In these days of political hysteria, it took a former president known for his unflappable calmness to put the events of last week into proper perspective. “The claim that everything will turn out OK because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the president’s orders — this is not a check,” Barack Obama said in his speech Friday at the University of Illinois. “That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work.”
He’s right. Whoever is the unnamed Trump administration official who penned Wednesday’s op-ed piece in The New York Times, recounting a chaotic and dangerous President Donald Trump being quietly contained by a heroic staff, missed the point: This isn’t how it’s supposed to work. The president is supposed to be the final authority. But that official has made a valuable if unintended contribution to this political moment, as have others who anonymously told the same kinds of stories in the new Bob Woodward book about the Trump White House.
If the allegations in the op-ed and book are true — and they are consistent with what we’ve seen of Trump’s persona these past few years — he risks placing this country and others in grave danger with his apparent mental and emotional instability. The evidence is building to invoke the 25th Amendment and openly address the president’s incapacity to lead.
The op-ed presents a president who is both ignorant and contemptuous of his duties. He acts “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic,” writes the official. Trump’s “impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.” He “displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.”
Woodward’s book, “Fear,” tells of top officials pretending to follow Trump’s orders, or literally snatching documents from his desk to thwart his impulses toward things like assassinating a foreign leader or withdrawing from an important alliance.
The op-ed claims there were “whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment” but “no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.” Given the rest of that account and Woodward’s, it’s apparent the constitutional crisis is already here.
These two anonymously sourced accounts aren’t enough to prove a president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the 25th Amendment’s arduous standard for removal. But it’s more than enough to launch a serious congressional inquiry into whether the president is mentally incapacitated.
Removal from office would require the vice president, a majority of the Cabinet and two-thirds of both chambers of Congress — an impossible bar right now. But if there’s one thing we know about Donald Trump, it’s that the evidence of his unfitness is likely only to increase with time. Serious leaders in both parties should start preparing their case now.