The Discussion About Trump’s Unfitness For Office Has Shifted

I’ve already labelled myself as a congenital optimist, so you can put what I’m about to write in that context. But I’m sensing a change in the tone of the discussion about the presidency of Donald Trump. And yes, I think it is mostly related to the recent comments by Sen. Bob Corker. I’ll give a hat tip on that one to Greg Dworkin, who recently highlighted a theory about indexing.

“Indexing” is a theory of news content and press-state relations first formulated as the “indexing hypothesis.” At its core, the indexing hypothesis predicts that news content on political and public policy issues will generally follow the parameters of elite debate: when political elites (such as the White House and congressional leaders) are in general agreement on an issue, news coverage of that issue will tend to reflect that consensus; when political elites disagree, news coverage will fall more or less within the contours of their disagreement.

Sen. Bob Corker opened the contours of a discussion about Donald Trump’s unfitness for office. Right now, that door is only opened a crack, but as Leonard Cohen wrote, “that’s how the light gets in.”

I’m going to summarize some things that indicate that crack. First of all, Martin has already alluded to the column by Gabriel Sherman in which he reported this:

The conversation among some of the president’s longtime confidantes, along with the character of some of the leaks emerging from the White House has shifted. There’s a new level of concern…

In recent days, I’ve spoken with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president that seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods.

Thomas Barrack, who has been referred to as Trump’s loyal whisperer, has gone public as well.

Barrack, in interviews with The Washington Post, said he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by some of the president’s rhetoric and inflammatory tweets. He disagrees with some of Trump’s proposals, including his efforts to ban immigrants from certain Muslim countries and his push for a border wall with Mexico. He wonders why his longtime friend spends so much of his time appealing to the fringes of American politics.

“He thinks he has to be loyal to his base,” Barrack said. “I keep on saying, ‘But who is your base? You don’t have a natural base. Your base now is the world and America, so you have all these constituencies; show them who you really are.’ In my opinion, he’s better than this.”

On Twitter, a lot of people responded with, “No, Trump is not better than this.” But here was my initial reaction:

We’re also hearing a lot more discussion about what the options are for dealing with the fact that Trump is unfit for office. The Washington Post editorial board dismissed the idea of impeachment at this point, but offered two suggestions. The first is that “Congress should seize the initiative on issues where it knows Mr. Trump is wrong.” Their suggestions include saving the Dreamers from deportation, and holding hearings on the rise of white supremacist organizations. Here is their second suggestion:

…congressional leaders can offer a contrast to what Mr. Corker described as the “adult day care center” at the White House simply by presiding over their branch with institutional dignity and respect for tradition. This would include letting Democrats have a say in the debate, in implicit contrast to the president’s contempt for those who disagree with him. It would include legislating based on facts and evidence, including the best available guidance from the Congressional Budget Office. Ideally, it would demonstrate that governance based on ideals tempered by compromise, rather than showmanship and cynicism, can produce results.

When I read that second one I realized how far down the rabbit hole we’ve gone, because the idea of having a Congress that works the way our founders intended seems so hard to imagine.

Neither Elizabeth Drew nor the Brookings Institution share the Washington Post’s hesitancy on making the case for impeachment. Drew enumerates what could be articles of impeachment based on what we know now.

1. Obstruction of justice
2. Accepting foreign emoluments
3. Abuse of ethics rules
4. Lying to the public
5. Refusal to release tax returns as president

Brookings released a report titled, “Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump.”

In this paper, we break down and analyze the question of whether President Trump may have obstructed justice and explain the criminal and congressional actions that could follow from an obstruction investigation. Addressing the possibility of criminal behavior by President Trump and the complicated issues it raises is not a task that we take lightly. Dissecting allegations of criminality leveled against an individual who has been duly elected president and who has sworn to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution is an inherently solemn task. But it is our hope that by presenting a rigorous legal analysis of the potential case against the president, we will help the American people and their representatives understand the contours of the issues, regardless of whether it is eventually litigated in a court of law, the halls of Congress, or the court of public opinion.

At this point we haven’t heard from congressional Republicans. But as I noted recently, Bannon has put every GOP Senator up for re-election (except Ted Cruz) on notice that he’s coming after them, regardless of how loyal they’ve been to Trump. You have to wonder whether or not they’ll finally figure out that they have nothing to lose if that’s the case.

I’m old enough to remember when Rep. Bob Barr first began talking about impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. He was treated as a bit of a nutcase at the time. But he just kept at it. The rest, as they say, is history.

What we’ve seen over the last few days is that the door to admitting that Donald Trump is unfit for office has opened up just a bit wider. Behind it, there are rumblings about our options for dealing with that. Like it or not, this is the pace of how something as enormous as removing a sitting president from office is designed to go. But we should all keep an eye on the trajectory of this movement. Does the door continue to creep open bit by bit? Or does it get slammed shut by some unforeseen circumstances? Stay tuned.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.