Looked at from a certain perspective, the course of the Trump administration so far could be depicted as a series of moments best characterized by people’s reactions to them– summarized perhaps as “OMG!” or “WTF?” or “ROFLMAO!” The last might be more common, I think, if most of the stuff this incompetent buffoon puts out did not have so many serious implications. His ludicrous imposition of tariffs on our allies (Canada? CANADA?) is just the most recent example.
Unfortunately, any humor we might have found in the gyrations of a president unhindered by such mundane virtues as truthfulness and an allegiance to facts is fast becoming impossible. His clownishness has begun to have real world impacts, to the point that some think the Western political and economic order as we know it is in danger.
More than that, closer to home the implications of Trump’s attitudes and actions are crowding in on our domestic political life. To put it succinctly, we are now effectively living through a constitutional crisis. To put it more informally, this shit is getting real.
The Mueller investigation may be approaching a climax. Certainly, Trump’s hysteria over it continues to grow. This past week, it reached a gobsmacking peak when Trump asserted the idea that he can pardon himself in the event of any indictment.
Please, roll that one around in your brain for a minute. What Trump is saying, effectively, is that he is above the law. That he can commit crimes and then escape any consequences for those crimes. This is, essentially, the assertion of an absolutist privilege, something never countenanced in the Constitution or among the Founding Fathers. This would be a major cornerstone for an authoritarian regime.
I take some comfort in the fact that most people, aside from Rudy Giuliani and a few of the more servile Trumpist lackeys in Congress, think the idea either laughable or unacceptable or both. Any attempt by Trump to pardon himself, most agree, would swiftly bring impeachment down on his head. It’s so obviously a threat to our republican form of government that even hard-shelled right-wing GOP congressmen would have to reject it. As a possibility, it probably exists on in Trump’s own deluded imagination.
But to me the fact that Trump is even willing to broach the idea publicly means we must have crossed some sort of Rubicon last week. To anyone other than a true believer, there can be now no doubt as to how Trump sees himself, and himself in relation to the Republic. This man has been a threat, is a threat, and will be threat, to that republic until he has been removed from office.
Now, a reality check. It’s so easy to type the words, “remove from office”, but not at all easy to carry out in fact. Under our Constitution, removal of a president by impeachment has to meet a high bar–that of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”. This was intended by the Founders to prevent presidents from being removed for mere political disagreements. This requirement is right and proper, and has helped keep the United States from the sort of governmental chaos that other nations have all-too-often known. But it means that removing a president, even one that deserves removal, is not easily done. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted in their Senate trials, and Richard Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment against him could be completed. Removing a president by impeachment, in other words, has never actually been done.
To remove a president from office means that matters of evidence have to be presented to the Senate in a trial. If we want to remain a nation of laws– which is really what this is all about– that means we can’t impeach a president just because we dislike him or disagree with him. This is essentially what they tried with Bill Clinton and the effort fell flat, as it should have.
Evidence is what the Mueller investigation is about. At this point in time, however, we don’t know what, if anything, Mueller has uncovered, beyond the indictments that have already been made public. There is plenty of gossip, supposition and rumor about what Mueller is finding, but we really don’t know.
In the end, he may not find anything, especially around the charges of collusion with the Russians. It may be all smoke and no fire. Despite the overheated nature of press speculation around the investigation, there may yet be nothing there.
If that happens, then we have one problem– how to deal with the incompetent, narcissistic clown occupying the White House. Because, quite aside from alleged criminality, Trump is still horrifyingly unqualified to be president, intellectually, morally, and in terms of skills. He is already causing damage to the reputation of the United States, our ties with our closest allies (Canada, come back!), and our diplomatic efforts to make the world safer and more free. He has no policy other than his whims and what he thinks will please his base. And the Constitution makes no provision for the dismissal of a president for incompetence– otherwise, our history would look very different, perhaps for good, but far more likely, for ill.
In the case of Trump remaining in office, then for the sake of the country he will need to be legislatively quarantined. That would mean Congress would have to act to reduce his power and hedge him about with legislation that will limit the damage he can do. To a certain degree, this needs to happen, anyway– the powers of the presidency have grown outlandishly over the last seventy or eighty years, in large part because the successive crises this country has faced that required a strong executive power. With Trump as chief executive this realignment of the executive branch of the government becomes an emergency priority.
This would not be easy. Among other things, Congress would have to act in a bipartisan manner that’s almost a myth nowadays. This is where the paralyzed, sclerotic state of our national government would come back to bite us. An incompetent president, blundering around like a drunken Godzilla and destroying the functionality of government, our alliances, our economic ties with other countries, and on and on, should be a matter of urgency for all Americans, regardless of political stripe. Instead, we see a Republican congressional leadership, in both the House and the Senate, who have been willing to hold their nose and lend their lip-service to Trump, in the cynical hope that he will further their agenda before he topples. If Congress continues to be controlled by these sort of opportunists then there is little hope of reining in Trump, unless and until he commits some blunder so horrifying– getting us into a shooting war with North Korea, for example– that even the Republican leadership could not ignore it. But by then, the damage will be done, and millions could suffer for the GOP’s lack of courage.
If, on the other hand, the Mueller investigation does turn up evidence of an impeachable offense– well, then we have the same problem. Impeachment would require votes in the House pass the articles; the trial in the Senate would require a two-thirds vote to convict. It’s an open question whether the current majority party in either house has the patriotism and the spine to follow through with an impeachment and trial, even if a plethora of smoking guns are lined up in a row in front of them. In Watergate Republicans were among the leaders who helped force Nixon out of office. In a Trump impeachment, it seems doubtful that more than a handful of honorable GOP members would even show up.
As an aside, there used to be something called the Republican Party in this country– the party that produced Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. That party is, sadly, long, long gone.
Whether it is to contain a chaos-producing president or to impeach a criminal one, it seems unlikely that Congress in its current form will have the will or the ability to do what is needed. The only remedy then will be to change the composition of Congress in the next midterm election.
Note– this is not a partisan call for Democrats to swarm the polls. This is a call for everyone who cares about their country to vote for people who will do what is needed to contain Trump, or bring him to justice, regardless of partisan label. At this point I don’t care if you call yourself Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Tea Party, Green, Independent or People for the Restoration of High Button Shoes, if you recognize the danger Trump poses and are willing to act to counter it, we need you. Like yesterday.
After that, if Trump is still in office in 2020, he needs to be voted out. Period. End of sentence, and slam the door.
After Trump, however his administration ends, it will then be the patriotic duty of all Americans to start picking up the pieces and putting things to right. At that point, we will need to address the systemic problems of our political system that allowed this waste of mortal matter to gain the highest office in the land in the first place.
But that’s another post, for another time.