Friday, September 07, 2018

If you were in the White House, how would you tackle Trump?

If all the people who are keeping Trump from damaging us resigned, this would leave him free to do whatever he felt at the moment. It would take time to remove him from office, and in the meantime, he could do great harm.

Jonathan Freedland
Sept. 7, 2018


if you’re convinced that the leader you serve is a danger to your country and the world, where does your patriotic and democratic duty lie? Should you resign and sound the alarm – or stay on the inside and do your best to reduce the danger?

The debate triggered by both the mystery op-ed and the Woodward book suggests that most anti-Trumpers prefer the former option. The secret author has been roundly denounced, with the president’s own word, “gutless”, becoming the insult of choice.


Imagine for a moment you’re the defence secretary, James Mattis, alarmed at Trump’s behaviour. Where are you most useful? You could try invoking the 25th amendment and declaring Trump unfit – but you’d have to get the vice-president, Mike Pence, and a majority of your cabinet colleagues, almost all of them Trump cronies, to agree; and then you’d have to get the Republican-controlled House and Senate to agree too. Given the spinelessness those groups have shown so far, your chances would be slim.

You could call a news conference, resign and denounce the president before the cameras. It would make a massive splash. But then, once again, the matter would revert to a Republican Congress that has shown no willingness to stand up to Trump, let alone impeach him, despite copious evidence of his unfitness for, and abuse of, office. Before long, Fox News would have branded you a closet liberal and Hillary-lover, Trump would have tweeted about something else, and the news caravan would have moved on.

Or you could stay in your chair, so that when Trump orders a new strategy for Syria – “Let’s kill the fucking lot of them”, according to Woodward – or bans trans people from the military, you’re in position to ensure his orders go nowhere. As it happens, the nuclear button is in the grip of Trump alone – it is among the least checked of presidential powers – but surely we all sleep better at night knowing that the likes of Mattis are at the Pentagon, rather than whichever unqualified but loyal crank Trump might put in his place.

Nor will it wash to cast these internal dissidents as agents of the “deep state”. They are not career civil servants, of the kind that sabotaged Harry Perkins, the fictional lefty British prime minister in Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup. They are themselves political appointees, picked by Trump himself just last year. It suits Trump to depict their guerrilla action as the work of the machine against the people’s tribune – but it’s false.

If all that stands between us and Trump starting a world war are tricks and subterfuge, I’ll take those every time. But it’s clearly not the democratic way to deal with a president who poses a threat to US liberal democracy. The right way runs through the ballot box – either ejecting Trump in 2020 or electing a Democratic Congress that might hold him to account. Americans will have the chance to do that in less than two months. The world should pray that they take it.

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