This Dangerous Moment
Ross Douthat argues today for “the 25th Amendment solution”: the cabinet and Congress removing Trump from office over his failure to be able to discharge his duties. Excerpt:
Read the things that these people, members of his inner circle, his personally selected appointees, say daily through anonymous quotations to the press. (And I assure you they say worse off the record.) They have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him, and to regard their mission as equivalent to being stewards for a syphilitic emperor.
It is not squishy New York Times conservatives who regard the president as a child, an intellectual void, a hopeless case, a threat to national security; it is people who are self-selected loyalists, who supported him in the campaign, who daily go to work for him. And all this, in the fourth month of his administration.
This will not get better. It could easily get worse. And as hard and controversial as a 25th Amendment remedy would be, there are ways in which Trump’s removal today should be less painful for conservatives than abandoning him in the campaign would have been — since Hillary Clinton will not be retroactively elected if Trump is removed, nor will Neil Gorsuch be unseated. Any cost to Republicans will be counted in internal divisions and future primary challenges, not in immediate policy defeats.
Meanwhile, from the perspective of the Republican leadership’s duty to their country, and indeed to the world that our imperium bestrides, leaving a man this witless and unmastered in an office with these powers and responsibilities is an act of gross negligence, which no objective on the near-term political horizon seems remotely significant enough to justify.
I have for a long while believed that Trump is unfit for office, and, as such, I do not disagree with all — or even most — of Douthat’s characterizations. In addition, I continue to think that this president is his own worst enemy: The press is hostile, yes, but Trump seems utterly hellbent on making things difficult for himself. Nevertheless, at this point in American history — a point at which large numbers of voters in both parties believe that the system is “rigged” – for the president to be undone by a small group of establishment Republicans and replaced with a career politician would be disastrous for the culture. If it turns out that Trump has done something terrible while in office, he should be impeached by the usual process. If he finds that he no longer likes or wants the job, he should resign. But a legalized coup on the nebulous grounds of “witlessness” would be an invitation for discord the likes of which we have not seen in a while.
Chris Arnade, writing from the left, agrees. If you don’t know who Arnade is, he’s a liberal (and former Wall Streeter) who travels America photographing and talking to the poor and working-class folks. He’s been a particular scourge on his own side, dunning the Democratic elites for looking down on the white working class and its travails. Unlike a lot of Acela corridor pundits (and unlike yours truly, whose butt is in Louisiana but whose head is more often than not in the Acela corridor), Arnade has actually been out among the Trumpenproletariat, and sympathizes with their plight, if not their politics. His Twitter feed is a daily must-read. Today he writes that Douthat’s proposal is a terrible idea:
Failure to do so is not understanding how visceral, broad, and deep the anger in much of the country is.
Why you think Trump was elected?
— Chris Arnade (@Chris_arnade) May 17, 2017
I think all three men are mostly right — and that fact expresses the frankly terrifying situation the United States is in right now.
Douthat is correct about the perils of someone of Trump remaining in office. He does not know what he’s doing, and cannot control himself. Nobody in Washington can or should trust him. He has all but destroyed his own presidency. True, he gave us a good (we think) Supreme Court justice, but all the other things Trump might have accomplished will almost certainly not happen now, because of the non-stop drama that Trump causes. And he’s such a narcissist that even after he has screwed up so badly in the past two weeks that he has some Republicans in Congress using the i-word (impeachment), he stood today before graduating Coast Guard members and whined about how mean everybody is to him:
Trump at Coast Guard Commencement: “No politician in history…has been treated worse or more unfairly”
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) May 17, 2017
If one of my kids said that, I would chastise them for self-pity and excuse-making. You would do the same to your kids. This is a 70-year-old man who is President of the United States.
So it’s a massive risk having a man-child like this as Commander in Chief of a nuclear-armed great power. Having said that, removing him, even if done constitutionally, also runs a massive risk, for the reasons Cooke and Arnade identify. It is hard to imagine how the Washington establishment removing Trump from office would be received by Trump’s supporters. True, he got half the vote in the election last fall, and no doubt a significant number of those who voted for him would by now not be sorry to see Mike Pence take over. But I think it safe to say that there is and will be a hard core of Trump backers who are so furious at the establishment that there is nothing Trump can do to alienate them. You don’t think these folks are going to sit back quietly and take it, do you? No matter how justified the case for removing Trump might be, doing so will exact a tremendous, unpredictable cost on the political stability of our system.
It might still be the wiser choice. It is not clear to me which is the riskier move, though the release of all the Comey memos, and Comey’s testimony before Congress, will no doubt make that answer clearer. Not to mention what fool things Trump does in the weeks to come.
If you are having trouble imagining why some people cling to Trump despite it all, I want you to read this story from the Washington Post. Excerpts:
As the dean of Yale University’s Pierson College, June Chu is responsible for advising about 500 students and fostering “a familiar, comfortable living environment” in keeping with the university’s residential college system.
Chu’s biography states she has a PhD in social psychology and touts a long career in which she has “sought to help students not only succeed academically but to support their holistic academic experience and multifaceted identities.”
But the administrator’s seemingly supportive and culturally sensitive persona has been marred since Yale students came across her Yelp account. Images of Chu’s controversial Yelp reviews began circulating among Pierson students in recent months and were published by the Yale Daily News on Saturday.
The problem wasn’t so much what she said about the New Haven eateries and businesses she reviewed but rather her comments on the people who frequented them.
The posts, published over the course of the last few years, referred to customers as “white trash” and “low class folks” and to some employees as “barely educated morons.”
“If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!” Chu wrote in a review about a Japanese restaurant, which she said lacked authenticity but was perfect for “those low class folks who believe this is a real night out.”
When Chu was exposed, she apologized … to the Yale community. The white trash, the low class folks, the barely educated morons of New Haven — well, they don’t count to June Chu, PhD, dean of Yale University’s Pierson College.
Chu’s expression of contemptible race and class bigotry tells a lot of people in this country what the elites think of them. It’s like Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” remark. Trump hates those elites, and they hate Trump, therefore the deplorables feel solidarity with Trump. The actual truth of what Trump said or did as president does not matter as much as that emotional truth, any more than the actual truth of what Michael Brown or Alton Sterling did matters to black people who see them as symbols of a deeper truth about American society.
It ought not be that way, but it is. “He may be a fool, but he’s our fool/If they think they’re better than him, they’re wrong,” sang Randy Newman sang in his great satirical song “Rednecks” (which is NSFW), about populism and elitism. All this makes the job of the members of Congress who sit in judgment of Trump that much harder.