Those who want President Trump removed from office had better be careful what they wish for. If they believe that’ll solve the nation’s problems, consider this: President Pence.
Pence is the Trump administration’s bobblehead. He’s usually positioned over Trump’s right shoulder, nodding affirmation of Trump’s every word. So in sync are they that if Trump were sent to the gallows, it ought to be a two-fer, with Pence as the ribbon on the package.
The word impeachment is being tossed around ever so lightly these days, now that Democrats have control of the House in a divided government. But impeachment is a disingenuous word that doesn’t mean what many people think it does or wish it did.
Impeachment means, simply, to accuse. It does not, as many believe, automatically mean removal. Articles of impeachment are the beginning of a tortuous process in the House of Representatives, acting as a grand jury. There they are debated, and, if adopted, sent to the Senate where a sort of trial is conducted. An official is removed only if found guilty by the Senate.
Luck, if nothing else, is on Trump’s side. No president has ever been ejected from office. Only two presidents have been impeached – Andrew Johnson in 1868, charged with 13 articles, and Bill Clinton in 1998, charged with two articles, lying under oath and obstruction of justice. Both beat the raps. Richard M. Nixon resigned before the impeachment process could be completed.
Following the line of succession, after Pence come House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then Senate President Pro Tem Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Anchoring the top-four tag-team is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Titillating as it may seem on the one hand, but equally depressing on the other, that’s the immediate line of succession if Trump leaves a vacancy in the Oval Office.
Not suicidal yet? First, release the breath you’ve been holding. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, or even Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to everyone’s despair, are not among the in-waiting crowd. They rank a piddling Nos. 14 and 15 respectively, dashing their fading chances of becoming president.
But get a load of the remaining six, following the front four – three of whom aren’t even full-fledged appointees – in this order: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick N. Shanahan; Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker; Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt; Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue; and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, he of the (high-interest) loan in lieu of food lines for furloughed federal workers.
Surely the gods jest. But, then, we are taught in civics class – if such a thing still exists – that any American-born person can grow up to be president, a lesson we’ve learned the hard way.
Thus, we have a panorama of Trump’s round table, a collection of billionaires, millionaires – the generals are all gone – that is supposed to signify, in Trump’s image, that good money means good management.
The cabinet also includes – in fact, is made up entirely of – yes-men and women and uncontrollable applauders, none more pliant than Pence, Trump’s Little Sir Echo.
Pence is the man who would be president if anything legal, or otherwise human, befalls Trump. And he’s beginning to let his ambition show by not first getting permission slips to go it alone. His former chief of staff, Nick Ayers, 34, a Republican operative and former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, has repotted to Georgia, resisting Trump’s blandishments to don the same epaulettes in the West Wing.
There are three legal ways out of a presidential mess – impeachment to the full, and the 25th Amendment – and those who aggressively pursue the emolument clause that prohibits profiteering from the presidency wherein Trump is both landlord and tenant of the Trump Tower in Washington, watering hole and comfort zone to legions of lobbyists and foreign influence peddlers.
Jesus for VP?
Any one option would give us Pence, and he’d be free to choose his own vice president, preferably Jesus, if he had the choice.
But that selection might not work for Pence, either. Jesus believed in the separation of church and state (Mark 12:17). Pence would fuse the two into a caliphate, based on his beliefs, more of an evangelical pope than a president. Pence is the incandescent flame of the religious right and a man so chaste, or so weak, that he has vowed never to have a meal after dark with any woman but his wife.
(Ms. Pence has just accepted a teaching job at Immanuel Christian School, outside DeeCee, which imposes a strict code of “Biblical morality” on its students, including forbidding extra-marital sex and refusing to serve LGBTQ kids.)
Pence shouldn’t be allowed by voters to disengage from the president whose views and programs he shares and whom he has supported and defended as Trump’s principal apologist as if they’re joined at the hip.
Recall Pence’s embarrassing performance at a cabinet meeting on Dec. 3, 2017, when he delivered a cloying three-minute hagiography of Trump. A couple of sampler lines: “I’m deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.” And: “Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.”
The line of succession was laid down by the Founding Fathers, who’ve hounded us for 250 years from their graves. It is set in the Constitution and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 and is occasionally tweaked to accommodate officials of newly created cabinet departments. It allows the next person in line to step up to the presidency “if the president becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns or is removed from office.”
Impeachment fever is in the air. Democrats now control the House, where the process originates and where committees are tuning up for investigations into everything but Trump’s sock drawer. So far, at least a half dozen articles of impeachment have been filed against Trump dealing with obstruction of justice and other offenses. And there are numerous cases against Trump and/or his private and business organizations proceeding through the federal courts as well as various stages of investigation.
The 25th Amendment allows the assembled cabinet to simply remove a president from office because he is unfit to serve for whatever reason. But the cabinet surrounding Trump, at least what’s left of it, is composed of a group of sock-puppets and sycophants. As is often remarked in politics, if you’re going to shoot the king, best you not miss.
Trump’s a few croutons short of a salad. But Pence is a real piece of work, a rigid ideologue and the evangelicals’ man inside the White House. A lawyer, talk-show host, six-term member of Congress and governor of Indiana before Trump plucked him from certain defeat for reelection, Pence is a former Catholic and reborn evangelical who describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
Over the years, and even now, Pence is anti-abortion, opposed to LGBTQ rights, full-out for the NRA pro-gun agenda, opposed to stem-cell research, refuses to accept climate change, dismisses evolution and accepts strict creationism, supported privatizing Social Security, voted for the Patriot Act which encroached on individual freedoms, opposes sex education, favors severe restrictions on immigration and opposed the Dream Act, is a born-again Christian and as governor supported and signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which angered his state to the point where it probably would have cost him reelection.
This is the dogma according to Pence that Trump would bequeath us to lead a diverse nation. We’re actually better off under Trump, a boob and a blowhard who talks a lot but gets little done than under a modern-day Savonarola who would ignite his own bonfire of the vanities as president.
Trump’s rantings and ravings on Twitter may not get him impeached or removed from office, but they’re entertaining for the falsehoods they spread as well as the Strangelovian psyche they belie.
For if Trump has learned one thing as president it’s how to dig a hole but not recognize it while the task is underway, i.e., the recent shutdown. And the laying on of hands by the likes of Pat Robertson, the Elmer Gantry of the religious right, will not wash away his many fibs and falsehoods.
The Trump White House is under siege from within and without. The Russia story continues to follow Trump like tin cans tied to a dog’s tail. And interestingly, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s logorrheic lawyer, helps keep the story alive with his often contradictory statements and uninformed prattle.
The Russia investigation is leading deeper into Trump’s inner circle. Both House and Senate committees are tossing subpoenas after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former Mr. Fixit and clean-up man. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), is reopening hearings into the security clearance of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in-law. Aides and associates are falling faster than pawns in a chess game. At least six have been indicted. The latest is conspiracy theorist and braggart, Roger Stone.
Even with the compelling pile-up of evidence, we’re better off having the real thing in the Oval Office than the bobblehead. That belongs on a dashboard.