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Trump, Insurrections and the 25th Amendment

How strange it must have seemed for US lawmakers to be suddenly facing what was described as a “mob”, not so much storming as striding into the Capitol with angry purpose. A terrified security force proved understaffed and overwhelmed. Members of Congress hid. Five people lost their lives.

With the US imperium responsible for fostering numerous revolutions and coups across the globe during its history, spikes of schadenfreude could be found. China’s state paper Global Times found it irresistible to use the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as a point of comparison. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remark that the Hong Kong protests were “a beautiful sight to behold” was rubbed in the face of US lawmakers. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, remarking on the gloating reaction of Chinese netizens, also referred to remarks by US lawmakers on the Hong Kong protests.

It did not take long for carelessly chosen words such as “coup” to find their way into the political stuttering, as if President Donald Trump had somehow been having beer hall meetings in an atmosphere thick with plotting. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss was one. “This is a coup d’état attempted by the president of the United States.”

Many members of Congress concurred. “What happened at the US Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president,” concluded Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer in a statement. “This president should not hold office one day longer.” Republican Senator Mitt Romney also stated that “an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States,” had taken place. Republican Rep. John Curtis went further, calling the move on the Capitol “an act of domestic terrorism inspired and encouraged by our president.”

Meaty words for scenes more nastily absurd than politically planned or devised, despite assertions by Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming that “the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob.”

This summation is all too tidy. It would have been far better to see the rioters much as the commander-and-chief himself: disposed to chaos, unrepentant in petulance. There was the QAnon conspiracy theorist Jake Angeli, sans shirt but donning a fur hat with Viking horns and spear, treating the occasion like a Christmas panto. There was Richard “Bigo” Barnett, who occupied, for a moment, the chair of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaving a note reading: “Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch.”

There is no denying that such protestors had been offered rich encouragement by the president to protest the certification of the election results by Congress. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said coaxingly. Preoccupied with his own version of the stab-in-the-back theory involving a “stolen” election, Trump is crafting a version of history that, should it stick, will propel him for a future campaign to retake the White House.

The Capitol incident had tickled and teased out the prospects of a real coup, currently being hatched by a rerun of the impeachment narrative and suggestions that the 25th Amendment of the US constitution be invoked. Section 4 of the amendment establishes a process by which the president can be declared “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” provided the vice president and a majority of “the principal officers of the executive departments” think so. The prospect of a hazardous use of that amendment is in the offing.

The wording of the amendment is broad and undefined, even though the original intent of it remains one of removing an executive who suffers true incapacity. The idea of medical emergency lies at its core. Even then, a letter has to be signed to the speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The president is also given a chance to offer a written response contesting the finding, leaving it to Congress to decide. A supermajority of two-thirds in both congressional chambers would then be required.

Press outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and organisations such as the National Association of Manufacturers have not bothered themselves too much about the original nature of the provision and its purpose. President and CEO of the latter, Jay Timmons, took the broadest interpretation for the sake of urgency. “Vice President Pence, who was evacuated from the Capitol, should seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to preserve democracy.”

Various lawmakers have also adopted an expansive, if cursory interpretation. In the view of Vermont’s Republican Governor Phil Scott, “President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress.”



Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, in their note to Pence, urge him along with a majority of Cabinet secretaries, to find Trump unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. They even go for a layman’s diagnosis of his mental wellbeing. “Even his video announcement this afternoon, President Trump revealed that he was not mentally sound and is still unable to process and accept the results of the 2020 election.”

When the Democrats refused to believe the results of the 2016 elections, showing a persistent inability to process and accept it, they could never be said to be mentally unwell. Unhinged and delusional, maybe, but hardly a case of mental corrosion.

Law academic Brian Kalt, a keen student of the 25th amendment, advances two scenarios where section 4 might be used. The first involves “a president whose impairment is severe enough that the helm is, effectively, unmanned, even if he is still somehow able to claim that he is able to discharge his powers and duties.” Examples might entail severe strokes, a psychotic break or moderate dementia.

The second instance, which still suggests psychotic behaviour, would involve impairment “to the point of teeing up a disaster,” much like General Jack D. Ripper’s flight of murderous fancy in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. “Consider, for example, an unhinged president who orders a capricious nuclear strike against another county – the problem here is not that the president is ‘unable’ so much as all too able to wipe out millions of lives.”

