The Inevitability Of Impeachment

Trump has been trying to govern by impulse, on whim, for personal retribution, for profit, by decree ― as if he had been elected dictator. It doesn’t work, and the wheels are coming off the bus. After a week!

Impeachment is gaining ground because it is the only way to get him out, and because Republicans are already deserting this president in droves, and because the man is psychiatrically incapable of checking whether something is legal before he does it.

Impeachment is gaining ground because it’s so horribly clear that Trump is unfit for office. The grownups around Trump, even the most slavishly loyal ones, spend half their time trying to rein him in, but it can’t be done.

They spend the other half fielding frantic calls from Republican chieftains, business elites and foreign leaders. Trump did what? Poor Reince Priebus has finally attained the pinnacle of power, and it can’t be fun.

It is one thing to live in your own reality when you are a candidate and it’s just words. You can fool enough of the people enough of the time maybe even to get elected. But when you try to govern that way, there is a reality to reality—and reality pushes back.

One by one, Trump has decreed impulsive orders, un-vetted by legal, policy, or political staff, much less by serious planning. Almost immediately he is forced to walk them back by a combination of political and legal pressure—and by reality.

Unlike in the various dictatorships Trump admires, the complex skein of constitutional legal and political checks on tyranny in the United States are holding—just barely at times, but they are holding. And the more reckless Trump’s behavior, the stronger become the checks.

Only with his lunatic effort to selectively ban refugees (but not from terrorist-sending countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where Trump has business interests) has Trump discovered that the American system has courts. It has courts. Imagine that.

The more unhinged he becomes, the less will conservative judges be the toadies to ordinary Republican policies that they too often have been. Anybody want to wager that the Supreme Court will be Trump’s whore?

In the past week, Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have tripped over each other rejecting his view of Putin. They have ridiculed his screwball claim of massive voter fraud.

They are running for cover on how to kill ObamaCare without killing patients or Republican re-election hopes. This is actually complicated, and nuance is not Trump’s strong suit. Rep Tom McClintock of California spoke for many when he warned:

“We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created” with repeal, said Rep. Tom McClintock. (R-Calif.)

“That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, mocking Trump’s own nutty tweeting habits, sent out a tweet calling a trade war with Mexico “mucho sad.”

Trump’s own senior staff has had to pull him back from his ludicrous crusade against Mexico and Mexicans, where Trump forces the Mexican president to cancel an official visit one day, and spends an hour on the phone kissing up the next day.

Trump proposed to reinstate torture, but key Republican leaders killed that idea. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s third ranking Republican said Wednesday that the ban on torture was settled law and the Republicans in Congress would oppose any reinstatement. Trump’s own defense secretary holds the same view. After blustering out his new torture policy, Trump meekly agreed to defer to his defense advisers.

All this in just a week! Now capped by federal judges starting to rein him in.

Two weeks ago, in this space, just based on what we witnessed during the transition, I wrote a piece calling for a citizens impeachment panel, as a shadow House Judiciary Committee, to assemble a dossier for a Trump impeachment, and a citizens’ campaign to create a public impeachment movement.

In the two weeks since then, Free Speech for People has launched a citizens’ campaign to impeach Trump. About 400,000 people have already signed the impeachment petition.

The bipartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, (CREW) has been conducting a detailed investigation. Senior legal scholars associated with CREW have filed a detailed legal brief in their lawsuit, documenting the several ways Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits a president from profiting from the actions of foreign governments.

There are already plenty of other grounds for impeachment, including Trump’s putting his own business interests ahead of the country’s and his weird and opportunistic alliance with Vladimir Putin bordering on treason. A lesser-known law that goes beyond the Emoluments Clause is the STOCK Act of 2012, which explicitly prohibits the president and other officials from profiting from non-public knowledge.

Impeachment, of course, is a political as well as a legal process. The Founders designed it that way deliberately. But after just a week in office, not only has Trump been deserting the Constitution; his partisan allies are deserting him.

