The Future Of A Trump Presidential Library Is Weirdly Complicated
After a chaotic term that culminated in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, former President Donald Trump is now faced with shaping his legacy outside the White House. A presidential library — the traditional shrine to his time in office — would almost surely allow him to cement a place for himself in American history (and on his terms, no less). Every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover has gotten one, but will Trump have a presidential library of his own? Considering how complicated it is to get one up and running, you shouldn't get your hopes up just yet.
On Jan. 20, Trump left Washington, D.C., as president for the last time, and headed to his sprawling Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, which he'd been preparing for permanent residence. But it seems like Mar-a-Lago wasn't the only thing he was working on: Trump may have plans for another Florida project. While no official announcements have come from Trump's camp, there's been speculation about a potential presidential library in the Sunshine State, per The Washington Post. Trump reportedly wants to raise $2 billion for the project, which he expects to receive in small donations from grass-roots supporters, per the Post.
Presidential libraries traditionally house documents, objects, and records relating to a president's time in office, and have become a standard post-term way to preserve (and occasionally, polish up) a president's legacy. According to the National Archives, presidential libraries "promote understanding of the presidency and the America experience" and are largely meant to preserve the history of a president's time in office for public use and research. However, because the funding comes largely from private nonprofits organized by the former president or their allies, they're often favorable to their subject, something that may appeal to the famously image-conscious Trump. As one historian in the Post predicted, Trump's future library might be "a shrine to his ego."
Building and officiating a presidential library is also difficult and expensive. Because no federal funds or property may be used to procure the resources, presidents usually begin planning and fundraising years before their terms are over. The task is even more challenging for a president after leaving office, especially if they've been dealt two impeachments in just one term.
If the former president wants the library to be an official federal facility, he's got to donate it to the government. In that case, the law requires him to provide a financial endowment to the National Archives that would cover 60% of the library's maintenance costs. Otherwise, he'll be stuck footing the entire upkeep bill for as long as the building stands, and that could amount to millions of dollars in drained assets each year. Trump's financial assets are already in jeopardy: Per The New York Times, as of the end of 2020, the former president is already $300 million in debt, with a $100 million tax payment due within the next four years.
According to one of Trump's own top fundraisers, the chances of Trump raising the money are pretty slim. “I have no clue where they think they’ll get this money raised. Anyone who gives to him will be radioactive,” an anonymous fundraiser told the Post. Yikes.
On the other hand, this is 2021, and why shouldn't that work-from-home life include a digital library? With Trump's term officially over, the National Archives already has a Trump Presidential Library website, although it's pretty sparse. As of February 2021, it houses biographies of Trump and former first lady Melania, archives of Trump-era websites, and, yes, archives of Trump-era social media accounts, including Twitter. However, it takes time to archive non-official accounts, meaning the former president's personal (and banned) Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, isn't yet included.
There are a lot of things that are uncertain about Trump's future in politics. At least he can rest easy knowing that he can expect to control his presidential library — should it ever happen.