The clock is ticking down on the most disastrous presidential administration this nation has ever endured. In only a week and half’s time, Donald J. Trump will no longer be president. The word “only,” however, is small consolation to the reality that the man who incited a riotous invasion of the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election still has swift access to the nuclear codes.
No commander in chief in American history has more obviously warranted removal. Wednesday’s chaos in the nation’s capital and the irresponsible role President Trump played in it was a coda to four long years of testament to that fact. On Inauguration Day, his term will mercifully end; yet the country will likely have to white-knuckle the several days until then — plenty of time for the world’s most powerful demagogue to inflict tremendous damage.
As such, many have called for the president to be removed ahead of Jan. 20. If President Trump had even a fraction of the deference to American greatness about which he has incessantly bloviated, he would resign or invoke the 25th Amendment and make Vice President Mike Pence the acting president for the remainder of the term to avoid further dragging the nation to the bottom of the barrel with him. Given that President Trump has never proven capable of putting his duty to country above himself, however, this seems highly unlikely.
Numerous members of Congress, including those of the president’s party, have publicly lobbied for the vice president and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment themselves to temporarily divest the president of his powers. If one ever needed a textbook example of an unhinged president to which this unprecedented measure would rightly apply, look no further. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chimed in forcefully on this call, saying that the House will move to impeach President Trump again this week absent either President Trump’s resignation or Vice President Pence’s invocation of the 25th Amendment. The vice president is reportedly cool to this notion, but he and the Cabinet are duty-bound to strongly consider it and, if necessary, go through with it, given the president’s lurch toward becoming an even more acute threat to the nation. 0The president is and has been well-deserving of impeachment and removal — both for his attempt at corrupt electioneering with a foreign power, and for the mob violence against the people’s house he instigated last week. This makes it all the more sad that enough GOP senators likely would side again with the president and against the separation of powers and the congressional responsibility to check a rogue executive.
At this juncture two goals must be paramount, one short-term and the other long-term. First and foremost is harm reduction. It is chilling that the man who brazenly fueled the fires of insurrectionary mayhem in the nation’s capital still has a finger hovering over the red button. To that end, Speaker Pelosi said Friday that she spoke with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike” — a surreal but necessary step.
Despite some congressional Republicans’ preternatural cowardice making impeachment a political unlikelihood, President Trump’s egregious misdeeds against the country and the Constitution he swore to protect demand a response. Congress could censure the president, an exceptionally rare move that would encapsulate just how historically horrendous this presidency has been. Unlike impeachment, censure only requires a simple majority vote. It would not only be a speedy and more realistic goal, but it would force the president’s congressional abettors to own their treachery and display their spinelessness for all to see should they decline even a simple reprimand. President Trump deserves far more serious punishment — impeachment and removal so he can’t run again, not to mention criminal indictment — but a swift rebuke from Congress would show that he can’t grievously wound the republic and run out the clock without facing consequences from the institutions meant to keep him in check.
Insofar as those institutions have failed to keep this commander in chaos in check, the tension points the Trump administration has endlessly underscored for four years charge us with the long-term but pressing task of reforming our democracy so that it is not so readily defaced by would-be autocrats and a cohort of craven enablers. Trump has wantonly wielded the raw power of his office with little respect for the Constitution, the legislative branch, the rule of law and democratic norms. In his wake, President-elect Joe Biden will, at least for the near future, come into office with a Democratic House and Senate and a GOP that is hopefully humbled into a less obstructionist stance. This presents a unique opportunity to build back stronger over the deep cracks the Trump administration left in the facade of our democracy.
Now more than ever we should be seriously reconsidering the Cold War relic policy of unilateral nuclear strike powers given to the commander in chief — and perhaps more of the military powers left to a historically powerful executive branch. The administration’s preposterous overreaction at the southern border in light of a migrant caravan of asylum-seekers in a xenophobic attempt to rally his base and consolidate power shows the need to seriously revisit the scope and checks on national emergency declaration powers. President Trump dodged accountability for his Ukraine stunt to hobble his political adversary partly because the White House simply shrugged off subpoenas issued amid a serious congressional investigation — an at-best opaque practice that should not be allowed in a country where our leaders’ behavior is supposed to be accountable to their constituents. And if would-be presidents seek the faith and trust of the American citizenry, they should have to release their taxes. That we might take these lessons with us is a paltry silver lining compared to the dark cloud this presidency has cast over our republic. That cloud won’t break until Jan. 20 — a day that can’t come soon enough.