HALL GARDNER* – Wall Street International Magazine
A single 5- to 6-year term Presidency now
In my last essay for the Wall Street International Magazine, I argued that Democrats and Independents need to push now for a single term presidency in the effort to prevent Trump from winning a second, if not third, presidential term1.
Trump is running high with the apparent economic boom in hiring (that is financed by heavy federal debts and tax reductions for the very wealthy), and the (false) belief that he has been “totally exonerated” after accusations of electoral “collusion” with Russia.
Trump believes he can win a second term, and he could do almost anything to win. There is also a real possibility that he could attempt to stay in office longer than the legally mandated two terms in office. Much as Ronald Reagan (during his second term of office in the mid-1980s) had called for a “movement” to put to an end to presidential term limits, Trump could also attempt to start a “movement” for a third term in 2024, if he does win the presidency once again in 2020.
My argument is that Democrats could obtain greater voter support (particularly from Independents) if they promise to make more radical constitutional changes, such as limiting the terms of all public officials, most importantly the Presidency, in order to establish a more inclusive – and less expensive and less corrupt – form of democracy. If Democrats begin to argue now for a one term presidency, this could help offset Trump’s hopes to seek two (or even more) terms of office, while showing that Democrats will no longer to engage politics as usual.
There are demands for significant constitutional reform in the air. A number of leading Democrats have begun to urge constitutional amendments that would lead to the abolishment of the outdated Electoral College system. These Democrats include presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, plus Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), in addition to Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
In many ways, it was Trump’s luck to win just three states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan by less than 80,000 votes. Winning these three states by a slim majority then permitted Trump to win the Electoral College and the US Presidency despite the fact that he lost the popular vote by roughly 2.9 million votes to Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s victory was not, however, due to the assistance of Steve Bannon and the analysis of the personal data of over 50 million Facebook users provided by Cambridge Analytica, as Bannon and others have claimed2. And Trump’s victory was not due to largely ineffective Russian meddling in the US elections. In effect, Moscow’s cyber interference in US elections was an act of revenge for much more effective US interference in Ukrainian elections in 2014 that ousted the generally pro-Russian kleptocratic Viktor Yanukovich, in addition to accusations that Washington continued to secretly support political movements that opposed Putin and the United Russia party.
More importantly, Trump was able to win the election in a number of states due to general voter alienation and disenfranchisement (of those accused of criminal activity, for example), the fact that a significant number of voters supported third party candidates, dysfunctional voting machines in a number of areas, plus the fact that African-Americans (and other minorities or generally alienated voters) did not support Hillary Clinton as strongly as they supported Barack Obama, and thus did not turn out to vote in large numbers.
Given the fact that it has recently favored Republicans, Democrats evidently want to abolish the Electoral College system, which is supposed to serve as a buffer against direct-democracy demagoguery, but has not served that purpose. In addition to the Trump’s victory over Clinton, the Electoral College also permitted Republican George W. Bush to win the presidency over Democrat Al Gore in 2000. Yet perhaps Democrats should go one step further by seeking bipartisan support in the effort to limit all Presidents, regardless of their political party, to a single term, so that their anti-Republican demands for putting an end to the Electoral College do not backfire against them.
In short, Democrats should counter Trump’s dishonesty with greater honesty about the need for more substantial socio-political reforms in the highly indirect and neo-liberal system of American democratic governance. The US government needs to be more responsive to the actual needs of the American citizens and should not respond primarily to the interests of major corporations and private interests which have helped to fund Congressional and the Presidential campaigns. In addition to seeking the abolishment of the Electoral College, Democrats should also demand the implementation of a single term presidency3.
It is clear that President Trump wants to stay in power for as long as possible. To do so, Trump will not only fight back, but fight in such a way so as to even more deeply polarize American (and world) society than it is already polarized, as I argued in World War Trump (Prometheus Books, 2018).
On the domestic front, Trump is now starting to counter-attack those who had claimed that he had “colluded” with Moscow. This counter-attack is gaining in momentum after US Attorney General William Barr interpreted the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Trump and his presidential team’s activities during the US presidential elections in such a way as to conclude that Trump did not engage in “collusion” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The dilemma is that we don’t know for sure whether Barr’s interpretation of the Mueller report is correct because the Mueller report has not yet been disclosed to the public. No one except Attorney General Barr knows what is really inside that report. Nevertheless, based on Barr’s interpretation of the Mueller report, Trump has claimed that he has been “totally exonerated” even if that is not exactly what Barr’s brief 4-page summary said.
