A Missing Lever
It is not the first time the subject has been brought up, but this week marked the first time President Trump’s mental health began to gain currency as an issue. Former government officials, members of Congress, and opinion writers are raising the matter directly, without hesitation and without the careful wording usually reserved for such topics.
Two events in the last seven days, the August 15th news conference at Trump Tower and the president’s campaign rally in Arizona, have raised questions about Trump’s ability to carry out the duties of president. At both events he seemed out of control and self-destructive.
It is becoming impossible to explain the perception of Trump’s erratic behavior as nothing more than a jarring reaction to a president who is not a professional politician. Despite the best efforts of journalists and other political observers to assign tactics and strategy to Trump’s public statements and positions, there is no logical pattern to his behavior and no results to show for all the chaos. There is no strategy. Trump is a multi-celled amoeba responding instinctively to pleasure and pain with no regard for the consequences.
The dangers are obvious, because of the power Trump commands as president of the United States. Perhaps more troubling however is the fact that there seems to be nothing anyone can do about it. There is no mechanism available — at this time — to remove Trump from office if his mental capacity is truly at issue. There is no evidence to support impeachment. There is no behavior that is publicly known that would lead his cabinet to declare him unfit to serve.
The country is at grave risk, but it would appear our system can only save itself from President Trump by first enduring some significant catastrophe attributable to his failure to lead.
Following events in Charlottesville, and the president’s reaction to those events, there were calls for members of the White House staff and cabinet to resign in protest. So far, that has not happened. The most recent resignations from Trump’s inner circle, in fact, were by men who believe the president has been too reserved when it comes to adhering to the expected norms of American politics.
Trump’s appointees have shown great tolerance for humiliation. Their motives for putting up with the abuse falls into several categories. There are those who believe serving in any administration is good for their career as long as they can leave with their personal reputations untarnished. There are those who thrive on power and being close to even greater power. A closely related group includes those who want to use their positions to advance a policy agenda they believe in. Still another group is the one average Americans must rely on.
In any administration facing serious crisis, there are those who choose to stay on no matter how difficult things get, because they are concerned about what might happen to the country if they leave. Based on what we can observe with our own eyes concerning the president’s mental health, this group of public servants may be the only people standing between us and tragedy.
We are living through a long national nightmare of uncertain duration. A small handful of appointees is protecting us from a president who does not appreciate the rule of law, who is unable to build consensus, who thrives on dividing the population into small groups based on grievance and who sees relations with the leaders of other countries as a test of his personal machismo.
Two points seem self-evident. President Trump’s political opponents and the news media should not be eager to see the few competent people in the Trump White House resign on principle to score a brief symbolic victory. They may be all that stands between the country as a whole and disaster.
The second point is more important for our long-term survival. The first eight months of the Trump presidency shows there is at least one lever missing in our system of checks and balances. It is a lever that would allow us to take action when we elect a leader who turns out to be incompetent. No American chief executive in the private sector would have survived a tenure similar to President Trump’s while demonstrating the same personal conduct and delivering the same meager results.
President Trump demonstrates beyond doubt that the Electoral College, the impeachment process, and the 25th Amendment do not give us the tools we need to correct a personnel issue at the highest level of our government when it is clear we have hired the wrong person for the job.