There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
The events of this week have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Oval Office is occupied by an ignorant, impulse-driven lunatic.
Just how much of a lunatic is President Donald J. Trump? So much so that he fired the director of the FBI in a fit of pique despite the fact that the FBI is conducting an investigation of whether and to what extent the president's own campaign colluded with Russian intelligence services to manipulate the election that landed Trump in the White House. If self-inflicted wounds can range from a paper cut to a bullet in the brain, this is something like the accidental amputation of a leg just above the knee: The victim can still get around, but he's undeniably and irreversibly hobbled, not to mention weakened by a near-fatal loss of blood.
But not even that gruesome metaphor manages to capture the extent of our president's distinctive form of self-destructive madness. There isn't a single office holder, political operative, experienced staffer, or journalist in Washington who wouldn't have grasped in an instant that firing James Comey under such circumstances would be massively harmful to the president's efforts to defend himself against the Russian allegations and could well open himself up to a credible (or perhaps more than credible) charge of obstruction of justice. Even bomb-thrower extraordinaire Stephen Bannon understood it!
But not Trump, the most clueless man in Washington, who thought he would be cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike. Trolling around for someone to back him up, the president did what any impulse-driven lunatic would do: He reportedly turned for counsel to the one person who just might be as certifiably delusional as himself. In this case, that was Roger Stone — a man who also just so happens to be under investigation by the FBI.
Comey may have made some pretty massive mistakes over the past year, but as he exits public life, let's give him the honor of providing the definitive summation of this week's farcical events. According to The New York Times, Comey told associates that in his judgment the president was "outside the realm of normal," even "crazy." Amen, brother.
Thankfully, America's constitutional system of government provides a means of saving the country (and the world) from having to endure 44 more months with President Queeg at the helm. As the president's most tireless online antagonists repeat hourly, Trump would seem to be a prime candidate for impeachment and/or removal from office, if not under Article II, Section 4, then using Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which provides a means of removing a president on grounds of impairment ("unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office").
I wish I could believe it. But alas, there is still no evidence — no evidence at all — that Trump's term will be cut short. It remains, and shows every sign of remaining, a fantasy.
The choice to initiate impeachment proceedings, let alone the act of voting for removal from office, is not automatic. You could be excused for thinking otherwise from perusing the flurry of tweets that regularly refer to how some statement or action by the president is bound to jumpstart the process. "Obstruction of justice! Just like Watergate! You're going down, Mr. President!"
If only it were that simple. Seeking to remove a sitting president from office prior to the conclusion of his term is a supremely political act. And the demoralizing fact is that there is no political will to undertake such an act against President Trump.
When Nixon faced impeachment, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and it was a far less polarized era in terms of both ideology and partisanship — one in which powerful Republicans were willing to speak out against the president when he acted to obstruct justice. This was also long before the advent of news outlets explicitly designed to push a political line, when the mainstream media (a handful of TV networks, newspapers, and weekly newsmagazines) monopolized the distribution of information to the electorate — and these outlets were uniformly skeptical of the president's increasingly desperate defenses of himself and his administration.
Things are profoundly different now. The two parties are more polarized than at any time since the Civil War. The president's own party controls both houses of Congress, and the vast majority of Republican voters support the president — in large part because many of these voters have cut themselves off from legitimate news sources and now receive the bulk of their information from propaganda outlets like Fox News, talk radio, and websites that specialize in gratuitous and cowardly displays of anti-anti-Trumpism that automatically deflects criticism of the president.
But don't take my word for it. Just look at the helpful list The New York Times has compiled of responses to Comey's firing among lawmakers. As I write, 136 Democrats or independents have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor or its equivalent. The number of Republicans who have done the same? Zero. The number of Democrats who have called for an independent investigation? Eighty-five. Republicans? Five. While a grand total of 40 Republicans have gone so far as to express "concern," more than twice that many (90) have offered support for the president or refused to comment one way or the other.
That is not the behavior of a party even tip-toeing in the direction of turning on its president.
And perhaps most unsettling of all, the dynamic is powerfully self-reinforcing. The more it is Democrats alone who criticize or denounce Trump's words and actions, the more Republicans can dismiss the response as an expression of ordinary partisan animus, which nicely confirms Republican voters in their tendency to view everything the other party does as a politically motivated witch hunt.
Until something breaks through this partisan wall and begins to change public opinion among rank-and-file Republicans, Trump will stay right where he is.
Of course Democrats can and should work hard to take control of both houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. That could open up more possibilities beginning in 2019. But recall: Removing a president from office under Article II requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, while the 25th Amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate. It's hard to imagine any series of events that would deliver that kind of electoral sweep to the Democrats in either chamber, let alone both.
Donald Trump is overwhelmingly likely to remain our president through the end of his term. God help us all.