In the last two weeks, President Donald Trump has equated anti-Jewish pro-Nazi thugs with peaceful civil rights marchers and defended himself in public several times — embarrassing his party and well over 50 percent of the American public and causing concern in many other nations.
He pardoned an Arizona sheriff convicted of abusing the law and the Constitution by racially profiling Hispanics and continuing to do so despite a court order. Finally, Trump tried re-imposing a ban on transgender individuals in military service (but Secretary of Defense James Mattis may have quietly shelved that).
Perhaps the disastrous flooding, which began last Monday, has taken attention away from these transgressions, but it has not held back serious criticism from politicians — such as former Missouri Sen. John Danforth (also an Episcopal minister), who wrote recently in the New York Times that Trump is “the most divisive president in our history.”
Now, 28 Democratic senators have signed on to a bill that could lead to a formal evaluation of his mental and psychological fitness.
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Several psychiatrists have commented on the problems and complicated issues of diagnosis. “He is governing as he campaigned. He is impulsive, erratic, belligerent and vengeful,” according to doctors Peter D. Kramer and Sally L. Satel, who wrote about this in the Times.
The so-called Goldwater Rule “saves psychiatrists from the temptation to misuse diagnosis for partisan purposes,” the doctors said. Yet it would still be up to Congress to determine if he were unfit to govern under the 25th Amendment, though Kramer and Satel think that “to the extent his supporters accepted expert opinion, they might be less resistant to the removal of a demented commander-in-chief than a narcissistic one.”
According to the Times, our own Sen. Mitch McConnell “has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond.”
I’m delighted he said it. But how many Kentuckians have heard about it? Only folks who have the time and equipment to scour the national media. It’s as if we are collectively ignoring the bull in the room. Respected conservative commentator Charlie Sykes commented over the weekend: “It’s a moral and intellectual moment for the party. I just don’t see a long-term future if they don’t confront this.” Many others are beginning to agree with him.
Coming forward, an important question is whether the president can pardon individuals who would be caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s dealings with Russia. A former deputy solicitor general who studied the pardoning power during the Watergate investigation believes the answer is no. Even an attempt to do so could be seen as an admission of guilt.
It seemed unlikely that impeachment would occur during the 1973 Watergate crisis — until the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy put pressure on President Richard Nixon. A decision by Trump to pardon his close friends and associates for colluding with Russia could easily trigger a similar crisis. Anyone who influences or impedes justice commits a felony — and that would be Trump.
So, we need to confront the monster in the closet, not just ignore it. In such uncertain times, it is both helpful and necessary to expand our reach to learn all the possible details about how these matters are going down. We will hear more shortly from Mueller; and for our own and our children’s sakes, we had better be listening carefully.
The media have to play their part but, just as importantly, we all have to do ours.
John D. Stempel is a U.S. Navy veteran, a Foreign Service Officer for 26 years, and former director at University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.