That is to say, he does not intend to ever have to step down or stop serving as President of the United States.
And as outlandish a statement that may seem to those of us who still want to believe in and hope that our sacred norms and traditions remain sacred, the writing is already on the wall if you’re paying any attention to it.
It was on the wall through the multiple “jokes” he’s made testing to see how people might react to his refusal to leave office.
It was on the wall when he questioned the legitimacy of election results when he thought he wouldn’t win.
It was on the wall most recently when the Department of Justice and Trump’s lawyers literally argued during the impeachment trial–and before it–that the president cannot be indicted for a crime and that a president can do whatever he wants so long as he decides that what is beneficial to his re-election campaign is also beneficial to the country.
The writing on the wall is screaming that this president does not believe he has to follow the rules, norms, or laws, including the ones that demand a peaceful transition of power.
And just so we’re clear, this president has already refused to follow rules, norms, and laws, and has likely already committed multiple crimes.
There are over 25 women who have credibly accused Trump of sexual assault, one of whom is requesting Trump take a DNA test for semen found on her clothing.
The list of lawsuits, in fact, is so long there’s an entire, well-sourced and lengthy Wikipedia page laying out each of the current lawsuits.
And it’s worth noting all of these examples, because it seems reasonable to believe that the Southern District of New York or District in DC have not yet charged Trump simply because they’re waiting to do so when he’s out of office.
Robert Mueller actually acknowledges as much in his testimony before the House with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), despite the failure of the media to acknowledge this reality:
NADLER: “Is it correct that if you had concluded that the President committed the crime of obstruction, you could not publicly state that in your report or here today?”
MUELLER: “The statement would be that you would not indict, and you would not indict because under the OLC opinion, excuse me, a sitting president cannot be indicted, it would be unconstitutional.”
NADLER: “Under Department of Justice policy, the President could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office, correct?”
And when asked by Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), a Republican seemingly determined to clarify that, surely, Mueller wasn’t saying the evidence indicated Trump should be
BUCK: “Could you charge a president with a crime after he left office?”
BUCK: “You believe that he committed — you could charge the President of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?”
Taken altogether, the calculus indicates that if you’re the President and his team, and you’re calculating the risks, chances are good you’ve come to consider the real possibility that the office itself is guaranteeing you avoid jail time.
What incentive, then, is there to ever leave?
Worse, if you’re Bill Barr or any of Trump’s closest allies, and you believe the Democrats could, in theory, try to arrest you if they ever regain power, how far are you willing to go to guarantee your indefinite freedom? Demand foreign interference in the election? Refuse to safeguard our elections at all? Arrest your opponents? Kill them?
The first two of those–demanding interference and refusing to safeguard elections–has already been normalized. There have also been multiple threats to arrest and kill Trump’s opponents from both his supporters and from Trump himself when he “joked” that Hillary could be assassinated.
It seems like an incredible risk on the part of Team Trump, the DOJ, and the GOP to openly defy norms, traditions, and laws given the real possibility Democrats could one day–perhaps one day soon–regain power. But their willingness to so disgustingly end democratic norms and openly break traditions, if not laws, suggests their long-term strategy is an endgame where Democrats never hold power again. And since it’s so unlikely that Democrats would fail at regaining Congress or the Presidency in 2020, 2022, or 2024, this wild gamble just seems kind of odd. Or in other words, why put your everything, sacrificing our shared history, on the line for Trump given the real likelihood that Trump could lose?
Do they know something you and I don’t, to be so sure of themselves?
You could say, of course, that the Republicans just aren’t thinking long-term, that all their fight and might is for salvaging the moment that’s right in front of them, or that they really are that arrogant to believe there’s no risk of their losing power. But if some of them in power have thought far enough ahead to understand what’s at stake, yet continue to act as they do, that’s terrifying to think through. But we need to think through it.
We need, as a country, to consider the real possibility of Trump refusing to leave office and how he might go about doing so. Since he’s already questioned the legitimacy of our elections, that seems a sure bet to expect if the Democrats win. But, then what?
I’m not sure I see the Secret Service dragging Trump out of office if he loses or when his term ends. The DOJ and State and the military are being gutted and replaced with Trump loyalists daily. The Courts are quickly being packed with insanely unqualified loyalists. Our intelligence community is under the purview of DOJ and has been discredited by itself and by Team Trump. The Fourth Estate, the press, has been constantly under assault and serves money more than it serves the people. We saw the Senate refuse to even call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial, unveiling a cult-ish cowardice on their part, so count me uninspired by their ability to demand what’s right. And the Democrats, we already know, are fairly powerless to act when they can’t even get Trump loyalists to show up and testify before their committees.
Democracy doesn’t die in darkness, after all; it’s dying in broad daylight.
Who will hold accountable the man who is above the law? And, if someone can be, temporarily, above the law, what’s to stop that person from turning his temporary power into something permanent?
There’s the people, united, who could take to the streets, peacefully protest or riot, institute a general boycott with demands that Trump step down, but protests in recent years have not yielded much success, even when they got violent.
So, what are we left with? Anything? Is it too late already?
I think that depends on you and me, the everyday person; it depends on hard, painful conversations we must have with our loved ones who support Trump. It depends on our ability to make sure people are paying attention to what is actually happening to their country. It depends on taking every opportunity we get to undermine this swift rise in fascism, one person at a time.
Or maybe we’ll all eek by with a close call, and hamberders will do him in, in which case, we’ll all probably pretend like things are going to go back to “normal,” as though Trump was the disease and not just the symptom. Lest we end up with President Junior, or President Ivanka, it seems likely we’ll screw this up one way or another.
In the end, the question will be, “Did you do enough, at the right time, when your moment came to act, even if that act was small?” That’s the most we can ever ask of ourselves in times like these, isn’t it?