On and Beyond the Removal of a Jackass President: Impeachment Not Required

Photo by Paul Sableman | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Paul Sableman | CC BY 2.0

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed February 19, 1967, gives the U.S. Vice President, the presidential Cabinet, and Congress the power to remove the President of the United States from office without impeachment. One provision in the Amendment allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to send a letter to Congress stating that the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This letter would immediately initiate a transfer of power to the Vice President, subject to Congressional review.

A different provision in the Amendment empowers Congress to form its own body to evaluate the President’s fitness for office, eliminating the need for the Cabinet’s involvement in the process (emphasis ours):

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

The amendment does not specify any specific form of disability. It permits Congress to determine and enforce its own criteria for presidential fitness. Congress could deem the President “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” if they conclude that he cannot be trusted with classified information from intelligence agencies. Congress can use the threat of removal to enhance it leverage over the President’s actions. There’s no medical diagnosis required. Truth be told, the Amendment leaves the door open for the president to be kicked out of the White House for being too stupid, too vicious, or just too much of a jackass – for being someone like Donald Trump.

Do not misunderstand me. I am no fan of the U.S. Constitution, an archaic and openly anti-democratic document introduced in the 1780s explicitly to keep the wealthy propertied Few in controlling power over and against the property-less and property-poor Many.  I do not wish to defend “the power and duties” of the U.S. presidency, an office whose occupants have committed war crimes and other crimes against humanity on a vast scale for many decades.  Let the imperial presidency collapse. I hold both major capitalist U.S. political organizations in total contempt.  I agree with the American expat playwright John Steppling when he writes that “The strange sight of liberal America participating in a neo-McCarthyite assault on Trump appointees, not on the grounds of their inherent racism and stupidity, but because they have contacts with Russia, is among the more surreal spectacles of modern political history… the result of this new Russophobic hysteria is to create a precedent for the CIA and even more shady and shadowy forces to unseat an elected President…common cause is being made with the worst actors in American politics.” And I am no fan of the lethal white Christian nationalist Mike Pence, who would become president if Trump were removed.

At the same time, it strikes me that a national ruling class with any reasonable sense of duty to the entity called the United States – or with any serious concern at least for the public relations image of the United States – would push now for the permanent 25th Amendment, sec. 4 removal of the noxious racist idiot Donald J. Trump from the White House.

The Open Madness of Candidate Donald

Of course, candidate Trump gave numerous glaring indications that he was unfit for the job, which includes putting at least a veneer of decency and sophistication on the highly indecent, brutal, and exploitative system of American Empire and Inequality at home and abroad. The unabashed madness of candidate Trump was epic. Herr Donito the presidential contender:

+ said that immigrants from Mexico are rapists and murderers and went on bizarre rants claiming that “criminal aliens” are wreaking havoc in the United States.

+ first rose to political notoriety as a leader of the insane “birther movement,” which claimed that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

+ accused fellow contender Ted Cruz’s father of being linked to the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

+ suggested (against all evidence) that Blacks and Latinos would commit massive voter fraud.

+ attacked a Mexican-American federal judge for ruling against the scam “Trump University,” attributing the magistrate’s decision to his ethnicity.

+ advocated banning adherents of an entire world religion (Islam) from the United States.

+ offered to pay the legal bills of a white man who viciously sucker-punched a Black protester at a Trump rally.

+ failed to properly distance himself from the Ku Klux Klan.

+ responded to the racial turbulence sparked by repeated video-captured police killings of Black Americans by calling for “a national stop and frisk law” – that is, for a declaration of national racist martial law.

+ continued to defend the railroading of the “Central Park Five” – five young Black men who were wrongfully convicted (with Trump leading the charge) of raping a white woman in New York City in 1989. (The subsequently exonerated five spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit).

+ engaged in the ugly racist imitation of an Asian accent in front of a hot microphone.

+ mocked a disabled reporter in a chillingly juvenile way in front of a hot microphone.

+ called climate change “weather,” saying that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by Chinese to harm U.S. manufacturing.

+ promised to honor the results of the presidential election only if he won, egging his more extreme backers to engage in violence if the count didn’t go his way.

