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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/19/16

Trump Rejects Term Limits, Portends Monarchy, End of Free Elections

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Trump Role Model:  Saddam Hussein
Trump Role Model: Saddam Hussein
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In a 2011 interview with former New York City cable news show host Dominic Carter, Trump rejected term limits for all politicians. Responding to the question of whether Michael Bloomberg should have been allowed to extend his term of office to a third term, Trump stated, "I'm not a believer in term limits.... I see so many very good politicians, great politicians, be literally thrown out of office at the height of their power. I don't know why it's popular. Because the ultimate term limit is you vote against a politician...I am a big Fan of Michael and I am not a big fan of term limits. Regardless of Michael, I am not a big fan of term limits." So, for a President Trump, at the "height of his power," the only way to get him out of office would be to vote him out. But Trump has explicitly denied the need for presidential elections, at least in his own case.

At a campaign rally in Alabama, on August 21, 2015, amid shouts of "White Power!" from some of his "fans," Donald Trump proclaimed, "We could maybe call for an expedited election, right? I would love that! Can we do that? Can we do that?"... I'd like to have the election tomorrow! I don't want to wait! " As I said, why do we need an election? We don't need an election!" From here it is easy to do the math. Trump does not believe he needs to be elected; nor does he think his term in office should be limited. This would make him a monarch, serving at his pleasure, not ours. So if he is elected in November, we may never get rid of him!

The 22nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1951, makes clear that, "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice"" The Amendment was introduced after Franklin Roosevelt won a fourth term in 1944. Prior to that, beginning with George Washington, the unwritten rule was for U.S. presidents to serve no more than two terms. After Franklin, however, it was clear that the unwritten rule was inadequate and that a constitutional amendment was necessary to stay off the very real possibility of a monarchical ruler coming to power. As Americans, many of us have faith in our constitution and believe that its provisions guarantee that such a possibility will never happen in the United States. Unfortunately, such absolute faith is historically naà ve. For instance, after coming to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler invoked the emergency power provision of the German Weimar Constitution (Article 48) to suspend constitutionally protected civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly, habeas corpus, and privacy. More recently, Vladimir Putin, whom Trump admires, was able to extend his time in office without violating the letter of law of the Russian constitution. Putin served two four-year terms as Russian president from 2000 to 2008. Because the Russian constitution prohibits a president from serving more than two consecutive terms, Putin assumed the role of prime minister, which allowed him to remain in power until 2012 when he again became president. Moreover, in 2011, Dmitry Medvedev, the individual who occupied the presidency while Putin was prime minister, extended the presidential term of office to six years. This has now made it possible for Putin to serve until 2024. Putin has been willing to agree to a prohibition against any future president serving more than two terms, consecutive or otherwise. As such, the amendment would not apply retroactively to him.

So, as history shows, there are patently legal ways around constitutional safeguards designed to constrain executive authority, including the length of time a chief executive can remain in office. For example, while the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly grant presidents authority to bypass congress in a national emergency (unlike the Weimar Constitution), Article 2 has generally been interpreted by legal scholars as implying such authority. Accordingly, Trump could invoke this presumptive power in response to a terrorist attack or the ongoing threat of one; or find other "legal" grounds for circumventing the 22nd Amendment.

Indeed, Trump's lack of respect for the Constitution is already evident, having demonstrated blatant disregard for First Amendment protections such as freedom of speech, assembly, and religion (denouncing the media, barring news organizations such as the Washington Post from his press conferences; encouraging violence against anti-Trump protesters; and advocating the registration of all Muslims). He has advocated torture "worse than" water boarding as well as the assassination of the families of terrorists in contravention of both national and international law. So it would not be shocking if this self-proclaimed "law and order" candidate circumvented the constitutional provisions of presidential term limits and elections.

Some would argue that congress and the judiciary would not stand for such assaults on the U.S. Constitution; and that we are, after all, a nation of laws, not persons. However, it has already been eye-opening how the GOP has managed to support such a candidate who has openly praised dictators like Saddam Hussein and Omar Kadafi; denounced the press; called for a judge to step down because he is "Mexican"; tweeted a blatantly anti-Semitic image originating from a white supremacist website; advocated banning Muslims from entering the nation; advocated registering Muslims; proclaimed the dispensability of presidential elections; and failed to understand why term limits are "popular." So why would one think that these same individuals and their congressional colleagues would cease to continue to support the same dubious policies espoused by a President Trump should he ascend to the most powerful office in the world.

Imagine, for the moment, that Trump does, in fact, assume the presidency and does indeed "legally" nullify constitutional protections to prevent his timely departure. Imagine further that he has bankrupted the nation, as he has managed to do with some of his businesses; aggravated the already serious terrorism problem with aggressive tactics that don't work; and made a world-wide laughing stock of us. If this happened, we could not simply wait for him to leave office because he would have already destroyed this failsafe mechanism. We would then be trapped with no way out of the mess he would have created through his ineptitude.

The great 19th century defender of liberty, John Stuart Mill, once said that people should not be free to sell themselves into slavery. Liberty itself, he maintained, has its limits. Likewise, the nation should not be free to destroy its freedom. The GOP needs to wake up before freedom may no longer be an option. Republican officers such as RNC Chairperson Reince Priebus, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have committed their support to Trump, notwithstanding his decadent pattern of racist comments, anti-democratic proposals, and inflammatory rhetoric, can still reassess their priorities: lockstep party loyalty versus allegiance to national (and international) welfare. The two are not necessarily the same. Conscientious and caring Republican officials and their constituents can still disavow allegiance to Trump. Those who are willing to gamble that Trump will suddenly morph into such a candidate should be careful about risking the welfare of millions of Americans, a substantial number of whom are desperate for positive change and therefore vulnerable to being manipulated by vacuous promises about "making America great (and safe) again," fear mongering, and personal attacks launched by the Trump campaign. Indeed, if Trump does, in fact, assume the presidency, then, true to his words, there may be no turning back; no waiting for the opportunity to rectify the indelible blight. Then, it would be of small consolation that Trump was democratically elected.

(Article changed on July 19, 2016 at 10:48)

(Article changed on July 19, 2016 at 22:23)

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Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. is a political analyst and media critic. His most recent book is Technology of Oppression: Preserving Freedom and Dignity in an Age of Mass, Warrantless Surveillance(Palegrave Macmillan, 2014.) He is a Fellow at the (more...)

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