I am returning to a previous theme of some of my WSI articles and my book World War Trump. There is another way to prevent Trump from running for President again: Prevent any president from seeking a second term.
Congress must take the initiative to prevent any president from wasting time and resources in the effort to be re-elected for a second term when there are so many other pressing issues that need thoughtful and disinterested presidential decision-making that should not be perverted by personal considerations.
The failure to impeach
The Democrats failed to impeach Trump in a second impeachment bid that was intended to punish Donald Trump for inciting the siege of the Capitol and to prevent Trump$4EVA from ever running for President again. The deeper intent was to punish Trump for his efforts to undermine Constitution itself. But the effort failed.
Nothing has more de-legitimized Donald Trump as a future presidential candidate than knowing how he reveled in the siege of the Capitol and did nothing for 6 hours to stop it. This was true even though he was probably aware that he had put government officials in danger—including his own Christian conservative ally Mike Pence. Trump refused to act even though he was purportedly urged by his fellow Republicans, family members and others to call off his Trump$4EVA maniacs and send in the police and national guard to clear the Capitol.
Trump’s refusal to act was, in itself, a dereliction of duties and an impeachable offense. It showed he could care less for anyone who does not show absolute loyalty to him. Trump then tried to blame leftists and the amorphous anti-fascist group Antifa for the attack—when the evidence points to the fact that it was a band of his most fanatical Trump$4EVA supporters who had violently sieged the Capitol. Many of those supporters believed that they were following Trump’s directives.
Much like the Blackshirts of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, but mainly flying Confederate flags, these groups have threatened violence and intimidation in support of Trump$4EVA’s quest for power. There is a real danger that Trump or other authoritarian demagogues could still try to manipulate these groups in an effort to achieve their future political goals. And Trump will continue to tell the Big Lie that it was not his supporters who engaged in violence…
Significance of Senate acquittal of Trump
Many Republican Senators refused to vote for Trump’s impeachment on the excuse that Trump was already out of office. The fact that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) eventually stated that he would vote to acquit the former President meant that most of the GOP would also vote to acquit him. Only seven Republican senators voted for impeachment when 10 more votes were needed to convict him. As McConnell put it, “There's no limiting principle in the Constitutional text that would empower the Senate to convict former officers that would not also let them convict and disqualify any private citizen.”
Yet not only were the Republicans opposed to impeachment, but the Democrats appeared to give up on the process. It appears that the Biden administration may have wanted to get on with other important business, so the impeachment managers did not call new witnesses in order to prove that Trump actually knew that Mike Pence and other officials were in danger during the siege—contrary to Trump’s claims.
At the same time, the Democrats may have calculated—by agreeing not to seek new witnesses—that this would force the Republicans themselves to deal with Trump and Trumpists—thus dividing the Republican party.
Yet such a calculation possesses a double risk:
1. It might prove very difficult for the Democrats to muzzle Trump and his allies even if the Republicans begin to splinter. The fact that Trump has been doing battle with the Courts for many years might not stop him or his allies from running, or from re-building a new party.
2. More importantly, by acquitting Trump, Congress has opened a legal can of worms that could permit a future want-to-be-authoritarian president to engage in similar behavior with a strong belief in his/her impunity.
Will Trump be prosecuted?
Even though the Senate GOP leader McConnell did not vote for Trump’s impeachment, he nevertheless warned: “The leader of the free world (Trump) cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise… (Trump) seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out…. President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run. ... Didn't get away with anything yet.”
There are at least two investigations relating to Trump’s business dealings in New York and one relating to his attempt to alter his election to his favor in the state of Georgia. There are several criminal investigations of Trump’s actions, including incitement to violence and lawsuits for defamation and accusations of rape.
One proposal was that Congress prevent Trump from ever running for Federal office again by pursuing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment; yet this appears ruled out due to the Constitution’s prohibition of a bill of attainder. Other proposals include calls for an independent Commission or better, a Congressional Committee—much like the Church Committee that had investigated the CIA and other government agencies in the 1970s. Such a committee would thoroughly investigate Trump’s actions and the siege.
How these lawsuits and proposed Congressional investigations might play out in the future remains to be seen. The crucial issue is that acquitting Trump, and then try to tie him up in the courts on criminal charges and investigate his behavior, does not address the deeper issue: The dysfunctional nature of American democratic governance. What is needed is more fundamental US constitutional reforms that limit the power of the presidency and that strengthen the role of Congress.
Strengthening the role of Congress
In addition to preventing Trump from running for the presidency again, and punishing him for inciting the siege of the Capitol, one of the major purposes of the impeachment process was to “strongly reassert Congress as the dominant branch of the US government.”
These were the words of Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, who is a Democratic Representative in the House. Raskin had previously introduced a bill in 2017 to strengthen the 25th Amendment by creating a Congressional body that could have acted to remove Trump without needing to ask Vice President Pence to go to the cabinet. As it turned out, Pence and the presidential Cabinet refused to act against Trump.
Raskin’s proposed reform would have strengthened the hand of Congress against the excessive power of the Executive branch. Yet even then—as necessary as that reform is—much more needs to be done to reform the dysfunctional structure of the US government and make it more responsible to the American people as a whole— while limiting presidential power.
If Democrats, Independents, as well as moderate and neo-conservative Republicans, really want to prevent—or at least limit—the real possibility of a pro-Trumpist backlash in the future that could win the presidency—whether such a movement is led by Trump, his daughter, or by someone else with authoritarian leanings—Congress needs to go much farther.