+ called his political opponents “losers” and gives them nasty, juvenile nicknames and

+ insulted the looks of a fellow Republican presidential candidate and those of other candidates’ wives.

+ behaved like a lazy and boorish adolescent during his “presidential” “debates” with Hillary Clinton – events for which he openly failed to prepare.

+ followed his first hideous “debate” performance by going on a bizarre Twitter tirade the next the morning against a former Miss Universe he once labelled “Miss Piggy.”

+ wondered aloud why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons and says it might be good for Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Japan to be equipped with nuclear weapons.

+ advocated the use of torture and even the killing of terrorists’ families and relatives in the U.S. war on (of) terror.

+ boasted that he’d “shoot” Iranian naval ships if they ever again interdicted “our beautiful destroyers with their little boats.”

+ questioned John McCain’s status as a war hero, saying that he preferred military personnel “who don’t get captured.”

+ claimed that he too had “sacrificed” by employing “thousands and thousands of people” while feuding with the parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq,

+ said this to a military veteran who give Trump his Purple Heart medal, given to those injured in “battle”: “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier” – a remarkable statement for a Vietnam era draft-dodger like Donald.

I could go on.

Insane Clown President

Perhaps you thought it was all some crazy comedy act, calculated to win the election with the moron vote, and that Trump would become presidential when he became president.

Wrong. Since taking the oath, Insane Clown President (ICP) Donald Trump’s presidency has been a great homage to the American reality television series “Jackass.” The witless Big Brother -in-Chief:

+ spent his first full day in office claiming like a petulant grade-schooler that the media underestimated the size of his Inauguration crowd.

+ complained about the above alleged media slight in a weird, rambling Day 1 speech to the Central Intelligence Agency – a speech in which he told stone-faced intelligence officials that the U.S. might get “another chance” to go into Iraq and “get its oil.”

+ replaced the White House website’s climate change page with a pledge to drill for oil on federal lands.

+ has repeatedly claimed, against all evidence, to have won the popular vote in the presidential election (by as many as 5 million votes, he ludicrously purports) and to have been cheated of a popular vote victory by voter fraud.

+ created an absurd diplomatic crisis with Australia by complaining publicly over a private phone call with that nation’s Prime Minister.

+ has brandished openly bogus crime data in making authoritarian, not-so subtly racist calls for “law and order.”

+ farcically threatened to send the U.S. military down to Mexico to “deal with some bad hombres.”

+ went on Twitter to complain about how a major U.S. retail firm dropped his daughter’s losing perfume brand.

+ ordered an ill-prepared, un-vetted, discriminatory and unconstitutional travel ban on Muslims, eliciting mass protests and judicial veto.

+ referred to a distinguished federal jurist who blocked his travel ban as a “a so-called judge,” something that even Trump’s own Supreme Court nominee called “discouraging” (Trump then denied that this nominee opposed his attack on the courts).

+ chillingly framed judicial review of presidential actions as a threat to national security and as a sign of national decline.

+ violated court orders against his moronic travel ban.

+ conducted a nuclear strategy session with Japan’s prime minster not in the White House but in the public dining room of Trump’s Florida resort.

+ allowed one of his super-wealthy resort guests to post a picture to Facebook of the Army officer tasked with carrying America’s “nuclear football.”

+ trashed a key nuclear arms treaty (New START) during a call with Vladimir Putin — this after putting the phone down to ask his advisers what that treaty was.

+ allowed his press secretary Sean Spicer to claim that Iran had committed an “act of war” against the United States.

+ upbraided Spicer for being impersonated by a woman (Melissa McCarthy) on Saturday Night Live.

+ appointed blithering morons with no serious knowledge of relevant policy subject matter to Cabinet positions (examples include Betsy DeVos [Education], Ben Carson [Housing and Urban Development], and Rick Perry [Energy]).

+ barred CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, and other mainstream media from a White House briefing – this because these media outlets were considered too unfriendly to the White House.

+ referred to the nation’s mainstream media as “enemies of the people” (an accurate enough description from a democratic left perspective though that’s not Trump’s perspective, to say the least).

