Fired Comey backwards for Trump

Awakening from the Trump nightmare

The American people can escape the agony of the Trump presidency in three ways. If and when they do it is an irreducible political question, not one that depends on legal possibilities.

First of all, there is the Nixon method, in which the president, worn out by the fight, scared and unwilling to submit to the processes he sees looming over him, simply steps back. Could this really be the exit Trump would choose? Does he share a strong enough predisposition to melancholy with his distant Republican predecessor? Can anyone imagine that an instinctual, narcissistic, childish man surrenders the larger-than-life toy that represents the top job in the most powerful country on the planet without a fight? I doubt it.

Second option: Article 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967, which is a process by which the Vice-President and Cabinet can take action to replace a deceased President or a President unable to govern for health reasons .

That could have been the case four years earlier, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, if Kennedy had not succumbed to his wounds. The possibility reappeared when President Ronald Reagan began showing signs of Alzheimer's disease.

But the current situation bears no resemblance to these cases. Trump may be unstable and inadequate to rule as his opponents claim. But is it even less now than when the American people voted? Probably not.

Last but not least, impeachment proceedings could help, a possibility that is being discussed more and more openly in Washington these days, accompanied (a sign of the times) by a book The case for impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman. (Political historian Lichtman became famous for developing a model that enabled him to predict the election of every US president from Reagan to Trump.)

Impeachment, as set out in Article 2 of the Constitution, is a procedure for the removal of a president, vice-president or other high-ranking official (or judge) suspected of "treason, bribery or other serious crimes and misdemeanors".

Doubts about majorities

It is a complex process that unfolds in two phases: First, the House of Representatives must decide by simple majority that the charges are serious enough to be tried in court. Then a full court hearing is held in the Senate, which must achieve a two-thirds majority, in order to convict the incumbent and initiate the immediate removal from office.

There are two main reasons to doubt that impeachment could rid the world of Donald Trump. First, there is the balance of power in the Senate. At least 19 Republican senators would have to join the Democrats to condemn Trump. Right now, you could expect a maximum of five to do that.

The only two presidential predecessors who have been tried (Andrew Johnson for abuse of power and Bill Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice) ended in Senate acquittals.

Second, there is the reluctance of Democratic party leaders to face an ultra-conservative Vice President Mike Pence who could take the place vacated by a fallen Trump. Wouldn't he be forgiven for all sins that other Vice Presidents did not long ago who entered the Oval Office in exceptional circumstances (Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy, Gerald Ford after Nixon)? And what if he stayed in office, not just for the remainder of Trump's term, but also for two of his own four-year terms?

All of that would be logical. But times have changed since Johnson, Ford, and even Clinton. In postmodern democracies there is one and only one boss: public opinion. And public opinion operates according to its own logic. How long will the American public tolerate the almost daily dose of new evidence of conflicts of interest, ranging from Trump brand licenses to Chinese investors, at the height of the presidential campaign, for use in spa palaces, luxury hotels, and other real estate projects?

Connections to Russia

What about Trump's financial ties to Russia and those of his business partners, including his security advisor Michael Flynn and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort? What levers can be used by the Russian oligarchs who stepped in for him when Trump was bogged down in one of his bankruptcies in 2004 and renovated his companies and bought luxury apartments in Trump World Tower after he was blacklisted by American banks? Isn't it all going to take its toll at some point?

Finally, there is the obnoxious obstruction of justice by the sacking of FBI Director James Comey, whose main offense appeared to be the refusal to exclude Trump from his investigation into the Kremlin's criminal involvement in the 2016 campaign. What will voters do with the incriminating revelations that are bound to come to light now that Comey's predecessor, Robert Mueller, has been appointed special advisor to investigate the links between Russia and Trump's campaign?

The signs that point to public disgust are increasing. A petition to remove Trump from office launched by Massachusetts attorney John Bonifaz has garnered more than a million signatures. Polls suggest that a majority of the electorate would approve of Trump's resignation if evidence was shown that his campaign team partnered with Russia to influence the election. And increasing numbers of voters tell their representatives, who sooner or later have to start listening so as not to jeopardize their own chances of being elected.

For Trump, the real danger will come when the crowd he captured and tied up during the campaign starts turning against him. This crowd, as astute political observers from Plato to de Tocqueville have extensively demonstrated, will be all the more difficult to evade the more you allow them to rule.

The worst case is never inevitable. May the mob of the populist tides become the great American people again, a people of citizens. If that happens, Trump will be history for good. (Bernard-Henri Lévy, May 29, 2017)

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the leading French intellectuals. The journalist and philosopher was born in Algeria and founded the Nouvelle Philosophie group in the 1970s.

Translation: Angie Pieta