One aspect of President Trump’s Iran message that I have yet to comment on concerns the words he stumbled on during its delivery. While Trump came across for the most part more or less normally, he mispronounced several words in a very odd way, completely bungling the words “tolerated,” “accomplishments,” and “shape.” He was huffing and sniffing as he talked, and his breathing and speech were labored, as though he had dry mouth and his nose was plugged. It seemed like something more than a cold.
The president’s noticeable impairment comes after an unscheduled and unexplained weekend visit he made to Walter Reed Medical Hospital outside Washington less than two months ago.
Changes in the president, coupled with the administration’s unexpected and destabilizing military action against General Suleimani of Iran, have stimulated new concerns about the president’s state of health and fitness to govern. Trump guards facts about his health carefully, a secrecy that only heightens alarm and fuels speculation.
Some observers on Twitter, including Tom Joseph of Chicago and others writing under the handle @Duty2Warn, tweet regularly about the President’s apparent medical and psychological condition. In the absence of direct information, they attempt to assess the President’s health by scrutinizing video footage of his public appearances: his speech, affect, and gait. They look at what he says and how he says it for signs of undisclosed illnesses such as dementia, stroke, or personality disorder.
In a related development, a group of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals sent a letter to Congress this week, urging that Trump undergo a psychological evaluation to ascertain that he remains fit to exercise the powers of commander-in-chief. According to the Independent, the letter warns that the stress of impeachment could drive an already tempestuous president to act in ways that are unwise and detrimental to the nation’s security.
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I went to sleep last night worried that we would all be waking up to a war with Iran. I am so grateful that the administration interpreted Iran’s attack on our bases as a retaliatory gesture that was pointed but at the same time perfunctory. Actually, I don’t have a problem with the president’s formally expressed hard line on Iran, or with the two aims he expressed today: deterring Iran’s expansive militarism and deterring it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
I want to see Donald Trump out of the presidency, but, when I hear him speak about Iran, I agree completely. His remarks today took into account the really desperate internal condition of that country, and he articulated the ultimate and ideal goal of seeing Iran reach a state of peace and prosperity.
The people of Iran have suffered terribly under years of international sanctions and government repression. They want a functioning economy and normal lives. This is why Iran has lately been witnessing widespread popular demonstrations, which the government has had trouble putting down. Internally, Iran is in a terrible position to go to war with any nation, let alone the United States. The people of Iran want to get rid of the ayatollah and the fundamentalist strictures that the clerics have imposed on the country for decades.
At the same time, I liked Trump’s emphasis on our energy independence, and how that gives us more latitude when it comes to getting out of the Middle East. Interestingly, the desirability of withdrawing US troops from Iraq in some fashion but as soon as is feasible is a point on which Trump and Bernie Sanders agree.
Some new years open on indeterminacy, the shape of the future vague enough to warrant a complacent optimism. “Happy New Year!” Not 2020. The United States, though still the planet’s most powerful nation, is in the thick of a political metamorphosis, and what character of government will emerge from it is anyone’s guess. Bickering parties, an out-of-control president, a resentful populace, oceans of Russian disinformation, even a tech-driven epistemological crisis: such are the forces pushing the American republic ever closer to a great collapse—or paralysis. Even if it isn’t curtains for the US, this is surely one of its most inglorious periods, its government full of cowardly and mediocre people.
Between the president’s pending impeachment and the certainty of a presidential election come November, what is possible, probable, and inevitable in this new year? Here are a few prognostications.
The possible: Democratic nominees
Although the field of Democratic presidential candidates remains broad and, as yet, no votes have been cast, only two of the candidates have a shot at becoming president: Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg.
If Sanders retains his current support, his chief progressive rival, Elizabeth Warren, will have to drop out. Her voters will gravitate to him, giving him a strong lead over all the Democratic field. In a general election, Sanders would repel moderates and capitalists, giving a victory to the incumbent, President Trump.
