President Trump raised eyebrows with some remarks he made at a private Republican political fundraiser over the weekend at Mar-a-Lago. Trump praised Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recent consolidation of power which effectively made him president for life in a state that already has a totalitarian system. Trump stated:
He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.
Now I strongly suspect that Trump’s defenders would claim their man was merely joking, just as he was when he suggested his poll numbers wouldn’t be adversely affected if he were to shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue. Trump certainly wasn’t jesting on the occasions which he has praised the human-rights violations committed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte. Nor was he joking when he praised the Chinese Communists’ brutal response to the Tiananmen Square in 1990.
On the contrary, such views ought to be anathema to any American president. Could you imagine President Reagan praising the Soviet political system before Gorbachev embarked upon glasnost and perestroika? Trump’s remarks should have also been anathema to all Americans. Frankly, the Republican audience ought to have jeered Trump the moment he entertained any notion of becoming president for life. The fact that they didn’t signals not only the fundamental change which has taken place within the Republican party in the Trump era, but an abandonment of the principles set out in the United States Constitution.
The Republican audience ought to have jeered Trump the moment he entertained any notion of becoming president for life.
For Trump supporters who believe I am reading too much into what he said, I would ask you to ponder these two questions. What if it had been President Obama who had congratulated Xi for becoming president for life? What if President Obama had been on tape saying he might like to try to follow Xi’s footsteps? I strongly suspect Trump supporters would not have taken such talk by Obama with any kind of good humor.
In fact, we know this to be true because President Obama also envied the power wielded by his then Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. Consider this passage from a New York Times piece at the height of the Arab Spring, seven years ago this month:
Mr. Obama has told people it would be so much easier to be President of China. As one official put it, “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.”
This did not amuse Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit, who wrote at the time, “Then he could just slaughter those disruptive Gadsden flag-waving tea partiers. Is that what he’s talking about? Is it really that difficult for this man to tell the difference between the United States and China? . . . Really?” New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin wrote, “First I did a double take. He said what? I read it again and the shock waves followed.” Goodwin added that Obama “is in over his head, and he knows it.” As of this writing, neither Hoft nor anyone else at The Gateway Pundit has seen fit to comment on Trump’s remarks. Ditto for Goodwin. If they are prepared to condemn Obama for saying it would easier to be President of China, then why aren’t they prepared to condemn Trump for wanting the kind of power the President of China now wields? If the prospect of Obama wielding dictatorial power is unacceptable, then why is it OK for Trump to behave in this manner?
Of course it would be easier for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump if they had the powers of the Chinese president. But having such powers would be much, much harder on Americans. Disagreement and dissent of any kind would not be tolerated. Those who did disagree and dissent would either end up in exile, like the Dalai Lama, or dying in captivity, as Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo did in July 2017. It is well worth remembering that Liu was bestowed with his Nobel the year after it was handed to President Obama. Never has there been a more jarring juxtaposition between two Nobel laureates. Unlike Obama, Liu did not get to travel to Norway and enjoy a dinner of cured reindeer and smoked duck. Nor did he get to tell the world of the cruelty of the Chinese Communists. Do we really want our presidents to praise China’s legacy of political repression? Do we want our Presidents to praise leaders who give themselves more even more absolute power than they already have at the expense of their people?
Presidents Obama and Trump would serve us better by aspiring to the example of our first president, George Washington. Perhaps his most remarkable address came when he chose to voluntarily relinquish his office in September 1796, a truly revolutionary act during a truly revolutionary time. In his Farewell Address to the nation, Washington warned how partisanship and factionalism could lead to despotism and tyranny:
Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
Unfortunately, our current political age has reduced Washington’s words of wisdom to debris. They have been swept up by ill winds, much like the 227-year old tree that Washington planted at Mount Vernon, unable to withstand last weekend’s winter storm. Given Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2016 election and given our last two presidents’ willingness to embrace China’s centralization of power, we cannot say we weren’t warned.
Barack Obama and Donald Trump may possess different temperaments, but the fact is both presidents covet the power possessed by their Chinese counterparts. This demonstrates their lack of respect for our republic and the constitutional limits on the offices the people have seen fit to bestow upon them. American presidents ought to be the biggest champions of our system of government and the biggest defenders of the limits on their authority.