President of China, Xi Jinping, in a recent speech to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), announced that China plans on opening a “super-sized” economy. The APEC forum also includes twenty other members two others include the United States and Russia. In broad terms, this forum ensures a “sustainable and inclusive Asia-Pacific”. This is not the subject of this article, however. A “super-sized” economy. That is the goal of the People’s Republic of China. Does that phrase, a “super-sized” economy, remind you of anyone? Who else would love to sit on stage and announce they were about to open a “super-sized” economy? President Donald Trump perhaps? The man behind “Space Force” is not gifted when it comes to naming. However, looking past the similarities between President Xi and President Trump’s naming techniques we notice something in their relationship. President Trump seems to be obsessed with China’s authoritarian leader. Why is this and how is it threatening to our Democracy? How does President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the election results clue us into his obsession with authoritarianism?
One of Trump’s campaign messages, when he ran in 2016, was that we have to stop letting China “rape our country”. However, his views changed after meeting President Xi in 2017. “President Xi is a terrific guy, I like being with him a lot, and he’s a very special person”. This sudden switch is not uncommon in the relationship between Trump and other strongmen leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. President Trump cozies up to President Xi because he is an authority. Trump is fascinated by the control that his Chinese counterpart has over his people. President Trump is intrigued by many actions taken by President Xi. For example, in 2018, President Xi passed a law that changed the Chinese Constitution and removed presidential term limits. President Xi Jinping became president for life with a final vote of 2,958 in favor with two votes in opposition and three abstaining. Who were those five heroes? When President Trump was asked about this news he said, “He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great,” and he went on to say at a closed-door fundraiser, “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.” This is a blatant disregard for democracy. Even if President Trump had been making a joke, this is still incredibly undemocratic and shows us even more insight into his obsession with authoritarian rulers like Jinping. His attraction to authority is blatant.
President Trump seems to like the sounds of being president for life. Since the passage of this change to the constitution in China that eliminates term limits, Jinping can essentially, do whatever he wishes and not have to worry at all about any repercussions to his actions. He does not have to worry about being re-elected. As many sources close to President Trump have said he would do anything for re-election. In Ex-National Security Advisor, John Bolton’s recently released book, he revealed some rather damning evidence into President Trump’s relationship with President Xi as well as his disregard for democracy and rule of law. According to Mr. Bolton “[President Trump] pleaded” with the Chinese President to buy United States agricultural products and help President Trump win re-election. Bolton writes “Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security,” and he went on to say that he is “hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations” (Bolton). This is abhorrent. A president obviously needs to be thinking about re-election, however, guiding every single decision made in The White House is an incredible conflict of interest.
The election has come and gone. President Trump’s fight for The White House, which should be over by now, is far from it. Now we begin to see glimpses of both President Xi as well as the “executive aggrandizement” Nancy Bermeo talks about in her piece “On Democratic Backsliding” (Bermeo). President Trump is denying the results of the election. He has launched lawsuits in various swing states around the country in hopes that, with a recount, he may win. Every day we find out that Joe Biden has won again. At this point, it feels as if President-Elect Biden has won countless times. Still, nothing from The White House to acknowledge the victory. Months before this election, President Trump has been attempting to undermine the election by facilitating the dismantling of the United States Postal Service. On top of this, he has been spreading constant rhetoric regarding fraud and unfounded claims sewing distrust in our basic democratic institutions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been the single most frightening thus far. He stepped up to the press podium to give a rundown of what has been happening. This was shortly after the election so of course there were going to be questions about why President Trump has not accepted the results of the election yet. When asked if the White House was prepared to peacefully transition to the Biden and Harris Administration. Mr. Pompeo stated they were prepared to transition to four more years of Donald Trump. Denial of election results feels like the beginning of a “President for Life” situation that President Trump has been so interested in. President Xi and maybe President Trump, Presidents for life, together. Back in September, President Trump pitched the idea at one of his rallies that “we’re gonna win four more years in the White House, and then we’ll negotiate” he finished by saying “we’re probably entitled to another four years after that” (Trump).
