent insurrection seem necessary, even heroic and patriotic.
The rally, culminating in Trump’s inciting speech, fired up the crowd and pointed them toward the Capitol. Trump’s failure and refusal to intervene for hours made his prosecution inevitable.
Trump has declared that he will never concede and that he will be back “in some form.” And even as his lawyers claim Trump is a private citizen (he is) who cannot be impeached and convicted (he has been and can be), Trump uses stationery bearing a likeness of the great seal. He is still pretending to be president. The great lie continues.
Together, these big lies and dodges they are the reason Trump must never again be allowed to hold any federal office. Ever. The lies and dodges may persist but the candidate’s privilege of holding office must end.
We press forward with prosecuting a former president — someone who is now a private citizen and thus cannot be removed from office — to ensure that he remains a former president and to discourage any future president from following in his footsteps.
Donald J. Trump must be convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting the insurrection of January 6. He must then be punished with “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
Trump must become an ex-president for life.