On the utter failure of Constitutional checks

On the utter failure of Constitutional checks

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James Clapper, who has served four presidents, both Democratic and Republican, had this to say after Donald Trump's Phoenix Bund rally:

The short and skinny of his comments: Trump is mentally unfit to hold the office.

Now, many people are saying: The Constitution made no provisions for a madman ascending the office. This is wrong on two counts.

Firstly, the Electoral College was supposed to serve as a first line of defense against the unfit attaining the office. Electors are not bound by the results of the popular vote. (As evidenced last year, when Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes.) If a demagogue, if someone unfit were to be on the brink of attaining executive power, the College was supposed to serve as a backstop, preventing such a person from assuming office.

Of course, we know what happened. The College, in the first instance, is a vestige of a slave society, meant to give small, Southern states an outsized voice compared with their northern neighbors.

But ever since the birth of the Republic, the College has been merely the plaything of partisan politics. This was fine, when it more or less reflected popular will, and the deranged weren't running for office. But if there was ever a time for the College to have assumed its original, constitutional function, it was this past December. It failed, miserably, and here we are.

Secondly, we now have an amendment to the Constitution, the 25th, which is supposed to operate in the event of someone unable to discharge the duties of the office, removing him or her from the most powerful position in the world. It is, in essence, allowing for a legal coup d'etat, while maintaining constitutional norms. If there was ever a president who qualified to be removed under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, it's Donald Trump. The Phoenix rally proved that he is a madman.

However, the amendment requires his vice-president and the cabinet to determine that he is unfit to continue serving as president. Here, again, constitutional checks are failing. There is no indication that Mike Pence will organize a coup against Trump (even though it's obvious he's gearing up for a 2020 run). And the cabinet consists almost entirely of Trump toadies, who are not going to cast off the man who's greasing their palms.

After this sordid affair is done, if we survive, we as citizens have to have serious discussions among ourselves. One of them will involve how to make sure someone like Trump—a megalomaniac, a sociopath—never assumes the presidency again. We may survive the first brush with fate; we may not survive a repeat.



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