Trump’s sacking of FBI Director James Comey has excited many to think that this, coupled with the debacle of his first “100 days,” makes the end of his incumbency — either as the result of impeachment over the Russia connection or by defeat at the polls in about three years — almost certain. However dark things revealed in this same time frame should cause us to ponder if this man would be so easily removed.
Remember, Trump has proclaimed that his 2016 popular vote defeat was the result of illegal voting and fraud. He has continually disparaged the media as “the enemy” so that journalistic endeavors to correct his lies are discredited individually and, increasingly, institutionally. He has repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the judicial system and its judges, encouraging the public to believe that they are personally biased not just against his positions but against him personally.
His efforts to create new laws have foundered on his hostility and resistance to working cooperatively with even members of his own party. He has left a huge part of the White House Executive Branch unstaffed and prefers to work with his family members rather than congressionally ratified appointees.
As a result, Trump has issued by far the most executive orders of any president in a comparable time. He finds it pleasurable to govern by fiat.
Thus the “dark” thoughts.
Trump clearly has admiration for national leaders that have little truck with democracy — praise for Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has now created by intimidation and suppression the probability of a lifetime tenure in Turkey. Then there’s Abdel el-Sisi, who forcefully took power from the democratically elected leader of Egypt, as well as Trump’s “warm” words for Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, a president who has killed more than 7,000 of his people in extra judicial executions since assuming office. This gives us insight into the sort of leader Trump would like to become. He has long expressed admiration for Putin, of course. More recently he has even had kind words for the travails faced by the Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un!
By contrast Trump ridicules leaders who respect democracy, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull, or Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
So the question: Could Trump refuse to vacate the U.S. presidency if either impeached or defeated in election? Certainly.
His claims that ballots are being illegally cast by noncitizens and dead people would provide the “alternative facts” on which to justify that he has not been legitimately defeated in an election. Any judicial validation of the election or impeachment would be cited as further example of the court system bias against him. News reports and the talking-head experts who point out facts and law and precedent against Trump will be dismissed as “fake media.”
Would Trump ask his supporters take to the streets to defend his continued occupation of the Presidency? Certainly Trump showed little hesitation at asking for their physical support against protestors at his campaign events, and many were please to respond to that call.
Would such efforts be sufficient to block an election or impeachment?
The answer to this rhetorical question should be taken in the context of an analysis of what his voters believe. Opinion polls show that despite Trump’s record low national approval ratings, those who voted for him remain supportive in high numbers. And they do so despite acknowledging that he has not done what they think he promised to do! We also should notice that Trump continues to curry the favor of the NRA (just addressed their convention) and the military (huge proposed increase in the DOD budget) and other organizations with members who are used to the idea that force may be soon needed by “citizen patriots” to protect the U.S. from internal enemies.
So while we might be heartened by Trump’s admission that the job of president is harder than he imagined and that it was easier to be a real estate tycoon, we should not be sure that his answer to this is to return to private life. He might just plan to substitute private fiat for public discourse and stay in the job until he thinks his children are able to replace him. Just like Kim Jung-un’s dad did.