Ross Douthat makes the argument that Trump should be removed from office by using the 25th amendment. He’s not being sarcastic, and surprisingly enough, it’s not intentionally part of his ongoing series of “implausible proposals” (though it is implausible). He seems pretty serious (“The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump,” The New York Times, 5/16/2017):
One does not need to be a Marvel superhero or Nietzschean Übermensch to rise to this responsibility. But one needs some basic attributes: a reasonable level of intellectual curiosity, a certain seriousness of purpose, a basic level of managerial competence, a decent attention span, a functional moral compass, a measure of restraint and self-control. And if a president is deficient in one or more of them, you can be sure it will be exposed.
Trump is seemingly deficient in them all. Some he perhaps never had, others have presumably atrophied with age. He certainly has political talent — charisma, a raw cunning, an instinct for the jugular, a form of the common touch, a certain creativity that normal politicians lack. He would not have been elected without these qualities. But they are not enough, they cannot fill the void where other, very normal human gifts should be.
[Trump] is a child who blurts out classified information in order to impress distinguished visitors. It is a child who asks the head of the F.B.I. why the rules cannot be suspended for his friend and ally. It is a child who does not understand the obvious consequences of his more vindictive actions — like firing the very same man whom you had asked to potentially obstruct justice on your say-so.
I do not believe [Trump] is really capable of the behind-the-scenes conspiring that the darker Russia theories envision. And it is hard to betray an oath of office whose obligations you evince no sign of really understanding or respecting.
Which is not an argument for allowing him to occupy that office. It is an argument, instead, for using a constitutional mechanism more appropriate to this strange situation than impeachment: the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows for the removal of the president if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet informs the Congress that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and (should the president contest his own removal) a two-thirds vote by Congress confirms the cabinet’s judgment.
I’m not going to spend time on the plausibility of this proposal, but it is a serious proposal, so I’ll take it seriously. I’m going to blow past what exactly would need to realistically happen in order for Trump to be ousted from office and assume that it’s actually happening, because I think the country’s reaction to that is worth considering.
Anyone who puts forward either impeachment or execution of the 25th amendment needs to consider that there is a bloc of voters in this country who, no matter what, will see the removal of Trump from office as a coup. It is not the majority of the country; it’s not even close to the majority. But it is a significant sect, and they so distrust mainstream media (and “distrust” is a soft word to use; they believe the mainstream media is comprised of pure propaganda arms constantly churning out fabricated stories with the explicit purpose of undermining Trump, and they hate the media because of that) and so revile establishment politicians that it is impossible to predict how they would react.
In February of last year, I wrote a short piece replying to Micah Zenko’s tweeted question of where Trump supporters’ anger would go if he didn’t materially improve their lives in any tangible way. Here’s what I said:
The easy answer is that it will be directed at the same targets it already targets: government, immigrants, Muslims, media, etc. […] Because congress, whatever its makeup of Pubs and Dems, would be highly unlikely to entertain many of Emperor Trump’s proposals, Trump supporters wouldn’t blame their man—they’d blame the intransigent government that denied Trump the power to do what people elected him to do. And so they’d stay angry.
And in the unlikely event Trump did give them what they want?:
[T]hey’d still be enraged—enraged at a system that denied them what they’d wanted (or had been told to want) for decades. If Trump actually built a wall that deterred illegal immigration, or if he ordered forceful deportations of even a modest amount of illegal immigrants, their anger wouldn’t abate. They’d see it as proof positive that the government and immigrants and media were the ultimate sources of their grievances, and all it took was to elect an outside strongman to tear the system a new one—and they’d want more of it.
I finished by saying I didn’t think Trump supporters were brownshirts in the making—something I still believe to be true if Trump is allowed to finish his term(s) uninterrupted. But what I hadn’t calibrated for then was the possibility of Trump getting thrown out of office, especially in swift fashion. Again, I want to stress that I don’t know what people would do in reaction, especially his supporters.
Ultimately cynical as it is, Republicans are stuck between a rock and a hard place. For any normal human being, the moral quandary they find themselves in has an obvious answer, and any normal human being would never under the circumstances that were presented to Republicans last year let themselves get swallowed by the revulsion that is Trump. But that’s not who Republicans are. Instead, they must now decide whether they want to stick with Trump and thereby prove loyalty to his rabid base, or dump him and suffer not only the hatred of Democrats but of an extremely vocal and vile sect of their own voters. I suppose they’re hoping that the crisis rolls on past the midterms, so that in the event they lose the House and Senate they can blame any impeachment attempt on the Democrats (since they’re probably too chickenshit to do it themselves).
But should anything happen, I can imagine Pence being as unpopular if not more so than Trump. Democrats might feel better that a nominally sane person is president, but they would still fiercely object to his agenda. Trump still has high approval ratings among Republicans (something that will likely erode should the fallout from his scandals drag on for an extended period), and as I’ve said a million times, he has an extremely loyal base who will view everyone involved in removing Trump as a traitor to the republic executing a coup. Pence, assuming he doesn’t get caught up in the string of scandals, would have only the support of relatively mild conservatives—people like Ross Douthat, for example.
All of this is my roundabout way of saying that even if Trump winds up meriting being removed from office, we shouldn’t disillusion ourselves to the belief that enough Americans will understand that it was the right thing to do, the best thing for the country, our allies, and the world. I can see armed right-wing militias pulling Bundy-like stunts in pockets across the heartland, and I can see a few of those incidents turning violent.
It must be understood that these people have been trained by right-wing media and politicians for several decades that there is a grand, liberal conspiracy out to get them, that they and their friends and family and country are under siege. And now they believe they have overcome the nefarious forces that have kept them down for so long, and in a blink of an eye those same forces removed the man they legitimately elected.
I’m not saying we make decisions based on their paranoia and potential for violence. But it needs to be kept in mind. We now have a significant portion of the population that is lost to us. They have created and reside in a paranoid parallel universe rife with conspiracy, a universe only they have the power to remove themselves from. There is nothing the rest of us can do for them. They are lost to us.