In Bermeo’s piece, she discusses the changes in coups. “Executive aggrandizement” is when “elected executives weaken checks on executive power one by one” (Bermeo). As in President Xi’s example, President Trump has sought to do the same. Lies and unfounded accusations, President Trump has been trying to tear the victory away from Biden and Harris. Everything this president does is in attempted mirroring of President Xi. “President for life” sounds pretty nice he says. His continued dismantling of the basic democratic structure is blatant and despotic. All of these actions President Trump has taken in his presidency have been to secure an election. Now that he has lost the election he is scrambling to find a way to win even as the likelihood decreases every day. President Trump is a one-term president and even with his lofty goals and ambitions to be the first authoritarian this country has ever seen he has failed. Or at least we should all hope so.
I thought this piece was really well done! I liked the connections you made between Trump and Xi Jinping, especially the authoritarian nature of their ruling styles. My question is that after writing this article, do you believe that Trump has done anything illegal, or perhaps, broken the precedent former U.S. presidents have set?
I know with the seating of Justice Barrett, many deemed the actions illegal and accused Speaker McConnell of breaking the rules. He did “break the rules”, so to speak, if you’re talking about the rules and norms that congress usually follows; nothing in the constitution prevents Trump appointing and McConnell confirming the Supreme Court Justice seat.
It seems like Trump is acting under “stealth authoritarianism.” Some of our academic readings have outlined how leaders will use any means possible to make their actions seem as if they are conducted in the best interest of the country. For example, you reference how Trump commented on the trade wars involving China, in which they needed to “stop raping our country.” This type of rhetoric was used to enrage Trump’s base and make them believe that most everything China has been doing hurts the U.S. economy and interests. With the narrative set-up, Trump then acted out of “our best interest” to make deals and pacts with foreign entities- in reality, most of them only benefitted the wealthiest people and corporations and left farmers, the steel and aluminum producers, and lower and middle class Americans in the dust.
So do you think there is something to be said about Trump’s troubling behaviors and actions? That even though he is within the limits of presidential power, perhaps he is overreaching his executive power and that his rhetoric is in fact dangerous to the United States?
Hi Sam, first off, I would like to say that this was a really interesting read. I think you are absolutely right to compare Chinese President Xi Jinping with Donald Trump when considering Trump’s fascination with countries ruled by strongman authoritarians like Jinping, Putin in Russia, and Kim Jong Un from North Korea. However, where I would disagree with you is that Trump’s obsession with wanting to become a strongman authoritarian like Jinping does not necessarily mean that Trump is utilizing executive aggrandizement. While Trump has certainly not been shy when expressing these authoritarian obsessions, you yourself defined executive aggrandizement as “elected executives weaken checks on executive power one by one”, and expressing desires to be an autocrat and taking initiative to become an autocrat are two different things. If Trump was taking certain initiatives to ensure that he would become an authoritative strongman like Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, then he would be taking more extreme actions such as allowing Congress for him to change the Constitution to dissolve term limits or weakening the powers of Congress and the Supreme Court. While Trump is certainly trying to take legal actions such as nominating Trump-friendly judges in courts, he hasn’t done anything majorly extreme to be considered executive aggrandizement. If anything, I would define what Trump is doing to be more in line with something like “stealth authoritarianism”. Great article nonetheless though!
First off, I really liked your blog, there is a correlation in the behaviors and rhetoric of Donald Trump and other authoritarian leaders around the world, he seems to have an interest and fascination with the leaders of authoritarian countries because he secretly wants to be them. It is also clear that he attempts adopt the same rhetoric they do in order to manipulate his supporters and the American people. He is demonstrating a kind of authoritarianism that we had in our class readings and had a very interesting conversation about during class discussion. His method of Stealth authoritarianism is attempting to make his followers believe that everything that he says and does is in the best interest of the people, giving us this “us vs them:’ complex.
It’s a way for him to justify his distaste for other people publicly by stating that its what’s best for the American people and further establishes the “America First” rhetoric he has been using since he first ran for president. Trump has obliviously tried to exercise his authoritarianism by trying to pack the supreme court, but at this point he’s only making himself look like a sore loser it will be interesting to see what more he will attempt to do before the end of his presidency, this was an excellent read.