A Reflection

Unfit for duty: Trump must leave the White House, now

By J Brooks Spector 11 September 2020

The revelations in Bob Woodward’s upcoming book about the duplicitous nature of Donald Trump’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic leaves the US and its politicians no real choice.

In life, there comes a moment when it all becomes too much to bear. When that moment arrives, a basically good and enormously patient parent finally must say to an errant offspring: “You must leave this house for the sake of us all; and go take care of yourself in the world. This is for your own good, as well as ours. We’ll assist you in getting the help you need, but you must go. Now. Make your arrangements to be out of the house by this coming weekend. You need to understand just how important this is. But there is no compromising; you must go.”

This becomes necessary when the child in question has wrecked the family car, burnt down the tool shed, stolen money from the parents’ wallets and bank accounts, insulted every relative who has ever come for a visit, thrown broken bottles into the neighbours’ yards, tried to poison their dogs and then misappropriated everyone in the family’s personal property.

In addition, he has terrorised his younger siblings during all those unanticipated moments of wild name-calling at relatives and friends, and then there have been the bouts of pure rage that seem to have come about, without warning, at the drop of the proverbial hat.

The US has now reached that point. As a nation. And as a people.

Yes, it is true the country will have a general election in less that two months. And, yes, if all the polling is accurate, the incumbent president is on course to receive a stunning defeat at the hands of the US electorate. This will almost certainly arrive in the popular vote totals (especially once all those mail-in votes are finally tabulated). But it is increasingly likely it will also come via the all-important, state-by-state electoral vote total, the proportionate weights of state populations that actually determine who lives in the White House from 20 January 2021.

But we should not have to wait even that long. It is enough, already. It is more than enough.

The recent revelations in the audio tape recordings made by reporter Bob Woodward in conversations with the incumbent president for his upcoming book clearly point to a man so callous, so uninterested in his actual job and its responsibilities to protect his fellow citizens, and ultimately so unfit to carry out its most fundamental duties that he deserves to be relieved of those heavy burdens, forthwith.

The constitutionally prescribed oath of office to become president is a simple yet sweeping affirmation. It reads: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” And now, with the Woodward tapes and the book that builds on them, it is manifestly clear the incumbent has abrogated this oath. He has been captured, on tape, in his own voice, acknowledging he knew Covid-19 was a deadly disease, far worse than usual influenza epidemics and that it was highly contagious. But, crucially, because he said he didn’t want to encourage fear and panic, he deliberately played it down publicly, including those infamous comments that it would all disappear in the spring just like that, “traloo, tralay”, like magic. Or, as the incumbent president said to Woodward, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed … This is deadly stuff.” In response to this latest, astonishing comment, Democratic challenger Joe Biden has responded, “While a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. It was a life-or-death betrayal of the American people.”  Yup.

At this rate of infection, epidemiologists are predicting upwards of 400,000 fatalities will have been caused in the US by this disease by the end of December. There will also be millions upon millions of non-fatal cases (many serious) across the country, in addition to the economic dislocations and distress that have come about because of this ineptitude. Simply in the number of fatalities, the numbers are heading towards the number of fatalities suffered by the US during the entirety of World War 2.

The reasons for the incumbent’s desire to avoid panic were threefold. The first was a need to ensure maximum complacency on the part of the public for his re-election bid, based on the positive economic numbers that had been buoying his support. The second was still more insidious – it was to downplay the need for any coordinated federal action, thereby pushing responsibility for virtually everything, including the onerous shutdowns and lockdowns, on to the states and cities for them to cope as best they might with all of the difficult circumstances. The third, of course, was that as the virulence of the disease became ever clearer to even the most obdurate people, rather than lead the nation, there was the great shirking of responsibility in order to point the finger of blame at China, the incumbent’s favourite whipping boy.

And the bodies continue to pile up in morgues and then on into their graves.

The end result of this is now a thoroughly panicked, increasingly distrustful, ever more politically divided nation. Millions are mistrustful of any progress towards vaccines, distrustful of efforts to carry out even the most basic of public health requirements (masks, social distancing, and track and trace systems), and the deeply thorough politicisation of the entire disaster as a ploy by the incumbent’s political opponents to cast doubt on his, the sublime leadership.

And still the bodies pile up in morgues across the nation without let-up.