+ approved a poorly planned, mass-murderous, and child-killing commando raid in Yemen over dinner.

+ distanced himself from the Yemen operation after it went bad (even while claiming it as a great success at his opening de facto State of the Union Address).

+ said this to an assembly of the nation’s fifty state governors in support of his preposterous call for a 10 percent increase in the hyper-bloated Pentagon budget: “We have to start winning wars again…We never win…When I was young, in high school and in college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. America never lost. Now, we never win a war.”

+ said this about the great 19th century Black abolitionist and social critic Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) in comments on Black History Month: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed… And he’s continuing to do an amazing job, I noticed. Good” (It sounded like the president thought Douglass (a) is still alive and (b) might do well on “Celebrity Apprentice.”)

Saturday Morning Meltdown: Bad Grandpa Launches PhoneTapGate

Dunce Cap Donald has continued with his malignantly childish and narcissistic habit of serial Tweeting in pouty and undignified ways that help make a joke out of the U.S. presidency. In his creepy quest for constant attention, he persists in making outlandish claims like a teenage “mean girl” going after her enemies online.

The president’s latest Tweet storm is the wackiest yet. It’s like something out of the Bad Grandpa movies. Without evidence, Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama of having wiretapped his telephones prior to the 2016 election. Trump made no effort to offer any proof to support the allegation. He said that “bad” and “sick” Obama’s alleged bugging of him was a scandal on the scale of Richard Nixon’s Watergate.

The next day, the White House wheeled out a junior spokesperson to walk back the orange-haired beast’s latest online meltdown.  The spokesperson could only say that the raging Twitter Twit in the Oval Office “believes” the bugging occurred and that Congress should investigate. FBI Director James Comey (who helped elect the Trumpkin last October) James Comey has asked the Justice Department to repudiate the fantastic allegation made against Obomber44 by Trumpenstein45.

Bad Grandpa says he doesn’t believe Comey’s denial of any knowledge that a FISA judge permitted the executive branch to tap Trump’s phones.

Even if Trump has some hint of evidence consistent with his charge (unlikely), it is ridiculously inappropriate for him to have a teenage Twitter Tantrum over such a – one would think- grave matter of high state conduct.

If it came out that the Obama administration did have a FISA wiretap on Trump, that would show that a high-level federal judge agreed (speaking of McCarthyism) that the campaign had suspicious links to “foreign agents.” Either way, proof or no proof, Trump shows that he’s a certifiable dumb-ass.

It’s like having your demented old uncle who watches FOX News and listens to raving right- wing talk radio lunatics like Mark Levin all day in the Oval Office.

For what it’s worth, Trump followed his remarkable Twitter-launched charges against Obama (who I have also long loathed for different and evidence-based reasons from the left) claims with the following Tweet the very same morning: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.”

Insane.  Clownish. Unreal. Dystopian.  The world’s and history’s top Superpower has “commander-in-chief” who goes on Twitter to make wild accusations against the previous White House occupant and takes a Tweet swipe at a reality television personality in the same online breath. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell could have an interesting email exchange over that.

As Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the U.S. Army, said to said to the drunken, power-mad Joe McCarthy in 1954: “at long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

A Great Regressive Opportunity

So when does the wise, benevolent, and far-seeing American ruling class, gravely and properly concerned for the legitimacy and outward decency of the American System, make use of the Constitutional Amendment that Lyndon Johnson gave them to get rid of the outrageous, knuckle-dragging atrocity – the abject national embarrassment – currently occupying the White House?  Three things stand in the way of rapid removal. First, the remarkably unpopular and indeed widely loathed party in Cabinet and Congressional power cannot resist its current opportunity to ram through a right-wing regulation- and tax-cutting, pro-business agenda in the name of the “free market.” It doesn’t want to blow the current shining moment in its longstanding battle to smite the common good and the hapless Many yet further in service to the nastiest among the wealthy Few.

The short-term, bottom-line benefits of the current deregulatory, tax-cutting and diversionary, populace-dividing and public -degrading promises on offer from the unexpected TrumPence-Paul Ryan-Mitch McConnell moment are very attractive indeed for much of the business class.

