Case for dump­ing Trump rests with his sup­port­ers

Let’s just look at the things we know the pres­i­dent has done re­cently

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - ME­GAN MCARDLE Me­gan McArdle is a Bloomberg View colum­nist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the At­lantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asym­met­ri­cal In­for­ma­tion. She is the au­thor of “The Up Side of Down: Why Fail­ing Well Is the Key to Su

Imag­ine, if you will, that Ge­orge W. Bush had started act­ing like Don­ald Trump part­way into his sec­ond term. I won’t even dis­cuss the stuff that’s dis­puted, like drop­ping high-level in­tel into a con­ver­sa­tion with a ri­val power, or ask­ing the FBI di­rec­tor to stop in­ves­ti­gat­ing a for­mer aide, in the ca­sual man­ner that a shady small-city mayor might at­tempt to fix a friend’s traf­fic ticket.

No, let’s just look at the things we know the pres­i­dent has done re­cently, such as sum­mar­ily fir­ing the head of the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion by send­ing a note over to FBI head­quar­ters while the di­rec­tor was out of town. Send­ing his staff to make claims about the fir­ing that he then idly re­but­ted on na­tional tele­vi­sion, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously open­ing him­self up to charges of ob­struct­ing jus­tice. Get­ting on Twit­ter to try to black­mail that FBI di­rec­tor into keep­ing mum about it all, and in the process invit­ing con­gres­sional sub­poe­nas of the pos­si­bly myth­i­cal tapes he men­tioned in that tweet. Blam­ing his staff for fail­ing to put out the dump­ster fire he started. Say­ing at a U.S. Coast Guard Academy com­mence­ment that no politi­cian in his­tory has been treated as un­fairly as him. Go­ing back to Twit­ter to com­plain about the ap­point­ment of a special coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate his ad­min­is­tra­tion, in the process mis­spelling “coun­sel” and pro­claim­ing that “This is the sin­gle great­est witch hunt of a politi­cian in Amer­i­can his­tory!” (Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, R, prob­a­bly begs to dif­fer.)

Is there any ques­tion that peo­ple would be talk­ing about in­vok­ing the 25th Amend­ment to re­move him? Not for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, but be­cause it would be ob­vi­ous that some tragic men­tal im­pair­ment had be­fallen the com­man­der in chief.

Adults of ma­ture years know not to en­gage in histri­onic self-pity in pub­lic, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause they avoid self-pity, but be­cause out­side of high school par­ties, this is a sin­gu­larly in­ef­fec­tive way to make peo­ple like and sup­port you. Com­pe­tent lead­ers do not pre­side over staff who are leak­ing what is es­sen­tially one long and an­guished pri­mal scream to any re­porter they can get to hold still. Sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als do not, sud­denly and for no ap­par­ent rea­son, say things in pub­lic that make them bet­ter tar­gets for le­gal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. If they want to threaten some­one with black­mail, they do it in hushed tones and empty rooms, for the act’s very name tells us that it is an art best prac­tised in the dark.

And so the only pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for such a quick suc­ces­sion of stun­ning lapses in judg­ment would be a se­vere stroke, an ag­gres­sive brain tu­mour or some other neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­as­ter that had ren­dered him un­fit to con­tinue in of­fice, at least un­til it could be treated. I don’t even think this would be con­tro­ver­sial, even among his sup­port­ers. “Poor fel­low,” they’d mur­mur, “the strain of the of­fice has de­stroyed his health. He has given more than his life for his coun­try.” Time to let him rest and heal while some­one else shoul­ders his Sisyphean bur­dens.

So why was it so con­tro­ver­sial when Ross Douthat re­cently sug­gested in the New York Times that it was time to start think­ing about that 25th Amend­ment? Only be­cause Trump’s pub­lic un­rav­el­ling has taken place so quickly — which is to say be­cause this was, pretty much, how he acted be­fore he took the oath of of­fice. Trump has al­ways said the kinds of things that most of us learn to think the bet­ter of around our fresh­man year of high school — not just the tragic wail­ing about how hard ev­ery­one is on him, but also the needy self-flat­tery: When he isn’t claim­ing that he knows more about Is­lamic State than our na­tion’s gen­er­als do, he is putting sim­i­larly lauda­tory words in the mouths of the bril­liant and im­pres­sive peo­ple who ap­par­ently con­stantly ring him up so they can gush like tween fan­girls at a Justin Bieber con­cert. Does he ex­pect peo­ple to be­lieve th­ese ut­ter­ances? I have no idea. But the rea­son most peo­ple don’t say such things is that whether you ex­pect them to or not, no one ever does.

As for the rest … the twit­ter rants? Check. The lack of re­spect for long-stand­ing po­lit­i­cal and in­sti­tu­tional norms? Check. The out­ra­geous, un­called-for at­tacks on any­one who gets in his way? Check-plus. All quite ev­i­dent be­fore the Amer­i­can pub­lic went to the polls in Novem­ber. And that is the rub.

It’s one thing to re­move a pres­i­dent who is clearly no longer the man (or woman) we elected to the of­fice. But this is what Amer­i­cans, in ag­gre­gate, pulled the lever for. Do his staffers and Congress have the right to step in and es­sen­tially undo that choice?

Even as a thought ex­per­i­ment, that’s a tough ques­tion. It be­comes much tougher still when we are not in a tidy text­book, but in a messy real world where his fol­low­ers, hav­ing voted for this be­hav­iour, do not rec­og­nize it as a sign of im­pair­ment. If Trump is re­moved now, they will see the re­moval not as a safe­guard, but as a soft coup. And they won’t be en­tirely un­jus­ti­fied. The dam­age to our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, and its in­sti­tu­tions, would be im­mea­sur­ably grave.

I think there’s a case for re­mov­ing Trump on the grounds that he is clearly not com­pe­tent to ex­e­cute the of­fice — not that he has com­mit­ted “high crimes and mis­de­meanours,” but that he sim­ply lacks the emo­tional and men­tal ca­pac­ity to do the job. But pre­serv­ing the very norms he’s de­stroy­ing re­quires that re­moval not be un­der­taken un­til things have reached such a state that most of his fol­low­ers rec­og­nize his prob­lems. So those of us who be­lieve that the com­pe­tence of the ex­ec­u­tive mat­ters — that there are things worse in a pres­i­dent than “more of the same,” and that what we are now see­ing is one of them — will sim­ply have to hope like heck that his sup­port­ers come to the same con­clu­sion we have be­fore he dam­ages much more than his own rep­u­ta­tion, and the hopes of the peo­ple who elected him.


Pres­i­dent Trump’s pub­lic un­rav­el­ling has taken place so quickly — which is to say be­cause this was, pretty much, how he acted be­fore he took the oath of of­fice.

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