Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
Sat./Sun Feb 11/12/17
Week three and there is no let-up in the troubling tactics of the rule of Trump - which seem aimed at undermining important American institutions. This past week he attacked the Federal judiciary because it dared to challenge his travel ban. And he maintained his trashing of the national news media- this time for not giving sufficient coverage to acts of terrorism around the world. It turns out that this falsehood – and his unfounded claim that Hillary Clinton’s nearly 3 million vote advantage in the popular vote was the result of massive voter fraud, came from the same source – the extremist web site Info Wars, run by the ultra- conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.(Among his far out claims is that the Sandy Hook massacre of twenty Connecticut school children and six adults was a hoax to discredit gun owners.) It can hardly be comforting that evidently this is where the new president gets news and inspiration.
This past week, Trump also earned the ire of the entire establishment by implying in a Fox News interview just prior to the Super Bowl, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s killing of his political opponents was no worse than some things America has done. “You think our country’s so innocent?” asked Trump. This repugnant idea of a moral equivalence between Russia and America was loudly denounced by nearly all prominent officials. Retired General Barry McCaffrey, a noted general officer who is a regular on cable television called this “the most anti American statement ever made” by any U.S. president.
Meantime President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy by tweet and his America First mantra appear to be resurrecting the half century old image of The Ugly American. The book by that title came out in 1958, and was actually aimed at the low quality of American diplomats in that period. It focused on a U.S. ambassador to a fictitious South East Asian country who was not the least bit interested in its language, culture and customs. The book had major impact at the time and was said to be the inspiration for President John Kennedy’s creation of the Peace Corps.
But by the time I was assigned to Paris in the mid-sixties, the term Ugly American was being more broadly used by Europeans toward Americans generally. This was because of the Vietnam War but also because of then French President Charles de Gaulle’s on-going battle with the “Anglo-Saxons.” Still, this less than endearing term did reflect what I sensed was an international attitude toward U.S. foreign policy, whenever it seemed overly aggressive.
If ever there was a president who has gone out of his way to alienate this country’s allies – not to mention adversaries (except for Russia) it is Trump. His self-promoting and super- assertive style make him the ultimate Ugly American. This matters. When the president of the United States overtly demeans the leaders of Germany, Mexico, even Australia, it weakens U.S. security and degrades the image of America in the eyes of most of the world.
We will of course be re-visiting this subject on a regular basis. But I want to draw attention to another topic of conversation here in Washington which is highly unusual this early in a presidency. It concerns the chances President Trump might actually be replaced before he completes a full term. What I am hearing and reading is not only the wishful thinking of liberal Democrats. I’m talking about common dinner party talk and speculation among pundits and commentators of both the left and right about what might trigger Republicans in Congress to take such a drastic step.
There are two options within the Constitution for removal. One is Impeachment. The other is the 25th Amendment.
A presidential impeachment begins in the House of Representatives, where a simple majority of those present must agree that he has committed “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” which can include serious abuses in office. If passed, the House articles of Impeachment are equivalent to an indictment in criminal law. At that point the case goes to trial in the Senate, where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides. A two thirds majority is required for a conviction which would result in the president’s removal. (Only two presidents have faced an impeachment trial - Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Both were acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned before the House voted on his articles of impeachment.)
The 25th Amendment was passed in the wake of President John Kennedy’s assassination because the Constitution was not explicit on the succession. Article one of this amendment makes it clear that the Vice President should be his successor “in the event of death, removal, resignation of incapacitation.” Article 3 specifically addresses the issue of “incapacitation.” In brief, it says that whenever the vice-president and a majority of the top officials of the executive branch, state in writing to the President Pro-Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House that the President is unable to discharge his powers and duties, the Vice President should take over. Seems simple. But it’s not, because this same article also gives the president the power to claim he is not or no longer incapacitated and that could ultimately require Congress to meet, debate and a two-thirds vote to settle the argument.
It seems to me, this is very unlikely, so if the president is to be removed, impeachment would be relatively easier. Frankly, right now I think impeachment is also a long shot. But if a year or more of the current chaos goes by, if there are real Constitutional disputes, or especially if the Trump-Putin connection is proven treasonous, that could be a game changer. Also, if a sufficient number of Republican members of Congress feel that they and their party are about to suffer a huge electoral defeat in the 2018 elections, that would make Mr. Trump’s situation less tenable. This week Gallup has Trump’s disapproval rating at 54%.
I welcome your comments. To post your thoughts, click the word "comments" below.