While Kalt was writing this in 2019, his views convinced Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School and David Priess, chief operating officer at Lawfare, that Trump had met the standard of removal set by the 25th Amendment. He had shown an “inability or unwillingness for weeks to distinguish reality from fiction about the results of the election” and had shown a “detachment from exercising the basic responsibilities of the office.”

Andrew C. McCarthy in the National Review prefers, with much justification, that this is simply pushing things too far, confusing delusion and character flaws with incapacity and inability. He has pointed out, with some accuracy, that the amendment was “not applicable to a situation in which the president is alleged to be unfit for reasons of character, or due to the commission of political offences that may arise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanours.” Trump might be delusional and self-interested, but these were not “competent diagnoses of mental instability.”

Within the various disturbed readings of the 25th Amendment lie the same rages that caused Caliban to despair at seeing his own face. Trump is the symptom, the agent of chaos, the disrupter making much of a bedridden Republic, a good deal of it the making of his opponents. To use the language of constitutionalism masquerading as an insurrection is intended to finally entomb Trumpism. What this risks doing is politically martyring a man who will leave office on January 20.

So far, Pence is resolutely opposed to using the measure and has the support of various Trump cabinet officials. According to the New York Times, “Those officials, a senior Republican said, viewed the effort as likely to add to the current chaos in Washington rather than deter it.” Utilising it would add the most combustible fuel to the argument Trump has been making all along: that establishment forces, always keen to box him during his administration, are now intent on removing him.

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  1. Jack Cade

    As someone said (I wish it had been me!), the travel restrictions caused by the Covid -19 virus has forced the Americans to carry out this years attempted coup on home soil.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Jack, that was funny.

    It’s the sort of thing you would say. 😀

  3. Terence Mills

    It has also been suggested that Mexico have decided to prioritise the building of the wall for which they are now happy to pay !

  4. glenn lumsden

    Just because an insurrection is attempted by a mob of morons, egged on by a petulant and capricious ego maniac, doesn’t make it any less an attempt at insurrection. Letting it slide, to “avoid further chaos”, is sending a clear message that Trump is beyond the law, that there is no collective will to make him face the consequences of his actions, that he has in effect successfully stared down the government, and he should feel free to try again at the first convenient opportunity – with his personal armed militia of acolytes buoyed by yet another example of Trump’s invulnerability. Whether it’s the 25th or a second impeachment that gets rid of the pest doesn’t matter, but meaningful actions need to be taken – actions with serious, real life penalties that rob Trump of his power base, and freedom, and leave people in no doubt that attempts to dismantle democracy will not be tolerated. Otherwise, just hand him the keys to the castle.

  5. Matters Not

    Strictly speaking, it’s the role of the incoming AG to (legally) pursue Trump aided and abetted by, for example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

    Biden should stick to the political dimension(s) (lots of potential there) and not interfere with the AG as Trump did.

    Can’t see Biden endorsing the impeachment efforts, largely because it might mean that while Trump was impeached twice he was never convicted (lack of time etc.). And it’s very hard to get 2/3 of the Senate to agree on anything. Besides, Biden wants to be the healing President – which is somewhat naive.

  6. Consume Less

    Where’s that straight jacket ??

  7. Geoff Andrews

    Dr Kampmark, you say, “When the Democrats refused to believe the results of the 2016 elections, showing a persistent inability to process and accept it, they could never be said to be mentally unwell. Unhinged and delusional, maybe, but hardly a case of mental corrosion.”
    I don’t recall any “persistent inability” of Clinton, elected Democrats or their legal advisors to accept the 2016 election results. They could have been forgiven if they HAD have carried on like the current unhinged & delusional President: the polls were very positive and Clinton polled 3 million more votes than Trump and the final electoral college count wasn’t even close. I’m surprised that you would even suggest that there was some similarity between tthe two reactions, to defend your thesis. If the Democrats are smart, they should ignore Trump for the next 11 days – there’s nothing he can say in that time that won’t bring scorn & derision on himself. What he says after 20th January is another matter.

  8. Roswell

    I’ve always appreciated how Dr Binoy looks at things from both sides of the political divide. I think most people here do.

  9. Andrew J. Smith

    We observe the reaction of Trump and GOP praetorian guard, but meanwhile for each ‘protester’ there are at least tens of thousands of respectable middle class being represented (though not condoning the violence). Why do the protesters exist? Kochs and other libertarians know that they would only attract <5% of the vote if transparent about their policies, hence, a coalition of supposedly contradictory groups to vote the GOP in is required, including anti-abortion Christians e.g. Catholics, evangelicals, etc. then rusted on GOP voters, white nationalists, conspiracy theorists etc.; means the GOP is both ‘owned’ (as a bill delivery system) and lacks a common core constituency.