None of the more moderate candidates—whether Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, or Tom Steyer—can attract a majority of Democratic support: if they could, that majority would have gravitated to them from other candidates already, and the attraction would have registered in public opinion polls.
As moderate candidates drop out, the moderate “frontrunner” Joe Biden will not necessarily get stronger. Pete Buttigieg will be limited in that he comes across as a product of entitlement. Michael Bloomberg, a wealthy and capable latecomer, could, however, draw enough support from among moderate and independent voters to come to dominate this weak and wide field. In a general election, Bloomberg would stand a fine chance of beating Trump.
The possible: a fair Senate impeachment trial
It is still possible, though not probable, that the US Senate will decide to conduct a thorough impeachment trial of the president, one that impartially explores the charges against Trump that the House has formally brought. That Senate Republicans have stood firm as a group and only faintly objected to the fawning proclamations of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and vocal Trump loyalist Lindsey Graham makes me doubt that the Republicans will ever do anything but fall on their swords in defense of their man.
More evidence could come out against Trump, however, of a nature impossible to defend, tolerate, or ignore. As long as Nancy Pelosi holds on to the impeachment charges, and as long as there is a chance of a major witness coming over from the administration to testify, there is a chance that a fair and full trial, with live-witness testimony, will be held.
The Senate is intent on stonewalling and preventing a fair trial, because, if a fair trial were held, the Senators would be compelled to find the president guilty and remove him from office. In that case, we could see a President Pence in 2020.
More probable is that the Senate trial will be a superficial affair, with a vote to acquit the president. That would leave him free to run for reelection. Regardless of the lip service constantly paid to Trump’s base, his erratic conduct and the controversy it engenders is weakening the Republicans. The unusually large number of Republican lawmakers leaving Congress instead of running for reelection is one sign of the party’s critical condition. It is rare for humans give up power unless they must.
The probable: a very close presidential vote but a loss for Trump
Americans who don’t approve of Trump outnumber those who do by about 10 percentage points. Trump’s victory in 2016 rested on electoral votes, while the loser Hillary Clinton dominated the popular vote, winning nearly 2.9 million votes more than he. According to the Washington Post, “Of the more than 120 million votes cast . . . , 107,000 votes in three states effectively decided the election.” The three states were Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Trump also won Iowa and Ohio, which Obama had carried previously. In all, margins of less than two percent decided the outcome in six states.
I don’t want to underestimate the Democrats’ ability to choose an unelectable candidate or run an undisciplined presidential campaign, but with the right candidate and a smart strategy, the Democrats could defeat Trump fair and square. In truth, this would be better for the country than removing him from office, which would embitter many of his supporters.
The inevitable: dangerously fierce partisan rancor
Here’s the problem with extreme partisanship. The parties end up competing for power, rather than tailoring their identities around ideas or the needs of the people. The government grows unresponsive and ineffectual, increasing discontent and cynicism among citizens. The bland, stale character of the parties largely accounts for the rise of Trump, a dangerous figure.
Unfortunately, unless a third party emerges to disrupt the existing balance of power between the two parties, or unless the parties reform themselves from within, American politics is likely to go on being nasty, vengeful, and mediocre.
The overall decline in the quality of American governance is not just wasteful and embarrassing; it is a real threat to our well-being, domestic tranquillity, and security. Yet it appears inevitable that party warfare will continue and perhaps even intensify in 2020. It won’t be unprecedented, but it will be both scary and a betrayal of the people’s trust.
Image: A 1993 Jack Boucher photograph of a close view of the Statue of Freedom normally atop the United States Capitol, from this source.
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Impeaching President Trump is a patriotic necessity, one that every American regardless of party should support. As Trump’s behavior becomes ever more brazen and erratic, every American needs to voice support for the impeachment process per se and do everything possible to encourage Republican lawmakers to join in removing Trump from office quickly. I say this without having any axe to grind against the President or the GOP. Unless the political class unites around the goal of removing him from office, our nation will have no future and the GOP itself will wither and die.