Despite his creepy weirdness, Republicans at first thought they could use Trump for Republican ends. But from his embrace of Putin to his sponsorship of a general trade war, this is no Republican. One can only imagine the alarm and horror being expressed by Republicans privately.

In 1984, the psychiatrist Otto Kernberg described a sickness known as Malignant Narcissism. Unlike ordinary narcissism, malignant narcissism was a severe pathology.

It was characterized by an absence of conscience, a pathological grandiosity and quest for power, and a sadistic joy in cruelty.

Given the sheer danger to the Republic as well as to the Republicans, Trump’s impeachment will happen. The only question is how grave a catastrophe America faces first.

President Donald Trump, left, with Vice President Mike Pence listening at right, speaks during an event at the Pentagon in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. (Susan Walsh, AP)

Are we really stuck with President Donald Trump?

Are we really stuck with this guy? It's the question being asked around the globe, because Donald Trump's first week as president has made it all too clear: Yes, he is as crazy as everyone feared.

Remember those optimistic pre-inauguration fantasies? I cherished them, too. You know: "Once he's president, I'm sure he'll realize it doesn't really make sense to withdraw from all those treaties." "Once he's president, surely he'll understand that he needs to stop tweeting out those random insults." "Once he's president, he'll have to put aside that ridiculous campaign braggadocio about building a wall along the Mexican border." And so on.

Nope. In his first week in office, Trump has made it eminently clear that he meant every loopy, appalling word — and then some.

The result so far: The president of China is warning against trade wars and declaring that Beijing will take up the task of defending globalization and free trade against American protectionism. The president of Mexico has canceled a state visit to Washington, and prominent Mexican leaders say that Trump's border wall plans "could take us to a war — not a trade war." Senior leaders in Trump's own party are denouncing the new president's claims of widespread voter fraud and his reported plans to reopen CIA "black sites." Oh, and the entire senior management team at the U.S. Department of State has resigned.

Meanwhile, Trump's approval ratings are lower than those of any new U.S. president in the history of polling: Just 36 percent of Americans are pleased with his performance so far. Some 80 percent of British citizens think Trump will make a "bad president," along with 77 percent of those polled in France and 78 percent in Germany.

And that's just week one.

Thus the question: Are we truly stuck with Donald Trump?

It depends. There are essentially four ways to get rid of a crummy president. First, of course, the world can just wait patiently for November 2020 to roll around, at which point, American voters will presumably have come to their senses and be prepared to throw the bum out.

But after such a catastrophic first week, four years seems like a long time to wait. This brings us to option two: impeachment. Under the U.S. Constitution, a simple majority in the House of Representatives could vote to impeach Trump for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors." If convicted by the Senate on a two-thirds vote, Trump could be removed from office — and a new poll suggests that after week one, more than a third of Americans are already eager to see Trump impeached.

If impeachment seems like a fine solution to you, the good news is that Congress doesn't need evidence of actual treason or murder to move forward with an impeachment: Practically anything can be considered a "high crime or misdemeanor." (Remember, former President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.) The bad news is that Republicans control both the House and the Senate, making impeachment politically unlikely, unless and until Democrats retake Congress. And that can't happen until the elections of 2018.

Anyway, impeachments take time: months, if not longer — even with an enthusiastic Congress. And when you have a lunatic controlling the nuclear codes, even a few months seems like a perilously long time to wait. How long will it take before Trump decides that "you're fired" is a phrase that should also apply to nuclear missiles? (Aimed, perhaps, at Mexico?)

In these dark days, some around the globe are finding solace in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. This previously obscure amendment states that "the Vice President and a majority of … the principal officers of the executive departments" can declare the president "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," in which case "the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."

This is option three for getting rid of Trump: an appeal to Vice President Mike Pence's ambitions. Surely Pence wants to be president himself one day, right? Pence isn't exactly a political moderate — he's been unremittingly hostile to gay rights, he's a climate change skeptic, etc. — but, unappealing as his politics may be to many Americans, he does not appear to actually be insane. (This is the new threshold for plausibility in American politics: "not actually insane.")

