The 25th Amendment is Not a Fantasy

I enjoyed reading Jeff Greenfield’s little history of the 25th Amendment, but his editor should have told him that the fact that in 1970 Richard Nixon “was often abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, leading to stretches of incoherence and irrationality” didn’t exactly distinguish him from other politicians or businessmen of the time. If we didn’t live through it, we’ve surely seen a few episodes of Mad Men. In any case, you can listen to the White House tapes of Nixon having conversations with Henry Kissinger and his top aides, Erlichman, Haldeman, Colson, and Dean. They were a den of amoral scoundrels, but they didn’t appear to be high out of their tree. Other than occasional glitches, especially once he knew his presidency was doomed, Nixon’s problem wasn’t incapacity.

For Greenfield, the arguments against removing Trump from power using the 25th Amendment are threefold. First, there’s the aforementioned case that we’ve allowed incapacitated presidents to serve before so what’s the problem with letting Trump serve now?

The second is that the 25th Amendment wasn’t enacted for the purpose of removing a president so much as it was enacted to help select a vice-president when a vacancy occurs. This obviously happened when Agnew had to resign and also when Ford became president. This part of his argument isn’t persuasive because it doesn’t matter what an amendment was primarily meant to address so long as the amendment also addresses what we’re concerned with here, which is a Birther president who is manifestly unfit to safely run our government and handle things like a looming crisis on the Korean peninsula.

The third is that, well, it won’t happen so why talk about it?

The notion that Pence and a Cabinet majority will look at Trump’s next tweets or telephonic fulminations and decide he’s not fit for the job is beyond absurdity.

On this last point, I am not going to argue as a predictive analyst that Greenfield is wrong. If you want to place bets, I’d advise you to listen to Greenfield on this subject. On the other hand, the central thing that is absurd is that Donald Trump is the president of the United States. It is a full blown crisis. You can go around pretending that Trump is fully dressed if you want, but he’s not. If you discovered that your child’s school bus driver had taken to wearing a blindfold, you wouldn’t say that it’s absurd to have him removed from his job. And if he managed to successfully navigate the bus route for a few days despite his self-imposed disability, your comfort level would not grow.

The people who are most acutely aware of Trump’s mental deficiencies and titanic character flaws are those who have to deal with him every day, and they’re the only ones who can conceivably go to a Republican Congress and convince them that it’s just not safe to leave Trump behind the wheel.

Trump’s tweets are only a small part of the problem, but they’ve already caused problems with allies like Australia, Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom. His policies and offhand remarks have created unnecessary tensions in places as diverse as Taiwan and Iraq.

So, the solitary point here is that the 25th Amendment is an option and the members of Trump’s cabinet can’t pretend that they don’t have ability to do something to save the country. They have the tool they need, and if the majority of Trump’s cabinet ever goes to Congress and tells them that the president isn’t fit to serve, they’ll only be telling Congress what the Democrats, the Intelligence Community, our allies, and every newspaper editorial board in the country has been telling them.

If they were ever to take that step, they’d have massive support. And, I believe, if James Mattis and a majority of the cabinet went to the Republicans in Congress and said that Trump cannot continue to be our president, that they’d have to listen.

In any case, they’d be much more likely to respond to an invocation of the 25th Amendment than they would be to impeach and convict the president on their own initiative.

This isn’t about what is likely to happen, or some fantasy. The fantasy is that Trump will become saner and more stable, or that he’ll somehow grow into the job.

To be clear, I’m not saying Trump has reached a tipping point yet where his cabinet should feel fully justified in removing him from power. I’m saying that that point will surely come, and his cabinet should be high alert to assure that we’re not having a nuclear exchange near Seoul before they’ve decided to act.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.