After the astonishing and unprecedented assault on the Capitol Building in Washington on Wednesday, calls are mounting for President Trump to be speedily removed from office. Trump had encouraged and orchestrated attempts by his supporters to use force to stop Congress declaring Joe Biden the winner of November’s presidential election. Trump has since said he will leave the White House on 20 January in an ‘orderly transition’ but many believe not only that the events of this week have proved beyond doubt that he is unfit to hold office but also that he is too dangerous and unstable a figure to be allowed to remain president and commander-in-chief even for the little time he has left. They fear he could still cause even more havoc than he has already. But might removing Trump cause the United States more trouble than it saves?
The case that Donald Trump is not a fit person to be the President of the United States is now almost beyond dispute and is being made not just by his political opponents, the leaders of the Democratic Party, but by senior figures in his own Republican Party. That case can be put simply. Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol Building, in which five people, including a police officer, died, was the culmination of a sustained campaign by the President to convince his supporters, without any evidence at all, that he and they had been cheated: far from losing the election by seven million votes, he claimed he had won by a ‘landslide’ and that the ‘people’ had been betrayed by an elite determined to deny them their right to choose their political leaders.
Ninety minutes before the rioters stormed Capitol Hill, in what has been described as an ‘insurrection bordering on sedition’ and, by Joe Biden, as an act of ‘domestic terrorism’, Mr Trump addressed them at an outdoor rally. He told them: ‘You’ll never take back your country by weakness. You’ll have to show strength.’ His personal lawyer and close ally, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, told the same supporters that they needed to conduct ‘trial by combat’.
The mob overran Congress, causing proceedings to be abruptly halted and senior figures had to be bundled away to places of safety by security forces. Other members of Congress hit the floor for fear of being caught up in a gun battle. Through it all, the President stayed silent. It was only when the full extent of the outrage became apparent and congressional Republicans pleaded with him to intervene to stop further carnage, that the President tweeted his supporters to ‘go home’. But even then he refused to condemn them. Quite the opposite. He said ‘loved’ them and that they were ‘special people’.
It took over twenty-four hours, during which members of his party abandoned him and senior members of his government, including two cabinet ministers, resigned, for him to change his tune. Now his ‘special people’ had become guilty of committing a ‘heinous act’ and should be prosecuted. To many, even without his palpable undermining of the constitution he had pledged to uphold, and even without his incitement of Wednesday’s violence, this volte-face was itself sufficient to prove he was unfit to remain in office. Apart from anything else he was clearly guilty of instability.
But it is not just his past and recent behaviour that is fuelling calls for the President to be summarily removed from office. There is deep anxiety about the damage he could still do in the couple of weeks left him. He could, for example, invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act in order to declare martial law and keep himself in office. Some of his supporters, including his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn (whom he recently pardoned) have urged him to do this. And as Commander-in-Chief he still has the power to go out with a bang, for example by ordering a military attack on Iran.
For all these reasons, those who fear what a wounded President Trump might still do, have called for him to be removed from office as quickly as possible. The calls have been led by Democrat leaders in Congress, Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives. They have called for the 25th Amendment of the American Constitution to be invoked. This would involve the Vice-President, Mike Pence, and a majority of the Cabinet declaring Mr Trump unfit for office. If he challenged them, as presumably he would, it would then require a two-thirds majority in both houses of congress for his challenge to be overridden and for him to be escorted from the White House.
So far there is no sign of Mr Pence following this course. Although he broke with the President this week, he had given him four years of unquestioning loyalty. Even now, by refusing Mr Trump’s demand that he use his powers as the presiding officer in Congress, to prevent the endorsement of Mr Biden as the next president, Mr Pence has gone no further than to condemn the rioters in unequivocal terms and to complete the process by which Mr Biden will lawfully become the next president. It is also the case that with two members (so far) of the Cabinet having already resigned, getting a majority to back a move to depose the President has become more difficult to achieve. So there are few who believe that using the 25th Amendment to get rid of Mr Trump is much of a runner.
Another possible course of action is for Congress to impeach him. The Democrats in Congress have already tried this. They won the backing of the House of Representatives (which they control) but failed in the Senate. The Republicans will continue to enjoy a majority in the Senate until 20 January, but it’s thought the outcome of any new impeachment process might not be the same as last time: there is the possibility that enough Republican senators would now be so appalled by their president’s conduct and the danger he still poses to the country, that they might switch their vote. Successful impeachment would not only remove Mr Trump from office but prevent him from running again, as he is talking of doing in 2024.
But although impeachment might be, in practical terms, a better way of trying to get rid of him than relying on Mr Pence and the Cabinet, there are political reasons why this may not only not happen but why many (and not just Mr Trump’s supporters) think it would be politically unwise.
It might not happen because successful impeachment would require Republican senators to vote against their president and, even if they think he is guilty as charged, they may not feel willing to risk the wrath of their grassroots by convicting him, especially if they need those grassroots to vote them back into office in future elections.
But the wider political argument against removing Mr Trump is quite simply that it would risk turning him into a martyr and making him even more of a danger in the future. As recently as last week, polls showed that between 70% and 80% of Republican voters have bought Mr Trump’s wholly unsubstantiated claim that the election was fraudulent and that he was the rightful winner. They believe this despite the fact that not a single one of the many lawsuits brought by his lawyers to overturn results in particular states has been successful.
The political consideration is that if Mr Trump were summarily to be removed from office before 20 January, many of these voters who have swallowed his false claim that he and they were robbed would see his being bundled out of the White House as further evidence of conspiracy against him and them. This would divide the country even further, make Joe Biden’s task even harder and could well incite even further violence.
Talk of civil war is in the air and some believe it is not just extravagant hyperbole. In the face of such risks, some of those who believe Mr Trump’s behaviour is beyond the pale and certainly sufficient to convict him, urge caution. It is wiser, they say, to cross their fingers for the next couple of weeks and pray he commits no further atrocities than try to get him out now and stoke up untold trouble for the future. That future, they say, looks bleak enough as it is.
So what’s your view? Do you think Donald Trump has proved himself unfit for office or not? And if you think he has, should an attempt be made to remove him from power as soon as possible, or should America wait until 20 January when he claims he will accommodate an ‘orderly transition’ to President Biden, the man he says lost the election?
Let us know what you think.