Presumably, Pence is sane enough to oppose rash acts involving, say, the evisceration of all U.S. military alliances, or America's first use of nuclear weapons - and presumably, if things got bad enough, other Trump cabinet members might also be inclined to oust their boss and replace him with his vice president. Congress would have to acquiesce in a permanent 25th Amendment removal, but if Pence and half the cabinet declared Trump unfit, even a Republican-controlled Congress would likely fall in line.

The fourth possibility is one that until recently I would have said was unthinkable in the United States of America: a military coup, or at least a refusal by military leaders to obey certain orders.

The principle of civilian control of the military has been deeply internalized by the U.S. military, which prides itself on its nonpartisan professionalism. What's more, we know that a high-ranking lawbreaker with even a little subtlety can run rings around the uniformed military. During the first years of the George W. Bush administration, for instance, formal protests from the nation's senior-most military lawyers didn't stop the use of torture. When military leaders objected to tactics such as waterboarding, the Bush administration simply bypassed the military, getting the CIA and private contractors to do their dirty work.

But Trump isn't subtle or sophisticated: He sets policy through rants and late-night tweets, not through quiet hints to aides and lawyers. He's thin-skinned, erratic, and unconstrained — and his unexpected, self-indulgent pronouncements are reportedly sending shivers through even his closest aides.

What would top U.S. military leaders do if given an order that struck them as not merely ill-advised, but dangerously unhinged? An order that wasn't along the lines of "Prepare a plan to invade Iraq if Congress authorizes it based on questionable intelligence," but "Prepare to invade Mexico tomorrow!" or "Start rounding up Muslim Americans and sending them to Guantánamo!" or "I'm going to teach China a lesson — with nukes!"

It's impossible to say, of course. The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order. After all, military officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not the president. For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: "No, sir. We're not doing that," to thunderous applause from The New York Times editorial board.

Brace yourselves. One way or another, it's going to be a wild few years.

Forget impeachment: Donald Trump can be driven from office, but probably not that way

Before we jump in, I’d like to preface this column with an “anything can happen” caveat. The last 18 months have been completely unpredictable, and even the most educated forecast could easily be rendered irrelevant given the erratic fusillade of nincompoopery from Donald Trump and his team. There’s always hope, and there’s always the possibility of a surprisingly favorable outcome in this awkwardly mercurial era. We simply don’t know how far south President Trump’s approval numbers will descend given his irrational, insecure, thoroughly unpresidential behavior, and the emerging bloc of Democrats and sensible Republicans who emphatically despise both him and his goon squad.

But all things being equal, it’s highly unlikely Donald Trump will be impeached and convicted while the Republicans still control both chambers of Congress.

As much as we’d all love to witness such an event, the tendency for the establishment GOP to put party ahead of nation precludes making rational choices with regard to Trump’s presidency before significant damage is inflicted, politically and otherwise. While there is surely a comprehensive menu of impeachable offenses both on the current police blotter and, for that matter, still to come, it’s next to impossible to see the House Republicans proceeding with substantive investigations and an eventual vote to impeach.

Simply put: Should Trump be impeached? Absolutely. Will he be? Unlikely.

Then again, there’s a midterm around the corner. As a side note, there’s also an off-year election coming up in November of this year — the first of many chances for the left to infiltrate local and state governments, school boards, city councils, mayorships and so on. Short of the midterms, entering the establishment at the local level is a vitally crucial step in a long-term strategy of taking back the nation from those who reject science, math and reality for “alternative facts.”

So, there’s that. Back to the 2018 midterms. On the House side, the Democrats will need to walk away with a net gain of 48 seats. That’s a Herculean task, considering th that the Democrats gained just 31 seats in the landmark 2006 midterms, in the midst of a failing war in Iraq and just one year following Hurricane Katrina. We don’t yet know how horrendously unpopular Trump will become, however, not to mention the potential unpopularity of Republicans who foolishly lashed their wagons to the star of this flailing, unhinged cartoon character. The other X factor is whether Democrats and progressive activists will hunker down and unify enough to win. I’ve learned over many heartbreaking elections that it’s unwise to bet on the Democratic establishment to be reliably hardcore with its tactics, especially when fighting for red districts. Again, it’s possible, but too early to call.

