In the closed-door remarks, a recording of which was obtained by CNN, Trump ... praised China's President Xi Jinping for recently consolidating power and extending his potential tenure, musing he wouldn't mind making such a maneuver himself."He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday."
It's likely this was an attempt at humor, but given Trump's authoritarian instincts, it's hardly reassuring to see him joking about such a thing.
Indeed, a month ago, this same American president suggested to supporters that Democrats were "treasonous" for failing to applaud his State of the Union address. Referring to his political adversaries, Trump added, "They certainly didn't seem to love our country very much."
The White House later said the comments were intended to be "tongue in cheek," but the more Trump tells these kinds of "jokes," the easier it is to believe they reflect at least part of his genuine beliefs.
China, meanwhile, which is accustomed to hearing the United States promote democratic principles, is apparently delighted by the American president's praise.
In fact, whether one is inclined to believe Trump was kidding or not, he appeared to be serious about his support for Xi Jinping. Instead of criticizing the idea of an undemocratic society leaving their unelected leader in office indefinitely, the Republican described China's policy as "great," which, not surprisingly, was a welcome sentiment in Beijing.
This shouldn't be necessary to say, but Trump's comments contradict how Americans are supposed to think about political power, though it's entirely consistent with how this president -- whose record of praise for dictators is painfully long -- tends to see the world.
And I'm afraid there's nothing funny about that.