By: Ridgeway Woulfe
Recently, President Trump stated during a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser that Chinese President Xi’s bid to remove term limits, allowing him to serve indefinitely, was “great.” Lightheartedly, President Trump added, “maybe we’ll have to give that a shot one day.” The comment is being treated as a joke, and it was certainly not an immediate cause of action. Even as a joke, the comment is unnerving as, like his comments about nuclear annihilation, the Commander-in-Chief is casually commenting about his ability to end civilization as we know it, and he has not demonstrated the stability needed to consider it satirical. Further, as J. Cole said, “all good jokes contain true sh*t.” As much of the country has had concerns regarding the President’s unyielding and ruthless pursuit of power, it is worth considering how plausible it would be for President Trump to emulate President Xi’s removal of term limits.
Many are familiar with the fact that American presidents are limited to two elected terms for a total of 8 years serving as the elected president. Some are familiar with the idea that an individual can actually serve 10 years, with 2 years available to serve as a replacement for an elected president who ends his or her term early. Few know that these rules come from the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in 1951 after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt bucked tradition to serve more than the traditional 2 terms. The Amendment was seen as important to prevent a serious threat to democracy.
Since the term limits have been included in the U.S. Constitution, the only legal way for a president to serve beyond these limits is to remove the Amendment from the Constitution. Contained in Article 5 of the Constitution, the only way to repeal an Amendment is first to get 2/3 of each House of Congress to agree to propose an Amendment is repealing another, which must then be approved by ¾ of the states.
Setting aside the difficulty of getting 2/3 of both Houses of the Constitution to agree upon anything, a proposed Amendment will be thwarted by 12 states denying the Amendment. Putting it purely in political terms, ignoring the deeper philosophical and societal reasons to deny such an Amendment, President Trump is highly unlikely to extend his tenure legally. Long-standing Democratic states include California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and New Jersey. That is 14 states, enough to defy any attempt to extend Trump’s tenure. Several other states have recently shown Democratic leanings to oppose such an extension. Plus, many Republican states are likely to oppose such an Amendment from either concern about a longstanding Democratic president or about tyrannical rule.
With this, it should be understood that President Trump is highly unlikely to be able to give lifetime leadership a shot in America through legal means. Elected democratic leaders in other countries have been able to maintain executive power through illegal means, but the United States has the firepower, longstanding traditions, civil society, and worldwide significance to make such a maneuver exceedingly difficult. At the end of the day, the President’s comments should be disregarded in order to prevent unrest and distraction from the damage the President could actually cause.