RealClearPolicy Newsletters: Original Articles

Damned If You Coup...

Damned If You Coup...
Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

Dear Reader — 

Donald Trump’s critics have long argued that he is unfit to occupy the country’s highest office, whether on account of his temperament or character or — in the more outlandish cogitations — because he is some kind of Manchurian candidate controlled by nefarious foreign powers. (This was more or less what the fringe John Birch Society believed about President Eisenhower and Soviet Russia.) With a cascade of high-level leaks documenting purported misdeeds by the president, talk has lately turned to impeachment or removal from office. 

On the other side are those who dismiss these accusations and schemes as the fabrications and distractions of the “deep state” and an implacable “elite.” And then there are those who accept the accusations while fearing that a soft coup by the national security establishment is a cure far worse than the disease. Whatever the outcome, it seems, some large portion of the electorate is bound to believe that our democratic republic is under existential threat. (One is tempted to pun: Damned if you coup, damned if you don’t.)

There are two constitutional mechanisms by which a sitting president may be removed from office: Article II of the Constitution (impeachment) or the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The former — which, according to the Constitution, should be invoked only if the president commits “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”  — does not necessarily result in removal from office. It has been used twice in our country’s history (for Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton). Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, adopted in 1967, outlines the procedure by which the vice president and the cabinet may remove from office a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” While other sections of the amendment have been applied before, Section 4 — which some have proposed as a way to remove President Trump — has not.

Fears that these mechanisms could be used and abused for partisan purposes are not new. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment took place in the context of a country— and a Republican Party — deeply divided after the Civil War. And President Clinton’s allies questioned the motives of the Republicans who sought his impeachment. (Richard Nixon’s departure from office likely enjoys more bipartisan support, though he was never impeached.) Today, even some who describe the president as “a menace” fear that use of the 25th Amendment would deal a “crippling blow” to America's belief in self-rule.

Given the sweep of political history, such concerns should not be dismissed too cavalierly.

The American presidency has lately become a kind of screen upon which we project all our hopes and fears about the future of our republic. Perhaps an inadvertent result of our troubled political times will be to enliven the old-fashioned idea the president is more steward of our system government — and executor of its laws — than world-historical embodiment of our nation’s destiny. 

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past week. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


America Isn't Having a Constitutional Crisis. The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman takes a look at scholarly attempts to pin down the meaning of the term “constitutional crisis.”

The Imperial Bureau. For Jacobin, Chip Gibbons argues the FBI cannot “curb Trump’s autocratic tendencies.” 

Trump's Assault on the “Administrative State.” In The American Prospect, Eliza Newlin Carney contends the GOP is “dismantl[ing] merit-based civil service rules that protect against patronage and graft.” 

GOP Uses Voter Suppression Playbook to Attack Unions. David Madland makes his case in our own pages. 

The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth. In Pacific Standard, Christopher Ketcham takes issue with the notion that economic growth “can continue forever on a finite planet.”

The Nightmares and the Realities of Never Trump. In American Greatness, Victor Davis Hanson maintains that conservatives’ dire predictions about Trump have not come to pass. 

America Needs Immigrants. In our own pages, Kristie De Peña outlines the social and economic benefits of immigration. 

The American Dream Abides. In National Review, Scott Winship counters a popular narrative about declining economic opportunity. 

The Energy Department Hasn't Accomplished Much. For The Hill, Mark P. Mills argues that “top-down policy attempt[s]” to bring about “an energy tech revolution” are doomed to fail.

The Ugly Truth About Obama's “Net Neutrality.” Also in RealClearPolicy, Lawrence J. Spiwak spotlights potential reforms at the FCC.

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