It’s got nothing to do with decency. Quite the opposite. Decency went out the door a long time go in this nasty neoliberal age.

Bad and Distant Entertainment

Second, it’s not clear that an adequate mass of the U.S. populace is sufficiently agitated or equipped to wade through all the bizarre nonsense and force the matter from below. It’s all just a blur to most ordinary Americans, who are too busy trying to keep their heads above water in the current “long depression” to try to figure out what in Hell the ICP and the rest of political and chattering classes are going on about.  “What’s a FISA court? He said what? What’s that she said? Oh well.”  Life goes on.  It all seems pretty removed from relevant daily experience and struggles – kind of like, well, like some stupid reality television show. It’s bad entertainment and background noise for millions.

One of Trump’s greatest assets has always been the (ex-?) citizenry’s systematically encouraged disdain for – and inability to understand and engage with – the purposefully noxious idiocy of U.S. politics. The right has long been working with often unwitting allies in the corporate media to turn the reigning political culture into an endless senseless freak show that threatens the mental health of anyone who focuses on it to more than a passing extent.  Untangling the cobwebs of madness behind the constant “ThisWeekInTrump” (Ted Rall’s clever phrase) spectacle takes time and energy few Americans possess, preoccupied as they are by absurdly long working and commuting hours and often by multiple low-wage jobs. The Latest Trump Abomination Report is just another soul- and brain-deadening energy suck. Call it the banalization of dystopia. Brave New Shrug.

What Benevolent American Elite? 

Third, it’s not clear that the ruling class I posited three paragraphs above exists anymore if it ever really did. A “business elite” that truly cared about the United States of America and its future would never have let the nation become mired in many years of mindless ideological debate promoted by religious and social conservatives over things like creationism versus evolution.  It would not have allowed U.S high school math and science capabilities fall through the floor. It would not have let the nation’s public investment in social and technical infrastructure decline to the current breaking points.

It would not have permitted religious fundamentalists to mount serious political challenges to stem cell research. It would not have let Big Oil wage a disastrous propaganda war on climate science.  It would not have let the county be plagued by endemic illiteracy and innumeracy. It would not have permitted levels of historical ignorance so extreme that most Americans can no longer tell you who fought on what side during World War II or when or why the American Civil War was fought. It would not have allowed millions to become addicted to violent video games and attached to terrible pre-fascist television spectacles like “The Jerry Springer Show,” Maury Povich (the inner-city-shaming paternity test king), and pussy-grabber Donald’s “The Apprentice.” It would not permit elections to fall to the level of beer and car commercials and, come to think of it, the Springer Show.

It would not have permitted the nation to become saturated with assault weapons even as it throws millions out of work and shreds mental health care services. It would not permit the nation’s waterways to become hopelessly polluted with industrial and agricultural run-off. It would not make health care unavailable and un-affordable to millions of its citizens.  It would not have let the so-called land of liberty become history’s greatest monument to mass incarceration and home to a giant, still burgeoning militarized police state. It would not have presided over the destruction of basic living and working standards for millions upon millions of ordinary Americans as wealth and power concentrated upward to the absurd point where the top tenth of the upper U.S. 1 Percent owns more wealth than the nation’s bottom 90 percent.

It would not let the “world’s richest country” rank absurdly low in basic measures of social and physical health, including life expectancy, infant mortality, drug addiction, violence, suicide, inequality, social mobility, and poverty.  It would not have let the nation’s political and policy systems be turned into an openly plutocratic oligarchy transparently beyond the influence of citizens (regardless of which party or party configurations holds nominal power).  It not have turned the Democratic Party into a pathetic junior partner in the full Wall Street-led corporate takeover of politics and policy.

As Noam Chomsky told Occupy Boston five and a half years ago, the financial elite atop the corporate sector and the political system has been de-developing and dismantling the United States since the 1970s. The harsh reality in the neoliberal era is that the economic elite that rules America is global and transnational and feels much more in common with fellow opulent masters of capital in other nations than it does with ordinary folks in “the homeland.”  It is all too willing to let much of the ever more poisoned and used-up national territory that is the United States sink in the mire.

