A step too far

New Zealand Listener - - EDITORIAL -

As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing sinks to an all-time low, there has been a com­men­su­rate rise in the use of up­dates on his pres­i­dency car­ry­ing the un­abashedly hope­ful hash­tag: Im­peach-O-Me­ter. As the dial moves up, how­ever, the Trump-averse world should be care­ful what it wishes for. Nearly eight months into his pres­i­dency, Trump is an in­creas­ingly iso­lated and im­po­tent fig­ure who has man­aged to de­liver al­most none of his cam­paign prom­ises. The one stand­out – pulling his coun­try out of the Paris cli­mate-change ac­cord – could prove cat­a­strophic. But what ap­pears to have taken much of the Pres­i­dent’s at­ten­tion in re­cent times has been his com­bat­ive tweets. Some have been sim­ply in­cen­di­ary. Trump made a point, af­ter the Char­lottesville ri­ots, of giv­ing the ben­e­fit of the doubt to Nazis and Klans­men. As one com­men­ta­tor wryly noted, “If we’re tak­ing down every mon­u­ment that pays trib­ute to racists, we should prob­a­bly take down every build­ing with the name ‘Trump’ on it.”

But those fix­at­ing on the means and tim­ing of his demise will prob­a­bly be disappointed for the fore­see­able fu­ture – and that, per­versely, is not a bad thing. Were Trump ei­ther to quit in pique and frus­tra­tion or, worse, be re­moved by ei­ther of the le­gal means avail­able, the US would risk be­ing plunged into civic un­rest on an un­know­able scale

Trump still has con­sid­er­able sup­port – not least from a so­cially dis­af­fected rump that might not hes­i­tate to form mili­tias and try to in­sti­gate civil war.

Legally, a pres­i­dent can be re­moved only if he has com­mit­ted a crim­i­nal act or is as­sessed as be­ing “un­able to dis­charge the pow­ers and du­ties of his of­fice”. Ei­ther step could be un­der­taken only by his fel­low politi­cians, with the as­sis­tance of le­gal and/or med­i­cal ex­perts. Thus the aveng­ingly pop­ulist pres­i­dent would be seen to be thwarted by the very elites he was elected to put in their place.

Even among his law-abid­ing sup­port­ers, there would be an un­der­stand­able sense of griev­ance at his re­moval this way.

The fed­er­a­tion could spi­ral into a long pe­riod of un­rest and dys­func­tion­al­ity.

It is im­per­a­tive that democ­racy be al­lowed to take its course, how­ever lam­en­ta­ble. Pro-Trump vot­ers will be hard enough to per­suade that their ex­per­i­ment with a big-promis­ing dem­a­gogue has failed with­out his as­cend­ing to mar­tyr­dom. Trump al­ready sees him­self as the heroic vic­tim stand­ing up to per­se­cu­tion by pow­er­ful elites, lib­er­als and, of course, the me­dia.

By now it’s clear that although there is prac­ti­cally noth­ing his Repub­li­can Party can do to in­flu­ence or re­strict his be­hav­iour, he will con­tinue to strug­gle to im­ple­ment his agenda. Re­veal­ingly, both his re­cently dis­missed aide and muse Steve Ban­non and erst­while cheer­leader Ann Coul­ter have now de­clared that the pres­i­dency they fought for is over. Ban­non let a re­as­sur­ing cat out of the bag when he said last week that

Trump had no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion or re­dress with re­spect to North Korea. His “fire and fury” was an empty threat. Ban­non would know. Now banished like the rest of Trump’s kitchen Cab­i­net – save for Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, per­haps only be­cause he can­not be sacked – Ban­non has been at the heart of this ad­min­is­tra­tion. Some might say it’s fool­hardy to fire so many of your con­fi­dants at the very time you face a se­ri­ous crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Scarcely a day goes by now that Trump does not bring the in­sti­tu­tion of the pres­i­dency into fur­ther dis­re­pute. His vac­il­la­tions over the root cause of Char­lottesville, in which a white su­prem­a­cist rally drew an an­swer­ing protest, moved even Repub­li­can House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose cul­pa­ble in­er­tia be­fore the Trump jug­ger­naut has been another na­tional em­bar­rass­ment for many Amer­i­cans, to con­tra­dict the Pres­i­dent. There could be no moral am­bi­gu­ity about white supremacy, Ryan said. It was re­pul­sive and such big­otry was counter to every­thing Amer­ica stood for.

Coul­ter, who pub­lished In Trump We Trust last year, now de­spairs of his “vast, yawn­ing nar­cis­sism”, his ob­ses­sion with news me­dia and con­stant bait­ing of it, and his hy­per­sen­si­tiv­ity about any­one else get­ting any credit for his vic­tory. “His lit­tle tiny ego ex­plodes.”

We must trust that, with calm gen­er­als and en­dur­ingly dis­oblig­ing po­lit­i­cal col­leagues, noth­ing else will go bang. Con­ser­va­tive ac­tivism may well be di­verted next year with a pos­si­ble change to the Supreme Court, and the mid-term elec­tions. Mean­while, the pres­i­dency is like a noisy, smok­ing, fail­ing, lurch­ing car that must nev­er­the­less be nursed to its des­ti­na­tion as care­fully as pos­si­ble, be­cause a sud­den break­down would likely cause a cat­a­strophic ex­plo­sion.

Scarcely a day goes by now that Trump does not bring the in­sti­tu­tion of the pres­i­dency into fur­ther dis­re­pute.

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