According to the Irish betting house Paddy Power, the probability of Donald Trump suffering impeachment in his first term is a robust 40 percent. Few realize, however, that there is another mechanism for removing Trump from office. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1967, establishes a procedure for permanently replacing a president with his vice president for disabilities—not limited to the physical—that render him unable to fulfill the duties of office.
It’s a Byzantine procedure that has never been invoked and requires action by the vice president and the cabinet, both chosen by the president. Yet, in the Trump era, precedent has counted for so little. Under the amendment, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet may declare to Congress that the president is unable to carry out his duties. The vice president then assumes the role of president. The president can resume his office by declaring to Congress that he is fit to serve. The vice president and the cabinet can reissue their objection and both houses of Congress can then, by a two-thirds vote, remove the president from office.
The question for Trump is his mental fitness to serve. This year mental health professionals have found that President Trump’s issues are serious enough to shatter the long-standing informal rule against assessing the psychology of a president. An open letter, signed by thirty-five psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, most of them Ph.Ds. or MD’s, said, “We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.”
The authorities warned, that “Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an in- ability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them.”
Trump has provided grounds to take seriously the warnings of these professionals and raise the possibility of removal under the Twenty-Fifth amendment. He has repeatedly lied to the American people about matters large and small ranging from alleged massive fraud in the presidential election, to the size of his inauguration crowd, and the claim that President Obama wiretapped his phones.
The timing of Trump’s tweets, which typically post overnight or early in the morning, provide additional warning signs. During the day, when he is distracted and surrounded by a self-selected admiring audience, he feels temporarily fulfilled. As night falls, and he is left to his own thoughts and subconscious insecurities, his mind ruminates on his “enemies” and those who he believes have harmed him. He is unable to stifle the strong urge to retaliate or crush his “opponent.”
Trump also brags beyond reason or fact, even on matters that seem trivial. Before his inauguration, Trump boasted that anticipation for the event was so “unbelievable” and “record-setting” that “all of the dress shops are sold out in Washington.” A quick survey by New York Daily News reporter Gersh Kuntzman found that D.C. shops were awash in “dresses to suit all tastes and price ranges.”
Trump’s black and white vision of the world, and his hair-trigger outbursts are perilous for a leader who controls the nuclear codes that could launch enough warheads to end human civilization. Trump’s mania to be the biggest and the best, has led him to lie that his predecessor let us fall behind the Russians on nuclear weapons capacity. He’s called for reigniting the nuclear arms race that brought the U.S. and the former Soviet Union close to annihilation in the 1980s.
If you were sitting in Beijing, Pyongyang, Moscow, or Teheran, you might be frightened to hear the world’s most powerful leader welcoming an arms race and pledging to win wars, inflate his military, and cut diplomacy and foreign aid. Frightened people make bad decisions.
Even Trump’s widely lauded missile strike against Syria exhibits impulsive and potentially dangerous behavior. Trump retaliated for Syria’s horrific gas attack against civilians without a follow-up plan for America’s role in Syria. A visceral response to provocation by a nuclear-armed North Korea could have much more serious consequences.
One measure, of a president’s fitness is the ability to tell right from wrong. Yet for Trump there is no right or wrong, only that which serves his interests and world view. There is at least an outside chance that a vice president and a cabinet of Trump’s own choosing might turn against him if he becomes a liability to the Republican Party or a serious threat to the security of the United States. If not, there is always impeachment.