A month ago, I speculated on the possibility that we are in the midst of a soft coup in the United States. Now, an opinion piece written by an anonymous member of the Trump administration for The New York Times has answered that question in the affirmative. The author declares early on in the piece that “many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them.”
The rest of the essay expresses the author’s pleasure about carrying out the less than worst planks in Trump’s platform: “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” Regulations that keep the planet an environment in which human beings can thrive or require manufacturers not to allow poison to slip into food, cutting taxes that oblige the wealthy to pay back for the benefits of a civilized society that they enjoy, and throwing missiles at an empty runway in Syria are today’s version of keeping the trains running on time, it seems, but getting cosy with Vladimir Putin is reckless, beyond what the author can tolerate.
I agree that expressing a liking for autocrats ought to be an obvious disqualification for the presidency of the United States, and I will acknowledge that I am having a political debate with the policy changes that the author celebrates, rather than the cause of a constitutional crisis, but the author does not show any understanding that Trump comes as a package, and while a part of that might have a good effect by accident, the totality is insane. I can disagree with ordinary Republicans and still work with them when they have similar goals — Rand Paul’s opposition to warantless spying comes to mind — but when a madman has possession of a spatula, a paint brush, and a butcher’s knife, it is no good to say that he could cook a chicken-fried steak as he redecorates the kitchen.
The author claims that use of the Twenty-fifth Amendment was contemplated in the early days of Trump’s term, but that members of the cabinet decided that they “can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.” That being said, a coup that leaves the deposed leader as a figurehead is still a coup.
Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I want Trump to be removed from office. He is a danger to this nation and to the world. But there are legal procedures for accomplishing that goal, ones that comply with the value of due process that is at the core of a free society. We are fortunate in having those provisions available to us, and to reject them in an effort to hold together a particular political party or its majority in government is wrong. The fact that Republicans in Congress and in the cabinet are too cowardly to do their duty has created this crisis. They do not get to complain that there are no other choices open to them.
Article One, Section Two of the Constitution and the Twenty-fifth Amendment define the legal procedures by which a president can be removed. The House of Representatives has the power to impeach federal officers, and the cabinet can declare the president unable to perform the duties of the office, subject then to congressional review. Impeachment, according to Article Two, Section Four can be done in cases of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. All of this is to say that the mechanisms are available, and for the moment, the law is still in effect. How long that will remain the case is anyone’s guess.
The bottom line here, however, is that when the legal authority of the president is being circumvented outside of the rule of law, it is hard to distinguish this from a coup d’état. As much as I believe that Trump must be removed for the safety of the nation, doing it in a manner that has not been provided by the Constitution forces us to ask whether a properly formed government is still in effect. Speaking plainer, at what point must we conclude that the United States as a legal entity has ceased to exist?
If that sounds hyperbolic, this is the state of affairs that Trump has brought us to. Presidents and other federal officials have ignored the Constitution and otherwise broken the law in the past, and we have muddled through, but every time we approach the boundary that separates peccadillos from dissolution, we anaesthetize our collective conscience that is supposed to direct us away from wrongdoing.
There is one possible out from all of this, and if it is the reality, it illustrates the madness that we are in. Trump is probably not bright enough himself, but someone under him could have come up with a scheme to enrage the MAGA base after seeing the polls for the coming election. As weak a chance as this is, such is the world we have allowed, a choice between a constitutional crisis and the kind of games that would be almost amusing in a campaign for middle school class president.
Last time, I said that it is up to us, the voters, to deal with the situation, implying that we have to replace the current list of cowards in Congress with leaders who will perform the job we send them to Washington to do. And then I look at what Democrats have been doing since January 2017, despair is tempting.
But no, we cannot allow that. Whichever party wins control in November must be reminded every minute that e-mail and the phone system is turned on that they work for us and will have no peace until they do what the Constitution that permits them their jobs requires them to do. As we dance on the edge of civil war, a little of our own madness is all we have left.