Possibly the worst thing Donald Trump said during the 2016 election campaign (with so many to choose from) was that if he lost, he would not accept the validity of the results. On the eve of the election, the best Trump could say was that he would ‘see how things play out’, before making a decision on whether to respect the outcome. This wasn’t just controversial, it was a dangerous threat to the mechanics of American democracy, which rely very much on the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next.
Sadly, we never got a chance to see if Trump would carry through on his ultimatum, but four months into this presidency, the threat of impeachment offers a secondary process for removing this unstable man from the public stage.
Trump is manifestly the worst equipped individual ever to assume the office of the presidency. His incompetence takes away the breath. He can’t speak sentences, and regularly gets his minions to argue against a story then confirms it himself a day later, throwing his staff under the bus. Many in the media now openly discuss the idea that Trump may be mentally unwell.
America has never seen such a daily diet of drama and outrage. Less than 120 days into his presidency, Trump has put together a long list of seemingly impeachable offenses, including the firing of James Comey, obstruction of justice (through asking Comey to drop his investigation of Mike Flynn) and giving highly classified information to the Russians (in the Oval Office!).
During a four-year term, there are three ways to remove a president from office. The president might die, he may be removed by the 25th amendment or he may be impeached. Eight presidents have died in office, but Trump seems in rude health – death seems unlikely. The 25th amendment, adopted in 1967, has been invoked six times, but Section 4 (that deals with the removal of a sitting president) has never been invoked. The amendment relies on the Vice-President to initiate proceedings. Mike Pence doesn’t remotely look like our man.
Which leaves impeachment. And in the modern age, we’re still looking at an empty hand – Nixon resigned before he was impeached, so perhaps he has an asterisk. Clinton was impeached by the lower house but kept his job when the Senate voted proceedings down. So the odds are not in our favour, despite the unprecedented situation.
Here’s the problem. Trump said he wouldn’t respect the result of the election. Does he strike you as the kind of man who will accept impeachment? Or does Trump seem more like the kind of man who will declare impeachment proceedings illegal, fake, false – something he will not accept. This sort of thing happens all the time in 3rd world nations – a leader is officially deposed and simply refuses to go. In countries like those there is normally a collapse into dictatorship or a civil war.
Where this goes from bad to worse is that, because of the effects of 9/11, more power than ever before has been vested in the executive office. Trump has at his disposal legislative and structural (the NSA etc) power that previous presidents can only have dreamed of. An intransigent man who refuses to leave office is now historically equipped to do so.
Without 9/11, Trump would not be president. Because of 9/11, he may be impossible to remove.