While Attorney General Barr, as Trump’s ally, claims that Trump did not “collude” (however Barr may define “collusion”) with Moscow, that claim appears to ignore evidence that Trump had secretly tried (but failed) to obtain a multi-million dollar real-estate deal in Moscow at the same time that he was running for President while adamantly denying that he had any business dealings in Russia. Given the close connection between the public and private spheres in Moscow, and particularly given the large amount of capital investment required, it appears very difficult to believe that Trump would not need to engage in some form of tacit “mutual understanding” (even if one does not use the term “collusion”) with Putin in order to secure a profitable real-estate arrangement for himself and his minions in the long term4.
Barr’s assertion that there was no “collusion” (or no form of “mutual understanding”) between Putin and Trump appears to be misleading as it does not appear to address the issue as to why Moscow purportedly began to spearphish Clinton’s emails at roughly the same time that Trump publicly called (perhaps not in jest) for Russian hackers to investigate “crooked” Hillary Clinton’s personal emails on July 27, 2016. (Trump’s public speech: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing”).
Barr’s assertation also appears to cover over the fact that just prior to Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2017, Special Counsel Mueller had indicted 12 Russian military-intelligence officers. Mueller alleged that they had hacked the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as top staffers for Hillary Clinton’s campaign5.
And why has Trump kept his conversations with Putin secret? Why did Trump remove former FBI Director James Comey (and FBI other officials) who were involved in investigating Trump’s activities from their posts? What does the Mueller report actually say about these issues, among others, including the large number of Trump associates who were doing business with Russian oligarchs before and after the 2016 presidential election?
Unless the Democrats can show otherwise – once (and if) the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is made open to the public (in part or in full) – Barr’s affirmation that the Mueller report provides no evidence of Trump “colluding” with Moscow provides President Trump with heavy ammunition to attack the Democrats and anyone who accused him of “collusion.” Democrats accordingly need full access to the Mueller report to see if Trump is, in fact, guilty of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” and to see if “collusion” with Russia is one of those alleged crimes.
In response to threats of impeachment, Trump has now begun to engage in tactics somewhat reminiscent of those used by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Trump’s Director of Communications (Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.) sent a letter to “Television Producers” specifically naming those who publicly accused Trump of “collusion” with Moscow and accusing those individuals of a lack of “credibility”.
The letter stated: “Using the information provided by Mueller, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General determined that there was no obstruction. This is all the result of the Special Counsel’s 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 500 witness interviews, 40 FBI agents, 19 lawyers, and $25 million in taxpayer funds. The only way to interpret these conclusions is as a total and complete vindication of President Trump. The issuance of these definitive findings comes after two years of Democrat leaders and others lying to the American people by vigorously and repeatedly claiming there was evidence of collusion6”. In a tacit warning, the letter urges “Television Producers” to more carefully “evaluate” how their TV guests who accused Trump of “collusion” should be “handled in the future”. Yet how could Trump’s Director of Communications make such accusations if he himself has not actually read the entire report?
The letter represents a heavy propagandistic attack on critics of Trump, in which major Democratic leaders and a former CIA Director are specifically cited. Trump has also accused comedians and actors of criticizing the Trump presidency. These accusations and counter-accusations will further polarize American society.
This domestic American conflict has already begun to spill over into the international arena with dangerous implications. Trump’s documented efforts to use the American Presidency in an effort (whether successful or not) to profit from deals with China, Saudi Arabia, as well as with Russia, among other countries, including his open talk of real estate deals in North Korea, weakens, if not undermines, American diplomatic status in the world. Trump’s personal business deals in which he tends to support one state against another could likewise threaten regional and world peace, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary.
Moreover, Trump’s efforts to re-define a number of issues as major “national security” interests, such as the border wall with Mexico, coupled with a burgeoning number of regional conflicts that could draw the US into a military intervention despite Trump’s promises not to do so, additionally raise real concerns that Trump could use such conflicts as a pretext to remain in power for as long as possible, particularly if he does win the presidential election in 2020.
As he flip-flops between claims of seeking peace and threats of war, Trump appears to believe that his efforts to establish closer personal and business ties with world leaders will create common political and economic interests that could lead to peace. According to Buzzfeed, Trump associates have actually argued that Trump’s real estate deal in Moscow would “help world peace and make a lot of money7”. Yet this form of highly personalized business diplomacy is bound to backfire as states are not businesses: States are not run like businesses, and they do not interact like businesses.
