Alternate Endings

Okay. So we’ve learned to be alert about Trump’s creativity when it comes to diversionary tactics. To get himself out of a corner, he will do anything, including initiate a war—sacrificing American casualties and, in the case of the Kurds, the lives of allies who’d fought beside GIs against the so-called “Islamic state” caliphate. We’ve learned we need to peer behind the scenes to look for or surmise what’s really going on, which is inevitably nefarious in Trump world. So here are a few things to keep an eye on, especially now, as his lawyers realize they need to lawyer up themselves with lawyers, his minions begin to topple like bowling pins, and the vise tightens around him.

Some people say that after the House impeaches him, as begins to look inevitable, the GOP-controlled Senate might actually convict him, despite previous assumptions; the polls are sinking him as if by gravity, and the Republican “wall,” you should excuse the expression, shows the first faint cracks already. Then again, others say that even if convicted by the Senate, he just might refuse to leave office. Order in KFC and have himself a sit-in, right in the Oval. Dare the nation to come with troops to remove him. Incite his base to take up the arms they already own and shoot. But have you noticed that people saying this are almost always people trying to convince us that it’s useless to impeach him in the first place?

The ”He’ll never, ever leave” argument got efficiently deconstructed by Barbara A. Res, the engineer and attorney who worked closely with Trump for 18 years, and was the real construction expert behind Trump Tower in New York. She subsequently wrote a book, All Alone on The 68th Floor, in part about her years with Trump, exposing among other things how she and women colleagues in his employ had been treated: basically, like secretaries, despite in her case having degrees in engineering and in law. (But you see, I really trust secretaries, since I was one once, and also because secretaries always know where the bodies are buried and what is the real persona of the boss.) In recent interviews, Barbara Res has repeated firmly that the most important thing to Trump, even more than not losing money, is saving face, and that in being forced out of office he would lose both money and face, so rather than suffer removal he will resign.

What? I would have thought the opposite, at least in terms of saving face. And he might face prison, too, unless Pence pardons him as Ford did Nixon. But Trump doing the Nixon exit—V signs, frozen smile, sweaty forehead, brimming eyes?

No, of course not. Barbara Res points out that the Trump version will be far more dramatic, grand-opera histrionic, while being spun fast enough to make Rapunzel dizzy—spun to have it seem that he’s doing the rejecting: of the office of president, of Congress, the system, his own loyalists, his opposition, the nation itself, all of which he will characterize as the deep state, the swamp, and everything terrible that he simply is too good for. In this scenario, his spin will be helped to develop behind the scenes by the Republican Party in the panicked hope that even if only for one more year, free of Trump, they can cling to power with Pence in office.

Sure, I do remember that Pence is also implicated in Ukraine-gate, but I’ll bet the GOP will bet on the nation being too fatigued to go after him, too, with any real energy. Still, if Pence does crash and burn along with Trump, you do know who is constitutionally next in succession for the presidency, don’t you? Of course you do—the GOP’s worst nightmare. And wouldn’t that be poetic justice!

In fact, the GOP is likely already mulling yet another path to the Dump-Trump endgame, one that would be swifter and perhaps rescue their reputation enough so that they’d have at least the bombed-out-Berlin ruins of a party still standing: The 25th Amendment to the Constitution. It was passed in 1965 and ratified in 1967, in the aftermath of the JFK assassination. You can check the full text out online, but Section 4 gets to the point:

Whenever the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments [the Cabinet] or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmits to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as acting president.

Now this is tricky, because the president can then contest the charge of his/her inability, in which case Congress decides the issue, assembling within 48 hours for that purpose if not in session. Then:

If Congress determines by a two thirds vote in both houses that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall continue to discharge the same as acting president; otherwise the president resumes the powers and duties of his office.

Frankly, I think the above hypothetical situations are unlikely finales to this melodrama in which we’ve all been forcibly cast. But neither do I think such situations are so far-fetched as to be impossible, and I do hope that someone on our side, fighting to preserve our democratic republic with broader expertise about the system and greater influence than I have, is strategically scrying out such possible scenaria now, in advance, so that we’re not surprised.

Meanwhile, in a spare moment, give a read to The Constitution of the United States of America. Even if you’ve read it before, it’s well worth a refresher, and it’s not that long. For one thing, if the road to Trump’s impeachment, conviction, and removal still makes you uneasy, reading the Constitution will ground you in the certitude that he has violated more Clauses therein than you yourself already thought he had. For another, you can win arguments by quoting chapter and verse (quite satisfying, that). Third, you can join me in apoplexy-tinged hilarity when Trumpists claim that the Constitution is, in effect, unconstitutional.

But most of all, you can reclaim your inheritance not just as an American but as a citizen of the Planet. That inheritance was bestowed on you 232 years ago by 39 flawed human beings who signed the beginnings of an ongoing, living document which would change the way governing was perceived thereafter worldwide. That inheritance is one that codifies persistence in pursuit of an idea, a vision of democracy. That inheritance is both sword and shield, because the Framers of the document and those who later followed in their footsteps not only foresaw this moment; they left us the tools to deal with it.