We have reached a new level of prevarication in the Never Trump movement. From the moment election results came in fourteen months ago, a solid core of activists in the Democratic party announced they would never accept Donald Trump as president. Since then, most of the country – including those who do not care for Trump – seems to have judged that the costs of removing the president before 2020 are steep. We have removed two presidents in the last two generations – one by public execution, and one by forced resignation. We have learned that actions like that do not come for free.
As Barack Obama prepared to take office in 2009, a so-called birther movement appeared to say that Obama was not constitutionally qualified to be president, as he could not prove he was born in Hawaii. One of the movement’s leaders was Donald Trump. The birthers’ mode of operation was transparent: we don’t want this man in office, so let’s find an article in the Constitution that lets us get rid of him. If his native state is an island some twenty-five hundred miles off the coast of California, and he doesn’t have a birth certificate in his back pocket, we try to raise doubts about his place of birth. They did not give up until Obama produced a document, and even then, many called it a forgery.
Now Trump’s opponents want him to prove he is mentally fit for the office. That’s not the same as producing a birth certificate – we don’t have certificates to prove you’re sane.
In this case, people who want to send you to an asylum, or remove you from office, can procure a certificate to prove you are insane. We even have an idiomatic – and legal – term for it: ‘certified’. If you are ‘certified’ insane, other people can take control of every aspect of your life. That is the kind of process Trump’s opponents are talking about now, except they only need written authorization from his cabinet or other body created by Congress. So Congress calls in mental health experts to discuss whether or not Trump has begun to ‘unravel’. Like the birthers, these opponents are open about their strategy: work the Constitution and the legal process to get the result they want – removal from office. They are open about their strategy, without admitting it.
We paid for letting the national security state reach a position where it could plan the assassination of a president it wanted to remove from office. Extreme measures come in more than one form, though. Here is Alan Dershowitz on the price we pay if we move against Donald Trump outside the political system:
The 25th Amendment would require, for mental incapacity, a major psychotic break. This is hope over reality. If we don’t like someone’s politics we rail against him, we campaign against him, we don’t use the psychiatric system against him. That’s just dangerous.
People who oppose Trump think, “We – and the republic – cannot tolerate four years of this man, let alone eight. We have to rid ourselves of him now, before he can do any more damage, before he starts a nuclear war.” That is exactly the same argument Kennedy’s enemies made against him, except they wanted to remove the president because he refrained from precipitate use of military means – nuclear if necessary – to fight the Soviet Union. Because he was not sufficiently belligerent, or committed to military victory, they feared the United States would lose its competition with its main rival if he remained in office. All of us would surrender to the red menace. Similar anxiety about our security drive the movement to force Trump from office, except now fears center on what might happen in the Western Pacific.
Take Dershowitz’s counsel to heart. Politics exist for a good reason. If political processes yield outcomes you don’t like, you have to live with them, or leave. I am surprised Trump’s election has not enlivened simmering discussions about secession, but that is a subject for another post. For now, politically minded Democrats focus their energies on the 2018 congressional elections. That is where their energies ought to go. Restoration of our republic lies in that direction. Movements to reverse the results of democratic elections are not productive.
If the birthers had succeeded, do you think our situation now would be better than it actually is? Anti-Obama forces would have had their season of smugness. That is the great temptation of high stakes competition: victors smile with contempt, while their victims have nothing but resentment and a feuder’s resolve: next time. We have political processes to reach outcomes most people can accept. Manipulative dishonesty about those processes – whether it involves proof of birth, assassination, or certifiable insanity – subverts public institutions, and creates a sense that everything we have is illegitimate.