Leaders for Life: Will Trump Join the Trend of Permanent Authoritarians?

A new era of strongmen has upended global democracy for years to come. Will Trump join the party?

By David Icke Turner

Context is not everything. It’s the only thing.

Take a quick look at the world today and you will see many nations regressing towards nationalism led by authoritarian strongmen. Yet those of us who are old enough remember when justice, prosperity, and democracy all seemed within grasp of the whole planet. Somewhere between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, there seemed a glimmering chance for the world to exit the near hundred year cacophony we had endured. Yes, shit was still fucked up. The list of atrocities and human rights abuses from that era is not a short one. Yet despite realities on the ground, there was shared belief in the solvability of the world’s ailments. Most importantly, it felt like the globe was on a march towards democracy. We forget that the multitudes of our fellow compatriots who were not alive to see that world, are missing some major context. Looking at the world today, It’s hard to believe that the breeze bent slightly towards democracy within some of our lifetimes. Now the world is at the mercy of a nationalist trend of installing strongmen to helm the world’s great powers. These potentially life-long leaders and the hyper-nationalism that supports them is the greatest threat to democracy since, well, the last time we fucking did this as a species — the years immediately preceding World War Two. 

The echoes of the twentieth century World Wars are still reverberating in the halls of power today. Last week, a massive Russian military parade rolled through Red Square after being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. The occasion was to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on the European continent.  The parades are seen by many as an effort to bolster patriotic sentiments just a week prior to a critical turning point since Vladimir Putin’s appointment to the Russian leadership on December 31, 1999.  Russia is set for next week to hold a constitutional referendum that will allow Putin to remain in office until 2036. He will be 83 at that point. Currently Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin, Putin is no friend to democracy and human rights. Murdering enemies, imprisoning dissenters, occupying sovereign territory, war crimes, and generally squashing the opposition are but a few of the reasons John McCain called Putin a “thug and a murderer.” We are likely stuck with him for the next two decades. 

China has imposed a two-term limit on its president since the 1990s. Yet Xi Jinping, who previously set to step down in 2023, has upended three decades of Chinese order and transfer of power. Xi, along with a rubber stamp from the National People’s Congress, removed the term limit; allowing Xi Jinping to remain indefinitely.

Xi has consolidated his political influence so far as the Communist Party has voted to enshrine his name and ideology into the constitution – creating a status and mythos comparable to China’s founder, Chairman Mao. This uncontained power has given Xi an open hand to put 1 million Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps, project Chinese Naval power in to disputes territories across the South China Sea, and create a multi-layered surveillance apparatus at home. 

“He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said, according to CNN. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

Xi Jinping

Not unlike Putin and Xi, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has taken notice of the ease  in governing in the absence of checks and balances. President since 2003, Erdogan has managed to gradually secure more power and less controls year by year. In 2016, Erdogan narrowly escaped a coup attempt many claimed he actually orchestrated. The story is pure boiler-plate: The Turkish military launched a highly-coordinated attempt to snatch power  in several cities aimed at toppling Erdogan and his government. This coup attempt was the bloodiest in Turkey’s  political history. The following year, Turkish parliament narrowly approved an amendment to the executive structure of government. The changes made Turkey’s presidency the premier executive office and dissolved the Prime Ministership. Now Erdogan was effectuating complete control over Turkish military, government, and civic society. He has since used his political capital to invade Kurdish held areas of Syria, threaten Europe with a renewed migrant crisis, and test the limitations of NATO camaraderie. That said, Erdogan fulfilling the same tyrant status as Putin and Xi is yet to be seen. Erdogan and Turkey could swing either; as demonstrated by Turking intermittency through the major conflicts of the 20th century. 

Though having served only 11 years, Benjamin Netanyahu is less afraid than Erdogan to throw his power around. Currently in his 4th term, the Israeli Prime Minister is renowned for his list of human rights abuses, violation of U.N. resolutions, and administration of an apartheid state. Earlier this year, he proposed an annexation of the West Bank, effectively ending Palestinians self determination and promised statehood. The Trump administration has greenlit the annexation and it could happen in weeks. Now the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history, ‘Bibi’ is not constrained by any term limits. Though he has hinted at an agreement to transfer power in 18 months, his willingness to acquiesce power is in doubt.  

Benjamin Netanyahu in Vanity Fair

Not all leaders had to wrestle control of power from unwitting populations and governments Sometimes, your predecessor hands you the keys to the jeep. The globe is scattered with theocratic and/or authoritarian leaders who were either appointed or claim hereditary lineage. Ayatollah Ali Khamanei has had the last say in Iran since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Dubbed the ‘Supreme Leader’, there is no doubt as to where the power resides in Iranian governance. But religious austerity hasn’t stopped Khamenei from accumulating wealth. The Ayatollah is reported worth $95 Billion. No, discussion of life-long leaders is complete without a mention of Kim Jong Un. Only 39 years old, the world is likely to continue to see him in the headlines for about 40+ years. That is unless he mysteriously dies. Chances are, Xi needs to keep him as a lever to push and pull the U.S.  

Finally, never before in modern history has there been a rational fear as to whether an American president would cede power to a candidate that vanquished him/her in an election. That fear is suddenly realized in Donald Trump.  The idea of a narcissist of his magnitude voluntarily leaving office seems unlikely. The danger of him actually being prosecuted once he leaves office naturally adds to the suspicion. Shit, Trump quips regularly about how great it would be if he stayed in office and how his supporters may demand it.

So much so that Democratic nominee Joe Biden recently took the time to address it. Biden recently warned Trevor Noah of his fears that his “single greatest concern” is that President Donald Trump will “try to steal this election.” Later, the former vice president reassured Noah that he is “absolutely convinced” the military would “escort Trump from the White House if he loses the election but refuses to leave office.” That simply is not enough to put me at ease. Trump has been signaling a possible dispute coming after the November election as he has already claimed it is fraudulent. “The Democrats are trying to Rig the 2020 Election, plain and simple!” the president recently claimed. Now, I get it. It may seem extraordinary and hard to believe that the sitting U.S. president would not participate in a peaceful transfer of power upon losing an election. Yet after all the absurdity we have seen so far this year, are you willing to rule it out? Is anything beyond the pale at this point?


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