It’s clear from the papers that President Trump sought to coerce the Ukrainian government to come up with dirt that would harm a political opponent while helping the president’s own election chances. Some people, like Senator Rob Portman, have temporized, saying that the president’s action was unwise but not impeachable. Portman is wrong because if the President’s behavior is allowed, our entire election system will become a farce. It will become a farce simply by allowing the President to continue on this way throughout the 2020 presidential campaign. Where does his conduct leave every other candidate, Democrat or Republican, who runs for office but plays by the rules? His lawless behavior is an affront to everyone else who has legitimately won an elective post. Publicly inviting foreign governments to meddle in our affairs, as Trump has done, demonstrates a resolve to defy–rather than defend–our written and living Constitution.
Personally, I am outraged at the development of a corrupt set of transnational relations that a sitting president is hoping will lessen his dependence on American voters. The president bets that he can hold on to power by conjuring up a climate of public opinion that degrades every other public figure and undermines confidence in our once-efficacious and illustrious political system. The damage that he is inflicting on his own party, on the nation, and on blameless public servants is mounting daily. If the American public cries out loudly for impeachment, Republicans will listen.
No one but former Senator Jeff Flake has the guts to admit how many enemies Trump has within his own party. (The Arizona Republican, speaking to USA Today last month, estimated that 35 GOP senators would vote to remove Trump if the vote were private.) Think of all the honorable people Trump has dismissed and humiliated, the Tillersons and McMasters of the world. Where are they now? If I were Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or Marco Rubio, I’d be working furiously behind the scenes to dump Donald Trump and expel him from the Republican Party. If the Senate GOP hangs with Trump, the senators will go down in history as the group that destroyed our nation through inactivity. If, though, they turn against Trump, the GOP will save the nation from a very bad man, and the party’s prospects will brighten again.
I am not a firebrand. Frankly, I wish this whole terrifying mess Trump is causing would go away. But he really is turning into a political Lucifer, destroying the “natural order” of the government and aspiring to a kind of power at odds with what the Constitution envisioned. This morning the Times reports his decision to spurn cooperation with the House impeachment inquiry, branding it “illegitimate” and “partisan,” whereas if he has done nothing wrong one would think he would be eager to clear his name. Congress definitely has the right to gather information prior to charging Trump with articles of impeachment, and no amount of bluster will take that right away.
Again, I entreat every patriot to get behind impeachment as loudly as possible and to urge the House and Senate to see it through. Perhaps massive pro-impeachment rallies are the way to go.
And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: That there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
Such were the parting words of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, as he announced the end of the so-called Russia investigation. Since the bulk of his team’s report was released to the press and public on April 18th, its central allegation regarding Russia’s infiltration of American media and politics has attracted much less attention than the unsatisfyingly big questions Mueller’s investigation leaves. “What did Trump have to do with it?” and “Can’t Congress impeach him?” continue to be uppermost in many American minds.
Will Democrats raise their sights and train them on protecting American politics and media from foreign infiltration? Will they accept the paradoxical truth that, because impeachment is politically impossible, they must channel all their energies into having a “clean” election in 2020 and defeating Trump unequivocally at the polls?
As if Trump were the only president fishy shenanigans aided! In the end, his election resulted from an ordinary electoral majority, notwithstanding all the dubious preliminaries. This distinguishes his victory from other, more dubious outcomes such as Bush v. Gore (2000), Hayes v. Tilden (1876), and Adams v. Jackson (1824). In those cases, the winners gained office only after strenuous post-election day maneuvering. Given the power of the presidential office, every flaw and vulnerability in our manner of presidential selection should be boosted to the top of our political agenda and eliminated.
Mr Mueller’s remarks were peppered with finality. Calling the report that bears his name “his testimony,” he expressed unwillingness to comment further on matters involved in the investigation, declaring flatly, “we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.” No hypotheticals. For those looking to prove that President Trump is a criminal, no further help can be expected from Mr. Mueller. What hope is there that American officials will instead turn their attention to the central crime he found?
I . . . close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: That there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.