On the Senate side, 33 seats are up for re-election, as always. But 2018 offers a terrible map for Democrats. The Dems need a net pickup of five seats, but most of the contested seats in 2018 are already held by Democrats and, worse yet, there are only eight Republican seats in play. Simply put: the Democrats would need to successfully defend all 25 of their own seats, while winning five of the eight Republican-held seats up. To repeat myself: Anything can happen. We can’t yet know how toxic the Trump GOP brand will become by 2018, but winning back the Senate with this map seems like a long shot, to put it mildly.

The upshot is this: the Democrats need a majority in the House to impeach. They also need votes of 67 senators to convict. (For that matter, they also need provable high crimes or misdemeanors before anything else happens.) Without a multitude of Republican votes, the entire scenario is a nonstarter — even after a possible sweep of the House in 2018.

All that being said, impeachment shouldn’t be the animating factor for getting out the Democratic vote in 2018 anyway. The Dem strategy for the midterms obviously has to be centered around a juggernaut-like effort to block Trump’s nefarious agenda, at least at the legislative level. In terms of impeachment, the best the Democrats can hope for is to make all kinds of gains in 2018, then to supplement those gains in 2020. If we also get a Democratic president and majorities in both chambers by 2020, great! If not, let the impeachment debate begin again.

Is there another way? Can Trump be removed from office without an impeachment and conviction? Possibly. If you recall your history, Richard Nixon was in the process of being impeached as a consequence of the Watergate revelations, but that process never reached the House floor for a vote. It was ultimately the GOP establishment, led by Sen. Barry Goldwater, who approached Nixon and asked him to step down for the good of the nation. The odds of this occurring with Trump seem high. Pre-inauguration catastrophes aside, Trump’s entire first week in office was largely about his deranged obsessions and vendettas. Not more than several days in, for example, Trump held a closed-door meeting with congressional leadership and reportedly wasted much of that time ranting about his crowd sizes and a kooky Alex Jones conspiracy theory about voter fraud. That’s only one of many harrowing stories of Trump’s disturbing behavior inside the White House. Suffice to say, the congressional leadership has to know about this. They’re witnessing it first hand.

Can he descend further into madness? Sure. He’s a weak, insecure and blindingly delusional man who can’t stop re-litigating trivialities like his crowd (or hand) sizes. There’s a very real possibility that as his presidency grows increasingly embattled, he’ll grow increasingly isolated and secluded, perhaps locking himself inside a random safe space somewhere in the White House, trapped in a Möbius loop of obsessions and delusions, poring over cable news while photographs of the inaugural crowds and protest marches litter the floor — his Sharpie marker scribblings all around. Basically, Howard Hughes at his worst. Knowing Trump’s behavior so far, coupled with the reality that he doesn’t seem mentally or physically prepared for the stress and rigors of the presidency, some version of the Nixonian endgame seems plausible.

Finally, the other factor here is the condition of the economy. If there’s a recession or a sudden uptick in the unemployment figures, Trump will likely accuse the numbers of being “fake news.” But Americans may be less patient with this unlikable, garish cartoon character whose central campaign promises aren’t panning out. Don’t forget: He repeatedly declared himself to be “the greatest jobs president God ever created.” Anything shy of that, and we’ll see moderate and independent Trump voters jumping ship, leaving only the dregs and the hotheads to flack for Trump on Fox News. Conversely, however, we shouldn’t ignore the possibility of a military conflict or, heaven forbid, a major terrorist attack. Both are nightmare scenarios, to be sure — knowing the lives at stake. Politically speaking, there’s the distinct possibility of a suddenly very popular Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office with virtual carte blanche from a scared population. Sleep tight.

This is all to suggest that, yes, Trump can be driven from office prematurely. He’s his own worst enemy and he continues to inadvertently reveal himself as mentally unfit to fulfill the duties of the presidency. But hoping against hope for a legislative vote to get him out is a red herring.

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