Would Booting Donald Trump Be a Coup? No. Would It Contradict the Will of the People? Kind of. But Who Cares?

L’état, C’est Moi


Hearing a lot of this kind of stuff right now:

But the unceasing attempts to delegitimize and undermine him are as childish and petty as Trump himself. What is lost in the hyperventilation of journalists, pundits and politicians is the will of the people who elected him president.

Trump is a disrupter. That is his purpose and the reason he was elected. American elites stopped serving their constituencies long ago. For pundits and politicians to disregard the will of voters and float ideas for Trump’s removal flies in the face of the democratic society they are supposedly trying to save.

In this telling, removing Donald Trump from office before the end of his term would amount to a coup.


Why I don’t buy this line of thinking.

It defines the “will of the people” in odd fashion. Remember — Trump does — that he lost the popular vote. “The people” had something other than a Trump presidency in mind. (Unless you decide California doesn’t count, I guess.)

Live by the countermajoritarianism, die by the countermajoritarianism. We’re told it’s ok Trump won the Electoral College anyway, because the Constitution has countermajoritarian features. What almost never gets talked about is why it has such features.

Here’s what the Federalist Papers have to say about that:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

You know what? I’m going to say Electoral College was designed to keep people like Donald Trump out of office. It failed.

It’s not a coup if it’s lawful. Almost nobody’s suggesting Trump be deposed by force. Instead, the two avenues to removal — the 25th Amendment and impeachment — are both described in the Constitution.

In the case of the 25th Amendment, it would be Trump’s own vice president and cabinet that ruled him unfit to serve. These people, having been chosen for their positions by the president, are unlikely to take that route unless extraordinary circumstances required it. Impeachment would take the support of Republicans, who control both houses of Congress. If removal happens, it’ll because Trump’s closest political allies judged it should be so, and done through legal means.

Trump won the election through legal means. (As far as we currently know.) That deserves a fair amount of deference, even if we find it distasteful. But that deference is not to be unlimited, and the law pretty explicitly recognizes that the “will of the peoople” can sometimes be wrong.

In this case, it probably was.

— Joel

Can Donald Trump Survive the Loretta Lynch Standard?



Remember last year? Before the election? Remember the time then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton had a friendly chat on an airport tarmac? Do you remember what happened then?

This happened:

Lynch said she and Clinton talked only of grandchildren, golf, and their respective travels, but the fact that the two spoke privately at all was enough to rekindle concerns about a possible conflict of interest. Republicans have long called into question the ability of a Democratic-led Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, based inside her Chappaqua, New York, home, during her tenure as secretary of state.

David Axelrod, a former top aide to President Barack Obama, tweeted that he took Lynch and the former president “at their word” that the Justice Department’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server did not come up, “but foolish to create such optics.”

And then this happened:

The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking all records its has on the June 27, 2016 meeting between President Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in her airplane, a meeting that occurred while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, a potential national security crime.

“The infamous tarmac meeting between President Clinton and AG Lynch is a vivid example of why many Americans believe the Obama administration’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton was rigged,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement released today. “Now it will be up to Attorney General Sessions at the Trump Justice Department to finally shed some light on this subversion of justice.”

And then this happened:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, conceding that her airport meeting with former President Bill Clinton this week had cast a shadow over the federal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email account, said Friday that she would accept whatever recommendations career prosecutors and the F.B.I. director made about whether to bring charges in the case.

It fell to Comey, then, to make the final decision about prosecuting Hillary Clinton. And his decision to explain the decision not to prosecute set off a chain of events that reverberates to this very day.

Now: Republicans are saying that if President Trump asked Jim Comey to take it easy on Donald Trump, that it was a joke.

But: If the mere act of two people meeting was enough to raise doubts about the fairness of justice being applied in a case, why would you as president ever raise the topic of a criminal case with the FBI director, let alone make a “joke” that would be so easily understood as maybe-not-a-joke?*

*(I have an 8-year-old boy. He tries telling me he was “joking” when he makes an out-of-line comment, too. We don’t buy it coming from him, either.)

Bill Clinton’s crossing of the line probably helped cost his wife the presidency. Republicans demanded that standards be applied. OK. Fine. Good. The question is, can Republicans live with same standards of conduct being applied to Donald Trump?

Probably not. But they’re going to have to.


Donald Trump Is an Insecure Braggart. He May Be Endangering the Nation Because of It.


You’ve heard by now that Donald Trump revealed classified information … to Russian officials … in the Oval Office?

Here’s how it reportedly went down:

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

For Pete’s sake.

Let’s acknowledge the story’s just broken, and that further facts may reshape this scoop. What follows remains the case regardless.

It’s been apparent since before he took office — really, since the 1980s, at least — that Trump is a narcissistic, insecure braggart whose personality traits would’ve made him a Darwin Award winner long ago, were it not for the fortune his daddy bequeathed to him.

Before the election, I wrote that Trump’s temperament — maybe more than any of his loathsome policy positions — would be his downfall:

Understand: Probably all politicians (and writers) are narcissistic to an embarrassing degree. The smart ones put that self-regard to the service of a broader agenda, one that benefits the people that they represent.

The, uh, less smart politicians have a two-year-old’s sense of object permanence, unable to see past the irritation in front of them to take the long view. And that leads to trouble.

With Trump, we know. We know exactly what we’re getting and … we know exactly how that story ends.

Nothing that’s happened since the election has altered that assessment, or the prospect of the likely end. We’ve crossed the line. The man cannot be trusted with the office. Even if it means we get a near-full term of President Mike Pence (ugh!) it’s time to to begin pushing for his removal.


OK, Maybe It’s Time for Impeachment Talk


I haven’t been down with talk of impeaching Donald Trump up to now. There were two reasons for this:

• Congress is held by Republicans. As a political matter, it’s highly unlikely, even improbable, that this Congress would impeach this president. Is there a line he could cross that would prove too much for Congressional Republicans? One hopes so, but one hasn’t actually seen sign of it.

• More importantly, I wasn’t convinced until this week that we had grounds for it. “I don’t like the president’s policies” isn’t good enough — elections have consequences — and the emoluments clause is vague enough for it not to get the traction it probably should.

But this week, the president fired the FBI director. Then gave implausible reasons for doing so. And it seemed the only plausible reason was that he didn’t like the FBI investigating whether Russia colluded with his presidential campaign.

Then, this morning, this happened:

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.10.54 AM

Yes. That’s the president of the United States telling the former FBI director: “Shut up about what you know, or else I might have incriminating information about you.”

Does this meet the legal, chargeable definition of “blackmail” as a criminal offense? I don’t know. As a practical matter, it’s blackmail, the work of a thug done publicly.

The threat came on the heels of a number of stories, but here’s one I found particularly interesting:

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.

I think we have evidence that President Trump wants his cabinet members to subvert their oaths of office. Those oaths require a fidelity to the Constitution — not any single person within government. I’m not sure Donald Trump knows the difference between himself and the state he leads. I’m not sure he ever did.

All of which is to say: I still don’t think Republicans will impeach this president. But I’m starting to have a firmer sense of the grounds upon which an impeachment might be possible.

— Joel