For once, put aside everything else that has cheapened and stained the past four years of a presidency. For the moment, ignore those bizarre efforts to turn the country’s entire military into a tawdry collection of rapacious, avaricious warmongers, or “losers” and “suckers”, or both. Forget the constant attacks on the nation’s security and economic partners around the world; the obsequious behaviour towards the country’s primary security antagonist and the concurrent, granite resistance towards acknowledging any Russian efforts to interfere in US elections. Put aside for the moment those sleazy efforts to entangle Ukraine into undermining a potential political rival with false accusations and the consequent revenge firings in various government agencies. This time around, even ignore the constant denigration of the country’s hard-won improvements in its ecological and environmental record, the misuse of immigration controls that have led to barbaric mistreatment of small children, and everything else has never taken place since 2017.

Nevertheless, the latest revelations of game-playing with human lives and suffering from Covid-19 for personal political gain must be seen for what it is: a devastating perversion of the duties of the president under the oath of office that simply cannot be ignored any further.

In international relations, the principle, “the responsibility to protect”, is cited to justify armed intervention when foreign human populations have come under imminent threat of grave harms from lawless, malevolent, violent regimes. This principle is based upon the underlying premise that sovereignty (and the leaders who exercise it) entails a responsibility to protect all of a nation’s population from being assailed by mass atrocities and devastating human rights violations. In fact, it has been ratified universally by UN member nations – including the US – since 2005. Given the US government’s powerful capabilities and institutions, it surely is high time that “the responsibility to protect” the country’s own citizens must supersede the political fortunes of one politician.

While no one reasonably expects an international peacekeeping force wearing personal protective gear and surgical masks will come to the rescue of the US’s citizens, nevertheless, it is incumbent for its leaders to invoke the mechanisms built into its Constitution to remove, to extract the source of the political contagion. Even before the 3 November election. Aside from the constitutionally provided impeachment mechanism (been there, tried that), there is the 25th amendment to the Constitution that calls for the removal of the president from command, should that officer be unable to carry out the duties of office.

If the incumbent president is unwilling to resign and allow the vice-president to finish out the prescribed term of office, then the vice-president and Cabinet have the constitutional responsibility and duty to invoke that disability amendment forthwith. At this point, there is simply no way the recorded comments of the president to journalist Bob Woodward can be squared with how the incumbent has carried out his duties in the face of this ongoing pandemic.

There is yet one more way, if the Cabinet and vice-president haven’t the spine or other vital body organs to carry out a constitutional duty, for a president to leave office. Back in 1974, when it finally became clear to all and sundry that Richard Nixon had lost the confidence of Republican senators (let alone the rest of the nation), and that an impeachment conviction was all but certain in a Senate trial, a delegation of senior senators visited him privately. They informed Nixon that his best course of action, rather than continue the current national nightmare, and face certain ignominy as the only convicted president in history, was to resign.

The three visiting senators –  Barry Goldwater, Howard Baker, and Robert Dole – had the gravitas and stature to insist Nixon must resign – for the welfare and safety of the nation – rather than let this disaster continue to unfold any further. But that was then, this is now.

People like those three men back in 1974 understood that national interest and welfare stood well beyond the ties of party loyalty. Here and now, however, are there at least a handful of Republican senators who will place the health, welfare and security of the nation above loyalty to a man who continues to demonstrate a palpable inability to behave rationally?

If none of these alternatives is possible, then the country must just struggle forward, must endure, even as a thousand people a week or more continue to die from Covid-19, until the nation can rise beyond the petty and divisive behaviour of a madman unwilling to carry out his responsibilities.

Yes, Joe Biden may have flaws, but he is the right person for this time and this place. This is a moment when a belief in science and medicine must transcend charlatanry and the occult conspiracy theories of the deluded; when the most important task of a president must be to bring the nation into his confidence in order to surmount these difficulties rather than divide it further in the service of partisan politics. If such a transition must be via the ballot box on 3 November, let us at least hope that others do not choose to take advantage of these last months of madness for their own purposes. DM

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  • Thank you Mr Spector. An erudite piece which shows up the Orange Menace for what he is; an ignorant, dangerous, self-absorbed megalomaniac who’s clearly unfit for office.
    Which says a lot about the people who elected him to office.
    Anyone who paid close attention to the man and his utterances should have seen that from Day 1.

  • I do not believe that any Republican senator, or group of senators, has the balls to deal with this profoundly evil man. Just as the world once witnessed the awesome spectacle of the fall of Rome, we are now being treated to the similarly awesome spectacle of the fall of America. The world will not return to its status ante-quo after his disappearance (see below): after Corona and this walking, talking disease called Trump (what a trailer-trash name for a President!), the world will be different. This man is a Julius Caesar, without any of the good parts. This is not a job for Biden, its a job for Brutus. America has a long and honourable tradition of assassinating its presidents. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Of course, Brutus will also be sacrificing himself, but it is a cause worth dying for.

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