  10. Michael Taylor

    ”I can’t recall Binoy Kampmark looking at anything from both sides of the political divide.”

    That’s a bit rich coming from a tunnel-visioned soul such as yourself.

  11. Terence Mills

    It seems that Trump will have more problems than enough when he finally is forced to release the ‘immunity idol ‘ that is the Presidency – impeachment and amendment 25 will be small fry.

    In addition to the IRS who you will recall have been investigating Trump’s tax affairs for the last four years, there are numerous creditors who are owed in excess of $400million by Trump : all have held off selling him up while he was in office.

    There is an unwritten principle in the American judicial system that goes something like this :

    Well, they got Al Capone for tax evasion didn’t they ?

    The nightmare for Trump is just beginning !

  12. New England Cocky

    “Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming that “the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob.” Says it all really, except for the ”and later threw the mob under the bus”.

    Still those intelligent ”protestors” who so willingly identified themselves for the benefit of investigating agencies obviously believe that they are above the law, like Trumpery, and will escape prosecution.

    @glen lumsden: Agreed. However, I doubt that there will be sufficient will in Congress to take that necessary action.

  13. wam

    It takes only a few people to affect the results of polls gathered from fixed voters and swingers. Both decide after thought or at least in their own home at their own time and with the knowledge that their answer is just a dry run. The real poll is a single moment in time, with a pencil in hand and the position of the mark can be decided by the most recent political force, or by whim with only a couple of % needed to change an expected result. These forces include birthday cakes, WoMD, children overboard, screaming harridans Did enough old women and men change their mind when it came voting for a woman?

  14. Henry Rodrigues

    Trump is nothing without the silent and not so silent backing of his enablers, financiers, cronies, the Grand ole National Socialist party of America, Putin, the conspiracy advocates…… the list goes on. All of these have helped, contributed to the present state of decay in American politics. As I have said before, Trump is follower, not someone with the intelligence to form and lead such a movement. Anyone who spends $ 70,000 on his hairdo is too self consumed to be a radical leader. He is a suitable figurehead for the people who hate democracy who are racists, whingers, deplorable human beings. As for those 75 m who voted for him, get new brains or get an education.

  15. Geoff Andrews

    Michael Taylor.
    But was Karen Kyle correct when she opines that:
    ” I can’t recall Binoy Kampmark looking at anything from both sides of the political divide”:?

    Would a disinterested reviewer of all of Dr Kampmark’s contributions to AIMN conclude that he demonstrates a particular bias?
    If “yes”, then she was not expressing an opinion but drawing our attention to a fact (a responsibility incumbent on the entire spectrum of opinion).
    This article dishonestly implies that The Democrats, “refused to believe the results of the 2016 elections, showing a persistent inability to process and accept it” and that they were, “unhinged and delusional, maybe”.

    I look forward to the good Doctor providing any proof that the Democrats reaction to their loss in 2016 was even vaguely like that of the spoiled child’s tantrum. This may take some time.

  16. Geoff Andrews

    Henry, as Trump will be a figure of fun, ridicule and derision in the future, please give us all the reference to the $70,000 barber’s bill.

  17. Bruce Winchester

    A quick reconnoitre of right wing blog sites, youtube accounts and forums this morning reveals a continuing rage and urge from the extreme right wing rioters for exercising the rights and freedom to overthrow democratically elected governments before the communists deny them. The following is just a snippet from the comments on a YouTube site: The click bait title of the video was “BREAKING: Nancy Pelosi Plans to IMPEACH Trump on Monday! BIG NEWS!!” 30,341 views•10 Jan 2021…30,000 views? Enough to overrun a small number of government buildings one would think. The poorly produced video is followed with comments. EL FETICHISTA DE PIES FEET-OBSESSION 4 hours ago I think we should take care of nancy…… pronto!!! Leviathan Dreadnought The Great Knight Draven 4 hours ago Burn her house while she’s still asleep After a long line of anonymous agreements and variations on the murderous theme of terminating Pelosi, someone wisely, if belatedly and vainly, warns them to be more discreet. And this is just one such site. Inflated defiant calls from behind the screen of online anonymity? Maybe, but this is America, full of loonies, anyone of them ready to act out their vengeful fantasies on the merest provocation and their rage is palpable. There is a new conspiracy, in its infancy. General Graziano, current Chairman of the European Union Military Committee has been named as being involved with a recently arrested Italian hacker, one, Arturio D’Elia, who according to a clumsily prepared false-looking affidavit, claims on the night of November 3 to have flipped the US election in favour of Biden using malware programs on the internet from a computer in Italy via a German military server. It is said to be the frontpage scandal currently running in the Italian press, but I have found no evidence in any of the newspapers or media over the past few days; its all about the insurrection in Washington (of course), the Vatican investment in movies, C19, pasta recipes and soccer. Meanwhile back on the internet blog sites there are also continuing calls to true Trump supporters to regroup in Washington again before the 20th, armed and prepared, to keep Trump in power “for another four years” just as the God of the extreme evangelical “prophets” keep insisting reveals in scripture and conversations they have just had with the Almighty himself. These fundies certainly have no idea about the tactical advantage of surprise. I try to pick out who the Russia agitators are out of amusement. So political and social turmoil in America is not over because Trump has conceded. In a very real sense as Donnie vaguely promised, “its only the beginning.” It certainly makes for compelling browsing during a C19 lockdown.

