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Renée Graham

Trump’s clenched fist presidency

From left: President Rodrigo Duterte, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, President Xi Jinping, and President Vladimir Putin.GLOBE STAFF PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS never sugarcoated his admiration for the world’s authoritarians.

Of course, there’s his crazy love for Vladimir Putin. Trump is so enthralled with his Russian overlord, he has refused to enforce new sanctions against Russia. This, despite the fact that Congress sorted itself out just long enough last year to pass a bipartisan bill empowering the president to do so.

And never mind that there’s ample evidence that the Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Trump will never hurt the one he loves.

Yet the 45th president isn’t strictly a one-dictator man. He’s smitten with all of them — or rather the absolute powers they exert.


That’s why any notion that Trump was only joking when he mentioned doing away with presidential term limits is itself a joke.

At a Republican fund-raiser last weekend at his Palm Beach resort, Trump was captured on audio crowing about President Xi Jinping’s successful push to change China’s constitution and abolish its 10-year presidential term limit.

“He’s now president for life. President for life,” Trump said. “No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.” Overheard sycophantic snickering aside, Trump was as serious as a heart attack.

White House apologists pitch the fiction that the president has a wacky sense of humor. He does not. It’s common knowledge that Trump tries to subvert our Constitution (except for the Second Amendment) as often as possible. It’s easy to imagine him side-eyeing the 22nd Amendment, limiting US presidents to two terms in office, as all that stands between him and his fervent dictatorial dreams.

It’s not just about term limits. Since becoming president, Trump has done nothing to address this nation’s opioid crisis — except talking about killing drug dealers. “Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty — and by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” he said at a recent White House summit on opioid abuse.


Trump has reportedly praised Singapore, with its mandatory death sentences for drug trafficking offenses. In the Philippines, more than 12,000 suspected dealers and users have died in extrajudicial killings ordered by Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ president.

Notice that Trump never complained after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail twice assaulted anti-Erdogan protesters on American soil. Instead he calls the Turkish autocrat “a friend of mine.” This is why I believe Trump, no matter the many insults he hurls, reveres North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He’s like a boy who taunts a girl both to get her attention and to disguise his secret crush. These days, he may call Kim “little Rocket Man,” but he also called him a “pretty smart cookie” in dealing with “some very tough people.”

Kim is beholden to no one, and that’s how Trump wants to operate his presidency. In the meantime, he’ll have to make do with a self-aggrandizing Kim-style military parade in November, which is being challenged in a lawsuit.

It’s no mistake that Trump is often photographed so that an Oval Office portrait of President Andrew Jackson, whose savage policies led to the deaths of thousands of indigenous people, is visible. What Trump wants is a presidency that allows him to do whatever he wants — to punish his critics, to eliminate any perceived enemy, and to operate unhampered by a pesky Constitution, a free press, or protesters. That’s why he rails incessantly about how “fake news” is so unfair to him. He’s still can’t grasp how anyone is allowed to get away with challenging his attempts to get away with everything. His authoritarian pals would know what do with such insolence.


It’s no accident that Trump often raises his clenched fist on stage. It is a triumphant gesture to his supporters, but also a threat to those who oppose him. These are the menacing optics of a president who wants limitless power shaped by only his own grudges and desires.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham