The clock is ticking down on the most disastrous presidency this nation has ever endured. The Trump administration will end in only a week and half.
The word “only,” however, is inappropriate as the man who incited a riotous invasion of the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election still has swift access to the nuclear codes.
No commander in chief in American history has more obviously warranted removal. On Inauguration Day, his term will mercifully end; yet the country may have some white-knuckle days until then — plenty of time for the world’s most powerful demagogue to inflict tremendous damage.
Many have called for the president to be removed ahead of Jan. 20. If President Trump had even a fraction of the reverence to American greatness about which he has incessantly bloviated, he would resign or invoke the 25th Amendment and make Vice President Mike Pence the acting president for the remainder of the term. Given that President Trump has never yet put duty to country above himself, this seems highly unlikely.
Numerous members of Congress, including those of the president’s party, have publicly lobbied for the vice president and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment themselves to temporarily divest the president of his powers. The president’s paralysis in the face of Wednesday’s insurrection demonstrates his inability to discharge his duties. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chimed in forcefully on this call, saying that the House will move to impeach President Trump again this week absent an invocation of the 25th Amendment. The vice president is reportedly cool to this notion, but he and the Cabinet are duty-bound to strongly consider it.
The president has earned impeachment and removal — both for his attempt at corrupt electioneering with a foreign power, and for inciting the mob violence against the people’s house this week. This makes it all the more sad that enough GOP senators likely would side again with the president and default on their constitutional responsibility to check a rogue executive.
At this juncture two goals must be paramount, one short-term and the other long-term. First and foremost is short-term. It is chilling that the man who brazenly fueled the fires of insurrectionary mayhem in the nation’s capital still has a finger hovering over the red button. To that end, Speaker Pelosi said Friday that she spoke with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike” — a surreal but necessary step.
For the long term, posterity demands an effective rebuke of President Trump’s egregious misdeeds against the country and the Constitution he swore to protect. Congress could censure the president, an exceptionally rare move that would encapsulate just how historically horrendous this presidency has been. Unlike impeachment, censure would only require a majority vote of each house. It would not only be a speedy and more realistic goal, but it would force the president’s congressional abettors to stand up and be counted publicly. President Trump deserves far more serious punishment — impeachment and removal so he can’t run again, and perhaps criminal charges — but a swift rebuke from Congress would show future generations that a president cannot grievously wound the republic without facing historical consequences.
Furthermore, censure, if pursuant to the 14th Amendment, potentially could carry the more potent punishment of precluding President Trump from holding office again. Section 3 of that amendment applies to those who have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” or those who have “given aid or comfort” to those who have — arguably an apt description of the havoc at the Capitol and the president’s role in stoking it.
The constitutional system of checks and balances has failed to keep this commander in chaos in check, and it charges us with the long-term task of reforming our democracy to save it from would-be autocrats assisted by craven enablers. Trump has wantonly wielded the raw power of his office with little respect for the rule of law and democratic norms. In his wake, President-elect Joe Biden will, at least for the near future, come into office with a Democratic House and Senate and a chastened GOP. This presents a unique opportunity to build back stronger over the deep cracks the Trump administration left in the facade of our democracy.
It is past time to reconsider the Cold War policy of allowing the president to launch a nuclear strike unilaterally. The administration’s preposterous overreaction at the southern border in light of a migrant caravan of asylum-seekers in a xenophobic attempt to rally his base and consolidate power shows the need to seriously revisit the scope and checks on national emergency declaration powers. President Trump dodged accountability for his Ukraine stunt to hobble his political adversary partly because the White House simply shrugged off subpoenas issued amid a serious congressional investigation — an at-best opaque practice that should not be allowed in a country where our leaders’ behavior is supposed to be accountable to their constituents. And if would-be presidents seek the faith and trust of the American citizenry, they should have to release their taxes.
That we might take these lessons with us is a paltry silver lining compared to the dark cloud this presidency has cast over our republic. That cloud won’t break until Jan. 20 — bringing relief that can’t come soon enough.