  18. Henry Rodrigues

    Geoff Andrews…………The $70,000 cost for his hairdos was when he was on the Apprentice, it was one of the items he declared in his tax returns, and for which he claimed a rebate, which contributed to his miniscule tax bill for many years. In the last two years he’s only paid $750 in tax , and absolutely nothing for 18 years before that. Talk about the rich and priviledged. Maybe he’s still claiming hairdo expenses as well as suntanning oil and time in the capsule. That why he looks like an overripe pumpkin with transplanted hair..

    As for the democrats reaction to their loss in 2016, they as well as many pollsters and the rest of the world were surprised and naturally dismayed at the results. I didn’t detect any hostility or a rage to overturn the result, but a genuine fear of what would and eventually did, take place in the next 4 years. There were street marches and placards and flags and slogans, but no guns, no storming of the bastille, no threats of taking members of Congress prisoners for execution either. That is how peaceful and lawful democratic opposition is voiced and enacted.

  19. George W

    2016: WASHINGTON, DC –
    “within days of Donald Trump’s election as President, riots broke out across the country. .. vandalism was rampant, police were injured and hundreds of arrests were made.”

    2021: WASHINGTON, DC –
    ‘Disgraceful’: World leaders react to pro-Trump riots rocking Washington
    “Foreign leaders and diplomats issued unusually stark statements condemning the pro-Trump riots that broke out in Washington”

    Handlers of any Presidency are playing a long game, and as comedian George Carlin said, ‘for a big club you ain’t in’. One of the major hurdles for control of the USA is the issue of gun ownership and to that end the Republicans must be destroyed. Despite their obvious corruption, the process of dissolving them out of existence has been too slow. Our CCP-inspired surveillance future awaits. If inclined, you can help by protesting in an unconscious manner against the smoke & mirrors issues presented by msm.

    For people to hold onto a semblance of freedom and be not at the beck and call of AI interventions is going to require the destruction of the MSM and its deceptive narratives. We need real journalists who can look at all sides of a story. Keep this a secret!

  20. guest

    Bruce Winchester, You are brave to enter into the fiery world of global social media. What we see is discontent boiling beneath the surface. So there is no surprise when matters boil over. The signs were there even before the election. Trump himself was tweeting threateningly from early days about the election being a fraud. In mid-December Trump was targeting January 6 as a key day because that was when Biden would be confirmed as having won he election. Social media was also focusing on that date. Somehow they thought that Trump could be rescued at the last minute. And the coup/insurrection was made easier by the lack of security in the Capitol. Several articles have appeared at the site discussing various aspects of the events of Jan 6. Comments are are also informative and one which confused me and other readers was the explanation for the 6MWE which appears on the shirts of Proud Boys. It refers to the Holocaust and is a vile claim that the the deaths of Six Million [Jews] Wasn’t Enough. These Proud Boys are the ones Trump told to ‘stand back and stand ready’. The question arises whether fascists were present in the storming of the Capitol. Some say there were and some say they were not. But the far right is a danger to democracy. What is also of concern is that here in Oz there are/have been Trump supporters who will even go so far as to agree that Trump was robbed. Spooky!

  21. DrakeN

    @ guest – the far right lives in terror of any possibility of actual democracy.

    Their fear of loss of their wealth and priviledges, and exposure to the conditions under which a very large portion of the general community actually lives would create interesting study for thase engaged in research into PTSD.

