Trump turns things on their heads. To him, the hacking story was an example of fake news — not the uncontestably false news that the Russians were spreading, but the news coming from our own intelligence community. Trump lives in a hall of mirrors — but not alone. Reince Priebus, the outgoing Republican National Committee chairman and now another of the moral eunuchs in Trump’s court, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that the release of the intelligence community’s finding was “clearly politically motivated to discredit the victory of President-elect Trump.” Priebus, as my grandmother used to say, knows which side his bread is buttered on.
It is folly to think that aides such as Priebus are going to be able to moderate Trump. They are enablers, emptying their consciences and stuffing their egos, and it is even sillier to think that Trump himself will change. He is 70, into the years of ossification, and his political triumph has only convinced him of his inerrant correctness. He thinks he is infallible, a kind of secular pope. Things will go from bad to worse.
One remote remedy is impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate. It is, as it should be, a laborious process and requires provable acts of treason, bribery or other “high crimes and misdemeanors” — very high bars indeed and difficult to define. In fact, no president has ever gone the whole way: not Andrew Johnson and not Bill Clinton.
There is, however, another way. Under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, the vice president, together with a “majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide” can remove the president for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” No doubt the mere mention of incapacitation would summon a horde of lawyers to Washington to contest it or the meaning of every term.
But it is plain that the 25th Amendment does give a role to Cabinet members that is not generally considered when they are up for confirmation. This time, however, they should all be asked whether they are aware of the 25th Amendment and, if need be, whether they would be willing to implement it. Some would say that they do not respond to hypotheticals, but a willingness to abide by the Constitution is not a hypothetical. It is, instead, a grave duty.
Is this going to happen? Probably not. We’ll just muddle through a Trump presidency, as we have some others. But the nature and malevolence of Donald Trump have to be borne in mind. He has shown little regard for the Constitution, as exemplified by statements saying that by definition anything a president does is legal, and he is prone to vulgar statements and tactics. Recall that he was once the most prominent birther, evidence of either racism or a chilling willingness to pander to it. Recall also, as Meryl Streep did at the Golden Globes, that Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski, a physically disabled New York Times reporter, and then denied that he had done anything of the sort. Here was the bully in full repugnance. Here was the liar in full contempt for the truth.
Since his election, Trump has done nothing to allay the concern that he is unfit for the presidency. In about a week, he’ll assume the presidency with all its awesome power. Maybe the only thing that will constrain him is his own Cabinet. Trump goofed. There are some good people in that room.