Perhaps He’s Gone Too Far?

Still, even this neoliberal and transnational ruling class can’t have the United States – still very much the world’s most powerful and governing, system-underwriting capitalist state – become an openly Kardashian farce. Along with real policy concerns over his promises to normalize relations with Russia and launch an economic nationalist agenda, that’s why it overwhelmingly supported the far more boring but Establishment-vetted and reliably ruling class, Yale Law-trained, and Council of Foreign Relations- and Brookings-approved arch-neoliberal candidate Hillary Clinton over the Orange-Tinted Twitter- Addicted Circus Freak in the election.

There were, perhaps, some hopes that the Madness of King Don could be contained after he seemed to have calmly read a seemingly ruling class-approved, NATO-backing teleprompter speech to Congress on the first Tuesday in March.  The 70-year-old Toddler-in-Chief even won praise for seeming “presidential” from silly liberal pundits like Van “Man Ho” Jones on the Trump-demonized network CNN.  Maybe, it seemed, the beast had been drugged and tamed, brought to heel.

But then came the wild, recklessly un-and anti-presidential Saturday morning Towergate assault, followed by the weird further attack on poor steroid-poisoned Arnold. It was perhaps the craziest Trumpenstein moment yet – and that’s saying quite a bit.

Thus, I am not surprised to hear well-placed rumors that “a bloc is forming between Republicans and Democrats to remove Trump because he is viewed as incompetent and mentally unstable” (Louis Proyect via “social media”).  Or to read a March 7th Time Magazine piece by two Yale Law students telling readers about Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, arguing that “it is important to understand the constitutional mechanisms that would allow removal of a president if a broad bipartisan consensus emerges that he or she is unable to lead our nation.”

President Jackass has gone too far, perhaps, even for an American wealth and power elite that has been giving American and world citizens the double-fisted middle finger(s) for as long as we can remember  (From the beginning really, but with special viciousness since we so ungratefully rose up in many-sided democratic rebellion during the 1960s, that scary decade of democratic protest that the top corporate attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote a famous ruling class memo about [and against] and that presidential candidate and current Richard Branson kite-surfing pal Obama [recently rewarded for his dedicated service to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money with a $65 million contract to write his third bookhis third book about himself – along with Michelle Obama doing a book about herself and Barack] made sure to distance himself from while praising Ronald Reagan.)

We shall see. I’m not holding my breath.

A Ruling Class That Deserves to Die

What about us, we the people, the working and ever more lower-class majority in whose name the U.S. government acts?  What do we need. If the oligarchy’s masters won’t remove the nation’s eco-exterminist president, the orange-faced Ignoramus-in-Chief, then we’d have to do that ourselves, through mass rebellion. But if we developed the capacity and willpower to unseat this nauseating petro-plutocratic/Exxon-plagiarizing  jackal, what would the point and purpose be?  To install Mike Pence and a new coalition of Christian white-nationalist neocons allied with neoliberal imperialists to ramp up the New Cold War with Russia, flirting with catastrophic consequences? To bring back the same old warmongering, Russia-hating dismal dollar Democrats, who serve capital and empire with a different, more politically correct and multi-cultural and bi-coastal and metropolitan mask – and whose right-leaning failures recurrently return visible state power back to the evermore wacky rightmost party after one or two presidential terms?

No, our goal should be something far more meaningful, radical, and democratic.  A system that posits the choice between outwardly liberal corporate-imperialist populace-betrayers like the Clintons and Obama on one hand and wicked Republican thugs like George W. Bush and Donald Trump on the other hand is a system that deserve to be overthrown in the name of (imagine) popular sovereignty (the U.S. Founders’ ultimate nightmare). A ruling class that degrades political discourse to the current new Springer-Trump low and grants us either the “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton or the malignant pre-fascist and geocidal narcissist Donald Trump as our “choices” for president is a ruling class that deserves to die. A ruling class that is willing to let the Earth be pushed past irrevocable tipping points of environmental destruction is a ruling class long past it moral expiration date. We need to organize not just to bring down an administration and a government but to bring down ­the government and the broader domestic and global profit and empire system the U.S. government both reflects and serves.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).