Congress needs to engage in more far reaching political and economic reforms as soon as possible. What is needed is a stronger, more independent, Congress that can stand up to both presidential power and to the military-industrial complex, Silicon valley, financial, pharmaceutical, big Media and energy corporations, as well as those corporate elites who became 40% richer in the first 10 months of the pandemic.
One way to augment the powers of Congress is to pass a constitutional amendment that limits the president to a single 6-year term in office so that he/she cannot run for the presidency again.
Trump’s fake campaign promises
Here, Trump’s second term campaign promises had proposed term limits for Congress members—but not for presidents. Republicans had also proposed “Exposing Washington’s Money Trail and Delegate Powers Back to People and States”—but did not propose exposing Trump’s own money trail! If Trump would not even show his own tax returns, how could his Trump$4EVA followers believe that he would expose the money trail of Congress? Here it is clear that greater transparency with respect to the influence of special interests is needed for both Congress and the President.
Nothing has more de-legitimized the presently dysfunctional system of American democratic governance than watching Donald Trump fly from state to state in the last few weeks of his term in an effort to be re-elected. This fact revealed that he cared much more about his re-election prospects than he did with dealing effectively with the Covid-19 pandemic, working to fix the calamitous state of the US and global economy, or engaging in diplomacy to ameliorate the increasingly dangerous state of the world.
It is clear many of Trump$4EVA policies and actions from the very first day of his (fortunately!) one term in office were intended to permit him to stay in power for as long as possible—so that he, his family, and close allies and business associates, could profit from his time in office.
Even though Trump$4EVA had additionally campaigned on the promise to “Stop Endless Wars and Bring Our Troops Home,” the fact of the matter is that he did not put to a complete end to these horrific conflicts while he undermined the State Department’s ability to fully engage in diplomacy. This task to put an end to these wars has now been left for the Biden administration. To his credit, Biden had urged Obama to wind down the war in Afghanistan when he was vice-president. And Biden has promised to put an end to the horrific war in Yemen. Let us see if he can…
And despite his pretended criticisms of the military-industrial complex, Trump began to revamp and modernize US defense capabilities by shifting American global strategy away from the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and toward preparation for Major Power Warfare. In effect, contrary to his promises, Trump has boosted the power and influence of the American military-industrial complex that possesses a highly negative impact on American democracy—as forewarned by former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1960 farewell address.
Unless put under stronger Congressional controls, so that US military interventions are not primarily under the direction of the Executive branch, the American military-industrial complex will remain a force that will continue to dominate and influence the policies of America and the world—long after Trump leaves the political scene.
Toward a single term presidency and other reforms
President Biden has rapidly begun to dismantle a large number of Trump’s actions by executive order. One can only hope that Biden and his administration will make much better choices than did Trump and his administration.
No president is perfect. Yet in order to limit the risks that a president could use his time in office to make major decisions that merely support his own personal interests, or that serve the interests of his/her re-election, Congress should pass a constitutional amendment that limits any president to a single 6-year term. Both Woodrow Wilson (before he decided that he would run for a second term anyway) and Jimmy Carter had proposed a single term presidency.
A single-term presidency would permit other presidential candidates the chance to run for president, but the President-in-power would not be permitted to assist those candidates. As only his political party would be concerned with choosing another presidential candidate—and that could include the vice-president, but only if he/she steps down as vice president—then the president-in-power could better focus (hopefully) on the real needs of the country and immerse himself/herself in the pressing needs of the country and the world.
In such a way, no future president—whether Democrat, Republicans or from a third party—would waste the precious time and resources of the Presidency on his personal re-election campaign for a second term.
A 6-year single-term limit for any President represents the most important of many pressing reforms that can help repair the dysfunctional nature of American democracy. The Supreme Court and Congress also need significant reforms. Reforms are also needed to revive peace-oriented diplomacy in the State Department and attempt to reduce the influence of the so-called “blob”—the foreign policy and national security establishment.
As I hope to discuss in a forthcoming WSI article, reforming Congress will help ameliorate the problems caused by what Francis Fukuyama has called “vetocracy”—but which, in reality, does very little to veto the demands of the military-industrial-complex which almost always seems to get what it wants from Congress due to the fact that military industries are spread out among most of the 50 states1.
The problem is not to eliminate “checks and balances”—but to make those checks less prominent while augmenting the power of Congress relative to the president. Finding ways to select a Supreme Court that possesses a better balance of differing legal and constitutional perspectives is also crucial.
The Biden administration will only be able to heal and unify the country if it begins to engage in much-needed reforms of Federal, State, and Local governments. Perhaps most importantly, Biden—and the next president after him— will need to engage in effective political-economic policies. Such reforms need to find ways to more proportionally distribute wealth in an era in which the gaps between the super rich and rich, the middle classes, and the poor, has become outrageously disproportionate.
Reforming the dysfunctional American system of democratic governance will not take place overnight as it will require difficult-to-achieve Constitutional amendments. Nevertheless, the task of the Biden administration and of future American leaderships must be to work toward the reconciliation of a highly polarized American population, while concurrently engaging in global peace-oriented diplomacy that seeks to ameliorate regional and major power disputes and conflicts.
Steps must be taken soon to prevent a combination of American domestic upheaval and regional conflicts from provoking a major power confrontation.
1 See my argument in Gardner H., World War Trump.