Was Donald Trump fit for the presidency? Further, what were the different options for removing Trump from the post?
In A Warning, a book on the behind-the-scenes of Donald Trump’s presidency, the anonymous author argues that Trump “deserves to be fired.” The question was how best to remove him from office. Any option other than an election should only be considered as a “last resort.”
This article takes a look at three Donald Trump’s removal options and considers the circumstances under which they could have been possible.
Frustration with Trump or dismay shouldn’t push us to take extreme measures. From the beginning of his presidency, those who hate Trump have entertained fantasies of Donald Trump’s removal—for instance, in the following scenarios:
- He’s forced to resign for doing something so terrible it shocks the nation’s conscience.
- His cabinet invokes emergency constitutional provisions to oust him.
- He’s impeached by Congress.
We shouldn’t wish on our nation the kind of crisis these measures would provoke.
Inside and outside the administration, people have wondered, what if Trump were to do something so bad he’d have to resign immediately in the face of widespread condemnation?
A few senior advisors even considered giving him enough rope to hang himself—for instance, letting him fire special counsel Robert Mueller and the leaders of the Justice Department. But while Trump has acted in ways harmful to the country, it would be unethical for aides to encourage bad behavior in order to punish it. Encouraging a wrong is the same as participating in it.
The few remaining members of the Steady State feel a duty to the country to keep the presidency on track and keep Trump from doing things that are self-destructive.
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment
What if the president were mentally unfit to carry out the duties of the office? The Constitution’s Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides a path to removal, but the consequences of taking it are almost unimaginable.
However, at one point, the idea came up in informal conversation. In the weeks after Trump fired FBI director Comey, his “behavior was so erratic …that a number of administration officials worried about his mental state.”
Under the amendment, if Vice President Pence and a majority of the cabinet believed Trump couldn’t perform his duties, they could remove him by providing the Senate president and the Speaker of the House with a “written declaration” that the president is unable to perform his duties and the vice president will immediately become acting president.
This was not an action White House officials were preparing to take. While nearly everyone agreed it was irresponsible to speculate, concerns were so strong that they:
- Talked about what to do if things got worse and what level of instability would warrant removal.
- Created an informal listing of those willing to “huddle to assess the situation if necessary.”
- Considered how the scenario would play out.
If a majority of the cabinet were prepared to remove Trump and replace him with Pence, “there is no doubt” that he would sign on. However, there was a grave downside: It would be viewed as a coup and create civil unrest.
For this reason, the option “wasn’t seriously contemplated.” While there are continuing concerns about Trump’s temperament, conversations about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment have ended. Trump’s strongest critics should also give up the idea. It should be reserved for when the president is truly unable to do the job, not when we don’t like his performance.
As A Warning was written, an inquiry into the impeachment on Donald Trump was underway: whether the president abused the power of his office for political ends and obstructed justice.
No one should take joy in it—impeachment inquiries are divisive and difficult for the country. We should avoid politicizing the process by allowing dislike for Trump to outweigh the facts. There’s disturbing evidence of misconduct, including Trump’s demand that Ukraine’s president investigate a political opponent and his efforts to improperly influence the Russia investigation.
It’s up to Congress to decide whether they rise to the level of impeachable offenses and justify removal from office.
Rather than hoping Trump is guilty and wishing further division on the country, we should allow the process to play out and demand that it be handled objectively, following the facts where they lead. Democrats shouldn’t rush to judgment and Republicans shouldn’t try to block justice.
While the allegations have yet to be resolved, no one, generally speaking, should be surprised that Trump has ended up in this position. He puts his interests above those of the country. He constantly comes up with ways to skirt the law to get what he wants—more stories will surface in the years ahead. The idea that presidents shouldn’t use their power for personal gain is completely alien to him.