Diplomacy does not consist of “deal making” alone as Trump appears to believe. This is because interstate and intra-societal relations of power, and not only economic interests, must be taken into account. On the one hand, Trump’s efforts to reach personal business deals can open Trump up to manipulation by foreign leaderships – whether or not Trump actually engaged in some form of “collusion”. On the other hand, it appears that the failure of Trump or his family and associates to succeed in business deals can lead to conflict, given Trump’s backing for Saudi claims against Qatar, for example, rather than seeking to mediate between the two sides8.
Trump’s failure to clinch a “deal” at the Hanoi Summit with North Korea in February 2019, for example, represents a sign that his personalized form of diplomacy (the “art of the deal”) is not working as smoothly as he has led the American public to believe it would. Real diplomacy does not deal in money and business interests alone.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un believes that maintaining his personal power is more important than real estate development that could potentially undermine his controls over North Korean population. And nuclear weapons cannot be traded like Trump hats and Trump T-shirts. The US-North Korea summit apparently failed because Trump’s arch neo-conservative national security advisor, John Bolton, insisted upon the “Libyan model” for North Korean denuclearization: North Korea would need to give up all of its nuclear weapons capabilities without obtaining strong US security guarantees that the US would not engage in regime change, as was the case when Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya in 2011 after giving up all weapons of mass destruction9. Kim Jong-un wants security guarantees and not just real estate investments.
In addition to the dangerous conflict on the Korean peninsula, there is no sign that disputes between the US and Venezuela, China and Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Russia and Ukraine, are abating. With respect to the latter conflict, Trump has not been able to bring peace between Russia and Ukraine. And after Trump’s (apparently failed) efforts to forge a multi-million dollar real estate deal with Putin, Washington and Moscow are on the cusp of a renewed “Butter Battle” arms race in which Trump has opted to dump the 1987 INF Treaty which had initially helped to end the Cold War10.
In sum, the stakes are huge. Instead of Trump-style profit-oriented, personalized and unilateral diplomacy, the US needs to fully engage in concerted diplomacy, so as to bring peace to a number of regional conflicts and to prevent the further spread of both conventional and nuclear weaponry as much as possible. As the latter multilateral approach appears highly unlikely under Trump, Democrats and Independents will need to band together to prevent Trump from winning a second, if not a third, term in office. One means to do so is to advocate a single 5- to 6-year term Presidency now…
1 Gardner H., Impeachment is Not Enough, in Wall Street International Magazine * (18 March 2019).
2 Cadwalladr C., Graham-Harrison E., Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach, in *The Guardian (17 Mar 2018).
3 As discussed my book, Gardner H., World War Trump (Prometheus Books, 2018), Democrats should also consider abolishing the electoral college. The proposal of Richard Dawkins on how to reform the electoral college without a constitutional amendment was quoted incorrectly by accident in World War Trump in Chapter 10, on page 288, line 10. The sentence should have read … “every state should cast its (electoral) votes for whomever won the popular vote in the whole country” and not as the book reads “within the state.” See also, Dawkins R., Can the Electoral College System Be Reformed? (Feb 9, 2017).
4 Ghorayshi A., Cormier A., Loop E., Leopold J., These Secret Files Show How The Trump Moscow Talks Unfolded While Trump Heaped Praise On Putin, in Buzzfeed News (February 5, 2019).
5 For more details, see Bertrand N., What Mueller Leaves Behind, in The Atlantic (March 22, 2019). See also, Everything we know about the Mueller report we don’t yet have, in VICE News.
6 Memorandum To Television Producers From: Tim Murtaugh, Director of Communications, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. Regarding: Credibility of Certain Guests (Date: March 25, 2019).
7 Ghorayshi A., Cormier A., Loop E., Leopold J., These Secret Files Show How The Trump Moscow Talks Unfolded While Trump Heaped Praise On Putin, in Buzzfeed News (February 5, 2019).
8 Krassensten E., Krassenstrin B., Bombshell New Allegations: Kushner Appears to be Extorting Qatari Government in HillReporter.com (March 29, 2019).
9 Reuters, The day North Korea talks collapsed, Trump passed Kim a note demanding he turn over his nukes in CNBC (March 30, 2019).
10 Gardner H., ‘Butter Battle’ Arms Race: The New Post-Cold War, in Wall Street International Magazine (18 November 2018).
*Professor and Chair, ICP Department, American University of Paris. Hall Gardner is the author of “World War Trump: The Risks of America’s New Nationalism” and a collection of poems, “The Wake-Up Blast.”