The founders of our nation put forth a very clear and distinct definition for how long the president of the United States should serve in office.
It is true that they didn’t put into place any term limits. They deemed such limits as ineffectual, in fact, seeing as how they were a disastrous idea from the previous government of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
Term limits are presently a fixture of American politics, at least as far as the president is concerned, as the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in the middle of the 20th century, barring anyone from running for office again if they had already served two terms as president.
Though term limits may now be imposed, the rules for how long a term is itself has not budged since the inception of the Constitution. A president may serve for four years, the document states, before they must run for office again if they wish to serve a second term.
This is common civics stuff that every third-grade student already knows about. So why is it necessary to explain now? It seems the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump, is intrigued by the idea that he’s owed two more years in office than were constitutionally granted to him.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeted the idea over the weekend that he believed Trump was due the extra two years as “reparations” for the two-years-long investigation into his campaign’s alleged coordination with Russia in 2016.
After the best week ever for @realDonaldTrump – no obstruction, no collusion, NYT admits @BarackObama did spy on his campaign, & the economy is soaring. I now support reparations-Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) May 5, 2019
“Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup,” Falwell added.
Trump later tweeted his own original post in support of the notion that his first two years were “lost” due to the investigation.”
Despite the tremendous success that I have had as President, including perhaps the greatest ECONOMY and most successful first two years of any President in history, they have stolen two years of my (our) Presidency (Collusion Delusion) that we will never be able to get back…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 6, 2019
Falwell’s original comments (and Trump’s in support of them) were disingenuous at best. The investigation, in many people’s minds, was a necessary exercise in order to determine whether wrongdoing had been conducted by Trump’s inner-circle. Though no criminal action in regards to coordination between the Kremlin could be charged, there were plenty of incidents where Trump’s people acted inappropriately.
Special counsel Robert Mueller himself demonstrated a handful of instances where the president also worked to impede the investigation itself, possibly showcasing that Trump committed obstruction of justice in doing so, an impeachable offense.
Characterizing the investigation as a “coup,” then, was a wildly inappropriate statement from Falwell; suggesting that the president was owed two more years in office was even more so.
Yet even though those statements from Falwell were beyond the pale, it was enough to get the endorsement from the president himself.
Trump retweeted Falwell’s tweet, which immediately drew alarm from many across the web. Was the president suggesting he should be able to serve two years more? Or was it more an appreciation of the notion that he should be able to do so? The president has yet to offer an explanation, as of the publication of this article.
But even before Falwell’s tweet and Trump’s retweet, others had expressed worry that Trump wouldn’t step aside, should he lose the 2020 presidential election. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stated in an interview published over the weekend that, if the election for president were close and Trump lost, he might try to dispute the outcome and stay in office.
“We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Pelosi said, per reporting from the New York Times.
There’s no indication yet that Trump would try to do anything so brazen. Yet we have seen this president make moves that have thwarted not only tradition, but possibly the rule of law as well. He’s fired cabinet members for their refusal to reimplement programs already deemed to be illegal by the courts, for example, and the declaration of a national emergency to move funding toward construction of a border wall was deemed by Congress to be an unnecessary move (Trump later vetoed that resolution, but the issue will likely be heard in the courts).
It’s not too far-fetched to worry that this president will either refuse to step aside if he loses in 2020, or demand two years’ time be added to his presidency. That those two scenarios are real concerns to ponder over showcases just how far we’ve already fallen as a democracy under Trump’s “leadership.”
The founders argued in favor of guarding against an overzealous president. James Madison, in fact, objected to changes that were made to the document he submitted for consideration, changes that he feared would grant the chief executive too much power to rule. Others echoed his concernts.
Imagine how the founders would feel today, knowing that, not only were influential figures trying to suggest that the president deserved two extra years in office, but that the president himself was advocating the idea to his supporters.
Trump’s actions need to be examined with a fine-tooth comb. Many of the moves he’s made in office have shown he has no respect for precedent, and is willing to circumvent the expectations of his position in order to get his way, sometimes disregarding altogether whether his actions are legal or not.
This situation is no different. Trump must be held to account on the issue of his retweet. The media ought to hound his press secretary for answers on why he seemingly endorsed the idea of gaining more time in office. And lawmakers ought to examine responses to those questions, formulating their own to follow-up on if they are not adequately addressed.
The founders put forth a Constitution with strict rules for how long each member of the government should be able to serve. They must be rolling in their graves at the moment, as are the men and women who have defended this country and that Constitution since its inception, given the recent turn of events.
Featured image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr