Trump and the 25th Amendment

With the potential corruptive link between President Trump and Russia looking more and more probable and his mental state coming into more questions than usual, many are (understandably) looking for the quickest way to get him out of office. Some, notably Ross Douthat, are discussing the 25th Amendment as a route faster than impeachment. Others, like David S. Cohen, have pointed out that while this is a theoretical option, it is practically impossible. I agree with Cohen, but see his argument as only half of the picture. Even if there was a chance that the required parties (Vice-President Pence, the Cabinet, and Congress) would pursue this procedure, they should not. In this case, the only potentially appropriate avenue is impeachment.

In theory, impeachment is the remedy for illegal acts committed by the president. Although impeachment proceedings have always been tainted by partisan bias, there has always been an unquestionably illegal action to drive them (violation of the Tenure of Office Act and perjury/obstruction of justice in presidential cases).

On the other hand, Sections 3 and 4 of the 25th Amendment exists as a remedy for emergencies that create an “inability” for the president to fulfill their duties. Section 3, invoked by the president, has been used to remedy expected emergencies (it was used three times, all of which were due to colonoscopies). In contrast, Section 4 was intended to provide leadership during times of unexpected emergency, such as when President Garfield, who, after being shot, survived 80 days, unable to fulfill the duties of the president. He had no physical ability to cede his presidential power and there were no means for others to legally take it. While never invoked, important officials involved in the creation of the 25th Amendment and presidential decision-making have argued for its use twice; once after President Reagan was shot, and once towards the end of Reagan’s term when he appeared “inattentive,” “inept” and “lazy” (read: early signs of Alzheimer’s disease). Both of these circumstances fall under “unexpected”.

Yet, at its face value, Section 4 goes against the wishes of the voters, who elected the president. It is a violation of the contract between the president and the voters by a third party (presidents themselves, as “signers” of this contract, are free to willingly cede power, hence the omission of Section 3 from this argument). However, this violation of democratic values can be forgiven, considering that its intended use is for the unexpected, the situations the voters had no knowledge of when casting their ballots.

This is what makes the use of Section 4 against President Trump inappropriate. Voters were aware of questions about President Trump’s mental stability, his potentially sinister connection to Russia, and his oppressive demagoguery when they made their decision on November 8th, 2016. Their ballots demonstrate that they were willing to give him the full powers of the presidency despite these concerns. Even though he did not win the popular vote, our electoral system, although flawed, makes him a legitimate president. While his political views are despicable, President Trump, as a legitimately elected president, is due the same rights as his predecessors as guaranteed by the Constitution, regardless of his disgusting views and rhetoric.

Impeachment, by this standard, is fair game. Considering recent events, it is a real possibility for this president. While impeachment may be a longer process, we must maintain our norms (like valuing the results of legitimate elections over known factors during the election and differing ideologies, regardless of their heinous nature) as much as possible, especially in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Do not mistake this for support of the president. I despise everything President Trump stands for and would like him to no longer be a factor in politics. I simply feel that we should not violate our Constitution as a temporary remedy for long-standing problems larger than President Trump and the aftermath of the 2016 election which include, but are not limited to, a flawed electoral system, the high value our elected officials place on partisanship over decency, and the seemingly expendable nature of the rights of the oppressed.