Reelection would remove any remaining constraints on his behavior, freeing him to do what he wants, regardless of the law or national interest. Unless Congress finds that he violated his oath of office and removes him, there’s only one option left—and it’s the best one—for firing Trump, that is for the people to defeat him at the ballot box.
The Will of the People
In an essay supporting a draft U.S. Constitution, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the president’s continuance in office should depend only on the will of the people expressed at the ballot box.
The will of the people is the best answer to the problem we face today. Our democratic process is defined by public debate and elections to keep leaders in check. The voters must examine Trump’s performance and decide whether he’s fit for the office and whether his conduct reflects the nation’s values. Each of us has the responsibility to decide.
Yet in the past, many have abdicated the responsibility to others. While three-quarters of our population is eligible to vote, voter turnout is about 50%. If the pattern holds true for the 2020 presidential election, half the country will decide for us—and define us.
We will have had four years to assess Donald Trump, to determine whether he’s the most qualified candidate, whether he has a viable plan for the future, has a record of success, and whether he reflects who we are and how we want our nation to be.
Those are yes or no decisions. However, there’s also a “yes, but” option: Yes, he reflects who we are, but not what we want for the future. Maybe the 2016 election and the subsequent four years reflected our country’s divisions—maybe we got the president we deserved at the time, but now we want someone who appeals to our better natures; we want to go in a new direction.
Will Trump Accept the People’s Judgment?
If Trump is removed by impeachment or defeated in a close election, there’s reason for concern that he’ll refuse to go.
Trump has become enamored of the perks and the power of the office—from his ability to get what he wants at the push of a button to the pageantry of the presidency. “Trump relishes the cocoon he’s built. He will not exit quietly or easily.” That’s the reason he talks about coups and a potential civil war. He’s providing a narrative for his supporters, which could end badly.
He’s trying to generate fear, telling voters at a rally, “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so goddamn poor. You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”
We can’t afford to be swayed by threats and assertions that we have no choice but him. Trump should be fired.
The Lesser Evil
The consequences of reelecting Trump couldn’t be more dire. Take it from someone who’s seen the impact of his leadership first hand. His administration is a catastrophe, the result of his weak morals. Any accomplishments are far outweighed by the damage he’s done to the nation. Another four years could very well sink the ship.
We’re fortunate there hasn’t been a major international crisis so far in Trump’s tenure, but it’s only a matter of time. Anyone tempted to vote for him despite the scandals and evidence of misconduct might want to consider, in the event of a crisis, do we want our nuclear arsenal in the hands of a man who disdains intelligence briefings?
- Who puts self-interest ahead of the country’s interest?
- Who has an affinity for dictators?
- Who is manipulated by our enemies?
- Who has alienated our allies?
- And who isn’t trusted by our national security leaders?
Fortunately, candidates more honorable (and stable) than Trump have stepped up. Hopefully, additional candidates who appeal to a broad spectrum of voters in our polarized political climate will join them. Democrats will make it difficult for Republicans to vote against Trump if they nominate a candidate whose views don’t resonate with mainstream America. If emotion overcomes reason, Trump’s fear-mongering and conservative lip service will seem preferable to a turn toward socialism.
For Republicans, the difficult choice will be to:
- Choose “the devil we know,” whose views we more often share but who lacks morals.
- Choose “the devil we don’t know,” a Democrat whose policies we disagree with but who is moral.
If we Republicans had courage, we’d consider replacing Trump on the ticket. Leading party officials would do so if a strong candidate stepped up. Republicans in Washington talk about this in private, even while they praise Trump publicly. If Republicans refuse to take a stand against Trump and Democrats nominate a divisive candidate, we’ll desperately need an independent alternative who seeks common ground.
One last way voters can push back against Trump is to pay attention to the rest of the ballot and elect senators and representatives who are willing to act as leaders by keeping Trump in check and holding him accountable.
In the end, if anything good comes from these years of turmoil, it will be that it pushes us to start bridging our divisions and recommitting ourselves to America’s ideals.