Trump Joked About Being President For Life, But Here Are 7 Times It Felt Serious
The president hasn't ever shied away from praising dictators with his words, most recently when Trump praised Chinese president Xi Jinping's action to make himself president for life.
"He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said of Xi working to eliminate term limits on China's presidency. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day."
Trump has praised multiple authoritarian leaders before, from saying Putin has "very strong control" over his country to saying Egyptian strongman leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi did a "fantastic job in a very difficult situation" in his home country. Trump has also made numerous comments about the American system that indicate that he himself has dictatorial tendencies, like when he has suggested that freedom of the press should be limited or even, recently, that guns should be taken without due process of law. While the left generally responded positively to the suggestion, Fox News' Tucker Carlson didn't agree.
“Imagine if Barack Obama had said that? ‘Just ignore due process and confiscating guns.’ Obama would have been denounced as a dictator,” Carlson said about Trump's comments on gun control. “Congress would be talking impeachment right now. Someone would be muttering about secession.”
Beyond just words, whether a joke like the Xi comment or more serious like the comments about taking away guns, the U.S. president has moved into a very dictatorial realm in terms of his actions as well. Here are a few of the instances in which Trump's actions have shown his dictatorial tendencies.
1. Refusing To Release His Tax Returns
It's been an unwritten rule since the Ford administration that presidents release their tax returns, so that the American people can see what interests they are beholden to. Trump lied about his reasons for not releasing them and has still refused to do so, which means that he's still running afoul of this particular democratic norm.
Trump has shown that he did not believe that this tradition applied to him, and so the nation still doesn't know where his most important investments are and how his foreign and tax policies might be enriching himself.
2. Refusing To Give Up His Company
When Trump became president, he handed control of his business over to his sons but did not actually divest from his businesses. He's been continually criticized for this move by ethics experts and others, but the law has not actually required him to fully distance himself from the Trump Organization.
This, combined with the lack of transparency in regards to his tax returns and his company's operations, mean that the American people have no way of knowing how he could be using his presidency to enrich himself and his family.
However, the American people do know that the government has already had to funnel thousands of dollars into various Trump enterprises, whether it's the Secret Service briefly paying for space in Trump Tower or renting golf carts at Mar-A-Lago.
3. Installing His Family Members In His Administration
Nepotism, or the act of giving important positions to people within the family, is a hallmark of many authoritarian regimes, and Trump has played directly into that by installing his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner into high-ranking White House roles for which they have no other qualification besides their relationship to the president.
There are rules against nepotism in government — but Trump, again, has decided that they do not apply to him.
4. Pardoning A Supporter Of His
Presidents do have the power of pardoning people who have been convicted of federal crimes, but Trump bypassed the norms of how the pardon works to pardon a political supporter of his.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was on the way to being convicted of criminal contempt of court after years of racially profiling immigrants and unlawfully detaining them, received a presidential pardon from Trump before he had even officially been convicted, which is not how presidential pardons usually work.
It was also a questionable use of the presidential pardon, because it inflamed racial tensions and because Arpaio had been such an ardent supporter of Trump's campaign. It was such a controversial pardon that the judge in the case has refused to erase Arpaio's conviction from his record.
5. Sending Family Members To Represent The Country Overseas
Beyond just appointing family members to positions of power, Trump has also bypassed the normal bureaucracy to have his family members represent the country's interests overseas.
His son-in-law Jared Kushner, for example, took a trip to Saudi Arabia in October of 2017 without any State Department representatives, and Ivanka Trump headed up the U.S. delegation at the end of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games — while also making time to hold a diplomatic meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae In.
In a normal administration, these meetings would be led by State Department officials, possibly even the Secretary of State. Trump, however, has demonstrated that he, like many dictators, only trusts his immediate family members to carry out business like this.
6. Blocking His Critics On Twitter
Trump uses Twitter as one of his main methods of communicating with the American people, and yet the White House admitted that he blocks critics on that platform.
Legal scholars have argued that this amounts to a violation of the First Amendment, because while supporters are allowed to speak freely in the public forum that Twitter is, critics are not.
7. Firing The Man Investigating Him
Trump fired former FBI director James Comey in May of 2017, and then he publicly admitted that he did it in order to relieve the building pressure coming from the investigation into his dealings with Russia.
This move didn't end up working out in Trump's favor, because it led to the beginning of Robert Mueller's special investigation into the same issue. It showed the extent to which Trump was willing to go to protect his own interest at the expense of the country's, though, and he has later made multiple comments threatening to fire other individuals involved in the investigation, including recused Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
These offenses have all happened before the halfway point on Trump's first term as president — we can only wait and see how the next almost three years will add to the list.