Over the weekend, President Trump apparently joked that the U.S. should have a president for life, which caused commentators to react with alarm on Monday.
At a fundraiser for GOP donors, Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for moving to end presidential term limits and suggested that could be replicated here. “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” said Trump at his Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida over the weekend, CNN reported. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
The comments were reportedly followed by laughter in the room. But commentators like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough did not share the mirth on Monday. “When Republicans are saying, ‘It’s just a joke’ or when Republicans ignore the fact that this man is talking about being president for life — if they think that Donald Trump is joking, then they’re fools,” said Scarborough on Monday morning’s show. “And I don’t think they’re fools. I think they know exactly what he’s saying.”
Scarborough later tweeted, “Republicans, the president of the United States praises a communist autocrat for becoming dictator for life and then suggests they keep him in power for life. Wake up.”
Trump has a long history of praising autocratic leaders, including Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. At the same time, he has moved to agitate the United States’ historical allies in Western democracy, from Australia to Germany to, as of last week, Canada with threats of a steel tariff. He has also displayed authoritarian traits, such as accusing Democrats of being “treasonous” for not applauding his State of the Union speech in January. Also in January, two Harvard political scientists who authored the book “How Democracies Die” said that Trump displayed all four traits common to authoritarian leaders.
Back at Mar-a-Lago, Trump also repeated a frequent assertion to the GOP donors — that the 2016 election was rigged, without specifics or evidence, even though he won. “I’m telling you, it’s a rigged system, folks,” said Trump. “I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a rigged system. And we don’t have the right people in there yet. We have a lot of great people, but certain things, we don’t have the right people.”