Tom Clyde: Many fine people
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August 18, 2017
Remember the good old days when we were all worried that war was about to break out with North Korea? The North Koreans have miniaturized a nuclear bomb so it would fit on top of their increasingly successful missiles, and theoretically can park it in downtown Chicago. It was less clear that they could get it to successfully reenter the Earth's atmosphere without burning up, but that was a detail that scientists thought they could solve in a matter of a few months.
President Trump responded to this unpleasant news with increasingly bellicose statements that had the North Koreans promising to lob missiles at our naval base in Guam. It looked like things were really going to pieces. The Chinese made a very public statement that if North Korea were attacked, they would come to their defense. But they made it clear that if North Korea attacked somebody else, they were on their own. North Korea quietly announced that the missile launches on Guam were on hold. Whew.
Such innocent times. That was only last week, but it feels like ancient history because of all that has happened since.
On Tuesday, a lovely late summer day, I was driving home and turned on the news. President Trump held a press event to announce the launch of his infrastructure program. He gave some very measured comments about reinvesting in the U.S. transportation systems. He talked about streamlining a permitting process that is way more complicated than necessary, while still protecting the environment. I remember thinking that it sounded very reasonable. The tone was businesslike. Maybe the tide had turned, and something productive could happen in Washington. For a few minutes, there was a glimmer of hope.
What Trump said was bad enough, but how he said it was frightening. It was a kicking-and-screaming tantrum, filled with outrageous statements. Apparently in Trump’s world, many very fine people march with the Nazis and the Klan, carrying torches and assault weapons, and chanting those old familiar slogans about death, hate, and racial purity.
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And then it went off the rails. Reporters asked questions about Charlottesville and the Nazi-Klan rally instead of airports and bridges. What Trump said was bad enough, but how he said it was frightening. It was a kicking-and-screaming tantrum, filled with outrageous statements. Apparently in Trump's world, many very fine people march with the Nazis and the Klan, carrying torches and assault weapons, and chanting those old familiar slogans about death, hate, and racial purity.
It was deeply disturbing on the radio, both the content and especially the unhinged tone of it. That night, I watched it replayed on TV. The cabinet officials standing beside him, there to talk about financing infrastructure improvements, were frozen. They didn't know how to react to the tirade. They should have walked away, but instead stood there doing their best to be invisible. The new White House Chief of Staff, General Kelly, cringed with his hand over his face. Seeing the whole scene was chilling. It would have been funny if it had been some South American dictator. Fidel Castro at his finest wasn't that rabid.
But this was the President of the Untied States personally ripping into the journalists for questioning him about his fumbled response to Charlottesville. His initial statement on Saturday would have been uncontroversial, until he adlibbed the part about plenty of blame on both sides for the Nazi who drove his car into the crowd and killed a woman. On Monday, he attempted to fix it by reading a more thoughtful statement. That covered all the bases, two days late and with all the sincerity of one of those hostage tapes. But Tuesday, unconstrained, he let it rip. The Incredible Orange Hulk. I fully expected to see his shirt tear apart as his rage filled the room.
Donald Trump is unfit to hold the office of president. His lack of judgment and control had us cowering under the bedcovers while recklessly tweeting up a war in Korea. His tantrum over Charlottesville, and the media's "unfair coverage" of the many fine people who were just there marching with the Nazis and the Klan, was just intolerable. The unhinged reaction is dangerous. He could nuke the New York Times at any minute.
Sadly, the standard script for responding to an event like Charlottesville is too often used. He could have pulled that off the shelf, served up the generic soothing message that every other president has used, and moved on. Instead, we've got this.
Impeachment is a process similar to a criminal prosecution, and requires Congress to find the president guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors," a term that the Constitution doesn't define beyond that.
The 25th amendment to the Constitution, the "Nixon was crazy at the end" amendment, allows the Vice President and the Cabinet to declare the President incapable of performing his duties, and installs the Vice President as "acting president" during the period of the president's incapacity. It would deal with either physical or mental incapacity. It's never been used, so nobody really knows what the process would look like, or how it works. It's time to find out.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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