According to Aristotle the principal virtue needed in a statesman is prudence.
For a number of years I was vaguely aware of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, But I didn’t think much about him until a minister from Marblehead went to Phoenix to participate in a protest against his actions. When she returned, she told the story which is repeated in this article. Hearing her account of the brutality of Joe Arpaio and his deputies is what convinced me that he deserved no support from anybody. There are other, more widely circulated, accounts of what can only be called police brutality at his behest over the years, as well as other sorts of malfeasance in office.
From the time I heard Donald Trump in the debates during the campaigns, I have been convinced that he is intellectually and psychologically unfit to hold public office. My hope has been that his advisors and subordinates would be able to restrain him from leading us into a disaster. But the danger he represents is so great that I hope he will be removed from office as soon as possible.
There are two possible methods of removal: impeachment by the House for high crimes and misdemeanors and conviction by a 2/3 vote of the Senate; or a declaration by the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet that he is unable to discharge the duties of his office (supported by votes of the House and Senate if the President claims he isn’t disabled). Each method has hurdles.
Impeachment requires an impeachable act. In my opinion, the pardon of Joe Arpaio is an abuse of the pardoning power so egregious as to be grounds for impeachment and removal, and I said, “Impeach Now,” in several things I posted at the time of the pardon. I realize, however, that a motion to impeach based on the pardon would be unlikely to pass in the House, much less gain sufficient votes for conviction in the Senate.
Similarly, Trump’s unfitness for office is not the sort of discrete event, such as a heart attack, which the 25th Amendment was intended to cover — even if the grown-ups around him realize that he’s not right in the head. It would take some serious event demonstrating his disconnection from reality for the VP and Cabinet to say, in effect, “He’s incompetent now in a way he hasn’t been since the day he took office.
Beyond these considerations, there is the question of prudence, as Aristotle reminds us. An officeholder must consider the consequences of his actions. A good officeholder can make accurate judgments about the likely consequences. Thus, a Vice President, Cabinet member, Representative, or Senator needs to act based on the likely result of a possible action. What will happen if s/he acts to declare the President unable to govern or votes to impeach or convict?
Clearly, if the votes aren’t there to make the action stick, if the necessary majority does not exist, any action will be futile, and will only expose the person to possible loss of office either by removal from the Cabinet, or by defeat at the hands of angry voters who support the President. We can admire “profiles in courage,” but it does no real good to be defeated over a predictable failure.
But what if one could be part of a successful majority and still face defeat at the next election by voters angry at the removal of Donald Trump? The facile answer is that removing him from office is so much more important than the details of future legislation as to make it prudent for the long term good of the country. But I can concede that a moderate might consider being replaced by an alt-right candidate in the primary is worse for the country, especially if it is likely to happen in many districts. Similarly, a Republican could consider that losing his or her Senate seat to a Democrat, with consequences for the confirmation of conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, would be too great a price to pay.
At this point, the best hope is that the Mueller investigations will produce enough evidence to convince Representative and Senators that they must impeach and convict Donald Trump, and that the case will be clear and strong enough that even many who voted for Trump will realize the his removal was justified. Alternatively, and even better, would be an outcome similar to that with Nixon — Trump decides that he can’t win, or that the cost of fighting would be too much (such as disclosure of compromising tapes) — and he decides to resign.
I hope that those with the authority to act, especially Republican Senators and Representatives, are discussing privately what might feasibly and prudently be done to bring about Donald Trump’s removal from office.