The Atlantic

Trump Might Not Want to Relinquish Power

Presidents leave. Czars stick around.
Source: Getty / The Atlantic

Updated at 9:30 p.m. ET on July 12, 2020

American presidents customarily leave office when voters reject them. Czars, emperors, and would-be prime ministers for life do whatever they can to hold on to power. To extend his rule until 2036, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently held a referendum to amend his country’s constitution. While some Russians publicly opposed the proposal, few had any doubt about the outcome. Two years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping succeeded in eliminating term limits that had been established after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution—a period of ideological madness that killed tens of millions of people, including family members of the country’s ruling class. In his grand presidential address of 2017, Xi stated specific objectives for his nation to achieve by 2025, 2035, and 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China—suggesting that he intended to lead China until at least 2035 (when he would be 82).

Even in democracies, circumstances sometimes allow deeply compromised leaders to remain in office. Benjamin Netanyahu has already become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, having survived repeated scandals. He is currently facing an indictment for bribery and fraud brought by Israel’s attorney general. In the past year, even though he could

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