  22. Henry Rodrigues

    Guest, DrakeN….. Agree with your comments. In OZ, Scummo and Rupert have been radicalizing the voters for many years. Many coalition voters are just as reprehensible as Trump’s storm troopers. I know a few detestable examples, who I wish I didn’t know.

    A couple of weeks ago, Trump awarded Scummo the American Military Legion of Merit medal for service to American-Australian relations. Scummo is trying not to mention it. No doubt fat Joe Hockey and uncle Arfur Sinodinos, the current OZ ambassador, had a great hand it that. Trump and Scummo, Scummo and Trump, interchangeable and reversible.

  23. Bruce Winchester

    Guest, I am not so brave as I am cautious. I keep a very low profile while staying off the skyline. I give nothing away. I comment innocuously. I mostly read and observe. I am aware of internet risks but the information is openly available and its the best way of keeping tabs on grass roots opinion and understanding the dynamics of the radical right wing politics. I find myself caring for what might eventuate.

    And the word, widespread and earnest, is “it ain’t over”. Its the culmination of the persistent aftershocks of the Civil War, in a nation where the idea of individual freedom no longer comes with any “snowflake” regard for any accompanying individual responsibilities. It is astonishing how ignorant many people are of the contents and wording of their own revered Constitution and Amendments. Pence was targeted for refusing to apply non-existent Constitutional powers; that takes a special sort of wilful disregard for truth and reasonableness..

  24. mark delmege

    oh dear so little time so much bullshit

  25. mark delmege

    To those who pushed the Russia Russia Russia conspiracy and who now push the insurrection coup d’état rubbish – you’ve got nothing, still.

  26. Roswell

    mark, how the fuck can you say that what happened the other day was “insurrection coup d’état rubbish”? FFS!

  27. mark delmege

    pretty simple really, have you seen what an insurrection or a coup d’état look like? I’ll give you the hint – Its not a bunch of hippy looking fruit cakes (allowed in) dancing around before the cameras.

  28. Roswell

    The FBI has warned that armed protests are planned for all state capitals and DC between Jan 16-20. What happened the other day should not be treated in isolation, which you appear to be doing.

    And have I ever seen what an insurrection or a coup d’état looks like? If only you knew what I know. (Hint: I worked in national security).

    What happened the other day was a red flag moment. It is not to be mocked or ignored.

  29. Henry Johnston

    Mark Delmege. I think the families of the six dead and 30-plus injured, might disagree with you. Not to mention today’s FBI report of similar occurrences planned for all US State capitols on inauguration day.

  30. Henry Rodrigues

    Mark Delmege….. what is basis for your dismissal of Russian meddling. Wasn’t Robert Mueller convincing enough for you ?
    Putin might even put you on his Christmas mailing list.

  31. Roswell

    Henry, he likes to think he knows more the the 17 intelligence organisations who named Russia.

  32. mark delmege

    is that the 17 agencies who lied about what was it WMDs or nukes or chemical weapons or some shit they were trying to sell some week? Give me a break.

  33. mark delmege

    5 (five) dead does not constitute an insurrection or coup d’état.
    Like Henry R above who is still locked on the Russian rubbish this is over egged and little more than a low grade riot.
    So 3 died of medical emergencies
    one heart attack KG 55 pro Trump
    one stroke BP 50 pro Trump
    trampled to death RB 34 pro Trump

    One shot by police AT, 35 pro Trump

    blunt force injury BS 42 Police officer

  34. DrakeN

    “Give me a break.”

    Which set of fingers, mark?

  35. mark delmege

    Drake any good with ‘Dupuytren’s Contracture’?

  36. Roswell

    mark, you are so full of shit.

    Maybe you need to get your rocks off.

  37. mark delmege

    Whats up Roswell? still mowing grass for the feds?

  38. Roswell

    Nothing’s wrong.

    You’re just full of shit.

  39. mark delmege

    sticks and sto/// rocks Boswell

  40. Henry Rodrigues

    Roswell….. there’s an old but valid truth, no sense in debating a fool, you’ll never win. Either he is naturally obtuse or deliberately so. Either way he’s ready for admittance to the asylum for dunderheads. Much there to keep his febrile imagination fully engaged.

  41. mark delmege

    you’ve got nothing Henry,

  42. Henry Rodrigues

    My nothing is a million times more than the empty space between your ears. Were you born this way or did you undergo a medical intervention. One way to achieve notoriety I suppose.

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