The prefix “ex” is a preposition and means “out of,” “from,” and hence “utterly,” “thoroughly,” and sometimes meaning “not” or “without” or indicating a former title, status, etc. It’s freely used as an English formative—exstipulate; exterritorial; ex-president; ex-con; es-member; ex-wife.[1]

We all say it, some of us are it, a few of us expect it, and Trump earned it. But what are the political ethics of it? Is it politically correct to call him our former president if you are a current Republican? Is it politically correct, and therefore mandatory to say he is our ex-president if you are a Democrat?

The ethics of using prepositions, especially ones that define one’s status is the subject of this blog. Unbelievably, there is a book on this topic. “It discusses the style of ethical treatises in the three ethical books of Aristotle: the Nicomachean Ethics, the Eudemian Ethics, and the Aristotelian Ethics. It pays particular attention to the pronouns, adverbs, and prepositions in these treatises, since these provide abundant material for a statistical study of style.”[2]

This blog is limited to the ethical use of prefixes or prepositions that define while demeaning. I don’t mean “demeaning” in a mean-spirited way. I use it here to make the case that using prefixes as adjectives is an acceptable writing technique. By describing America’s most unrepentant, smack talking, up-yours president as our “ex-president,” the writer gives voice to his or her politics and sense of writing style. On the other side of the aisle, describing him as our “former president” says something about how the writer feels about his tenure in the White House.

NBC ran this headline on January 23, 2021. “Trump Shuns ‘Ex-Presidents Club’ — and the Feeling is Mutual. [3] The AP story referenced by NBC said, “It’s a club Donald Trump was never really interested in joining and certainly not so soon: the cadre of former commanders in chief who revere the presidency enough to put aside often bitter political differences and even join together in common cause. Members of the ex-presidents club pose together for pictures. They smile and pat each other on the back while milling around historic events, or sit somberly side by side at VIP funerals. They take on special projects together. They rarely criticize one another and offer even fewer harsh words about their White House successors. Like so many other presidential traditions, however, this is one Trump seems likely to flout. Now that he’s left office, it’s hard to see him embracing the stately, exclusive club of living former presidents.”

Former Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Obama have all established presidential libraries and foundations. They routinely are seen together under friendly terms despite stark political differences. The three are in the so-called, “ex-presidents club.”[4] From a narrow legal perspective, Trump is a “former” president. That is enshrined is federal law—the “Former Presidents Act.”[5] Enacted in 1958, it provides lifetime benefits to former presidents. The benefits include a “suitable office space,” Secret Service protection, around $100,000 per year to help cover the cost of a staff and a pension currently worth around $220,000 per year. His widow receives a $20,000 annual pension. And he may get up to $1,000,000 per year for “security and travel related expenses.” So, from this perspective he would likely prefer to be a former president than an ex one.

Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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[2] Arthur Kenny, 1978. “The Aristotelian Ethics: A study of the relationship between the Eudemian and Nicomachean ethics of Aristotle.” Print ISBN-13: 9780198245544. Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011.



[5] 3 U.S.C. 102.