A year ago Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. Since his inauguration, barely a day has passed that’s been left unblemished by scandal or chaos. Even since our news summary published on Friday, he’s managed to call a bunch of country’s ‘shitholes’. The gossip-filled ‘Fire and Fury’, written by journalist Michael Wolff has brought a bunch of concerns to the surface all over again. He might be illiterate. He can’t focus. He quite possibly colluded with the Russian government to influence the election. And he can’t find a suit that doesn’t make him look like a lego man that’s been put in the microwave for a couple of seconds.
Still, a year is long enough to finally understand that this isn’t all some elaborate prank. Trump really is President. And a year is a lot longer than many of us assumed he could possibly last. I, like many of the left, had the implicit assumption that Trump’s reign would end with impeachment. How could it not? Like all fantastic Greek tragedies, our protagonist, the greatest breathing example of hubris, is struck down by the country that elected him. They turn, in a single united voice, and whisper: ‘You’re fired.’
Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Here’s a breakdown of the two main ways in which Trump might get kicked out before 2020.
No American President has ever been successfully impeached.
It’s very hard to get rid of a sitting President.
When you think about it, that’s a good thing. That’s how it should work. American elections are an agreement: this person will lead the country for four years, okay? Deal. Your opponents (or even your own colleagues) can’t just turn around and oust you when you behave erratically or make decisions they don’t like. Unless you’ve been an Australian PM in the last ten years, but that’s another blog.
In extremely simple terms, the American government is split three ways. The executive branch is the office of the President. The legislative branch is Congress, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The judicial branch is the Supreme Court. All three branches are designed to balance one another. None can be more powerful than the other.
Impeachment is a process that starts in the House of Representatives. Congress must bring forward an article of impeachment. Critically, it must have enough votes to pass. If it does pass the House, the Senate kicks into gear. The Senate becomes a Court of Impeachment – so the President essentially goes to trial. If the Senate then votes with a two thirds majority, the President is kicked out.
President Andrew Johnson and President Bill Clinton have both been ‘impeached’, but were acquitted in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before he could be officially kicked out.
Sadly, you can’t be impeached for being rude, imbecilic or having bad hair. Impeachment is reserved for cases of criminality: treason, bribery or other high crimes.
This is why the Russia investigation is so crucial, and may eventually be the key to a Trump impeachment.
Can Trump be impeached?
The most conclusive answer is: probably not in 2018.
Trump is a part of the Republican Party. Right now, Republicans have a majority in both the Senate and the House, making any move against Trump almost impossible unless he well and truly stuffs it and his party abandons him.
In December, 2017, Democrat Al Green listed two articles for impeachment in the House. The first was ‘associating the Presidency with White Nationalism, Neo-Nazism and hatred’, the second was ‘inciting hatred and hostility’. The move was voted down 364 to 58. In fact, Green’s attempt didn’t have the support of the Democratic leadership, who said that while there were legitimate questions about Trump’s fitness to lead, there was still an ongoing congressional investigation. So, basically, let’s wait and see.
And of course, it’s something that the Democrats want to know they’ve got right. If they’re going to start this particular fight, they know they need to win it. The stakes are too high. If they lose, they could erode credibility for years to come.
At the end of this year, there’ll be an opportunity for Democrats to take back Congress. Mid-term elections happen halfway through a President’s term. They’re way less glamorous than a presidential vote, which is a shame, because they’re almost certainly as important. They typically have a lower voter turn out. But still, given the outrage surrounding Trump (as well as his fierce defenders), we’re likely to see an incredibly tumultuous mid-term election in November.
The 25th Amendment of the Constitution
There have been growing concerns about Trump’s mental health. Wolff’s book claims that Trump is having trouble remaining focussed in conversations, and is likely to repeat the same stories many times.
In the case of a President being ill or unconscious, there’s the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. It’s the one that basically says the Vice President can take over in the event the President is incapacitated. The original writers of the constitution weren’t imagining a Trump like figure of bewildered mental instability – they were worried about their commander in chief being shot or physically impaired.
In times past, various Presidents have had to go into surgery for boring things like a colonoscopy. They sign a magic letter in these instances that temporarily bestow all powers of the Presidency to the Vice President, who is otherwise, apparently, just sitting around eating ice cream.
With Trump, there’s a bit of noise floating around about article four of the 25th amendment, where the Vice President could join with a majority of members of Cabinet and discharge the President of his duties. They would need to pass this motion through Congress.
This would be extraordinary. Obviously, it’s never happened before and would be a constitutional clusterfuck that has the makings of severe political unrest (like civil war type territory).
For mental instability, there’s a lot of grey area on how that can be proved and measured for a President, and where the line in the sand lies. How many doctors need to agree? No one’s sure. Ultimately, it’s Congress that has to make the final decision. So once again, we turn to the mid-term elections as the only path to an early Trump exit.
Are we really surprised?
Plus, and this is an important point, Trump isn’t doing anything that we didn’t know he was going to do. He confessed to sexual assault and he was elected anyway. He’s not showing any more severe mental distress than before he was elected. Plus, the actual legislation that’s he’s managed to pass is modest in quantity, unlike his bat-shit-crazy Twitter feed. In fact, he’s pushing through laws that conservative Republicans generally like. His dismantling of Obamacare and his tweaking of tax reform passed through the Congress to rapturous applause.
Believe it or not, he’s just not mental enough to get kicked out.
We’ll be back on Friday with a summary of the week’s events. Hope you have a glorious week.
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