In ancient Greece, the sons of the great playwright Sophocles tried to have him declared incompetent because he spent so much time working on his tragedies and not enough time taking care of his estate.
Something similar is happening today. President Trump’s opponents want him declared incompetent because he concentrates so much on his tweets and because they claim he doesn’t properly take care of his presidential duties.
The mechanism through which these opponents hope to declare the president unfit for office is the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. Adopted just over 50 years ago, the amendment deals with matters of presidential succession.
There’s been talk of forcing out President Trump since the start of his tenure. But with Michael Wolff’s sensationalistic new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” atop the bestseller list, the discussion is now at a fever pitch.
Wolff, talking about his book’s portrait of the president, believes “this is 25th Amendment kind of stuff.”
He’s hardly alone. In December, Yale psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee met with more than a dozen members of Congress to discuss Trump’s mental state.
Lee edited “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which includes the assessments of 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts of the president’s mental health. Lee herself has stated that Trump’s tweets give us a window into a man who is unraveling.
To remove the president from office under the 25th Amendment, Section 4 would have to be invoked. It allows the vice president to become acting president if it’s determined the president is incapable of discharging his duties.
This section is meant to handle situations where the president is incapacitated – such as due to an injury, a stroke or dementia. But apparently, Trump’s opponents see it as an escape clause.
In fact, there’s already potential legislation, promoted by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., to make it easier to look into the president’s mental state under the 25th Amendment. The bill has approximately 50 co-sponsors.
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment has never been invoked. As a practical matter, it won’t be happening any time soon. It would require the consent of Vice President Pence and over half the Cabinet, and it’s hard to imagine any of them would go along with it.
But the fact that invoking the amendment is being seriously considered by a not insignificant number of citizens is frightening.
It’s one thing to oppose President Trump. It’s another to play politics through psychiatry.
The truth is that Donald Trump as president is pretty much the same man we saw on the campaign trail. He announced his candidacy with a speech many thought outrageous. All during the campaign, he tweeted up a storm. Even after he got his party’s nomination, he didn’t pivot, as some expected, and stayed on the unconventional course.
The public saw this, liked him (or at least his populist message) and voted him in.
At present, plenty of Americans don’t like the job he’s doing, or how he’s doing it – including the tweeting – but the remedy for that is voting for his opponent if he runs for re-election in 2020, and speaking out against him and voting for politicians who oppose him before that.
The wrong solution is to force President Trump out by misusing the Constitution. Even if somehow the president’s enemies could get Vice President Pence to go along and bypass other requirements, kicking President Trump out of office – while Trump himself is loudly disagreeing – would create a grave crisis that would badly divide the nation, with unknown consequences.
There’s no denying that President Trump is unorthodox. But he’s also gotten a fair amount done – appointing judges, signing numerous executive orders, cutting regulations and getting a tax bill through Congress. Most likely this is the real reason so many want him removed. But there’s a difference between being crazy and driving your opponents crazy.
By the way, Sophocles won his case. In court, he read from his latest play, “Oedipus At Colonus,” and the jury declared him competent.
When it comes to President Trump, he’s already been tried in the court of public opinion. The American people got a good look at him and decided he should be president. To remove him now on sham charges would not be an example of politicians upholding their constitutional duty. It would amount to a coup.