After President Donald Trump’s abysmal and shocking performance in a post-summit press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week in Helsinki, there is no doubt left but that he must be removed from office.
Before going any further, I want to acknowledge three points obvious to anyone reading these words. First, the Helsinki calamity was by no means the first indication of Trump’s manifest unfitness for the office he holds. With no meaningful experience in public life, he came to widespread political attention with his outrageous and racist questioning of President Barack Obama’s American birth. His campaign was fueled by xenophobic, religious, and racial bigotry, incitements to violence, threats to have his opponent jailed if he won, the undermining of trust in the integrity of our elections, a refusal to release his tax returns, and his belittling of credible women who accused him of sexual harassment and worse.
Since taking office, he has moved to bar Muslim immigrants; carried out a draconian border control program that cages young children separated from their parents without clear guarantees they will ever be reunited; worked to repeal and, failing that, undermine Obama’s Affordable Care Act and so threaten a critical health safety net for tens of millions; reversed protections for transgender school students and the Executive Branch’s expansive view of civil rights protections owed LGBTQ Americans, while trying to undo Obama’s decision to open up military service to trans people; gutted environmental and climate change safeguards that may already have been too little too late; delivered a deficit–ballooning tax break for the wealthiest; co-signed the legitimacy of neo-Nazis in our midst, while stirring up racial animosities on a host of issues; packed the federal courts with blatantly unqualified appointments, while handing out pardons to heroes of the far right; insulted and threatened America’s most sacred institutions and traditions and its strongest and most reliable allies, while cozying up to strongmen like Russia’s Putin, North Korea’s Kim, Turkey’s Erdogan, and the Philippines’ Duterte; and fought to make the Justice Department and FBI instruments of his will while undermining the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Second, I am fully aware that — barring some event dramatically more destabilizing than even Helsinki — Congress, even should Democrats eke out majorities in both chambers in November, will not impeach and convict this president, with Republicans providing cover, today in both houses and even next year at least as a Senate firewall in any trial of the president. I am making this argument now because I think it’s time for Americans to speak honestly about what we should do, even if it is not what we will do. Even if we won’t do the right thing, we should at least know and say what that is.
And that takes me to my third acknowledgement: Trump’s removal from office would mean a President Mike Pence. On so many of the knocks against Trump, Pence is every bit as guilty — in some cases, like his extreme fundamentalist opposition to LGBTQ rights and women’s reproductive freedom, even more guilty, for on those issues he’s a true believer, something the president really isn’t about anything but his own interests. Pence also has his head in the sand over climate change; he has shown no enlightenment on immigration policy; his tax and spending priorities were clearly reflected in the Republican bill that became law; and he would not pull back on the ongoing GOP attacks on Obamacare but also wouldn’t offer any humane alternative in its place.
Perhaps, most damning about Pence is how he has defended the very worst in Trump — supporting the horrors that ICE has unleashed in recent months, stunt-walking out of an Indiana Colts game to bolster the president’s attack on African-American football players, and — incredibly — saying this week, “What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.”
Mike Pence is not a man of great character or courage. If he were president, the LGBTQ community and progressive Americans generally would still have a daunting and seminal fight on our hands.
But could it be any worse than it is now? On LGBTQ issues, Trump doesn’t seem to have discernible views. He’s largely farmed out those issues — and, for that matter, judicial nominations — to a far right coterie that includes Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the leaders of the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and even more extreme groups. In fact, on issue after issue, Trump has already empowered the players most hostile to any progressive vision for America. Could a President Pence really find advisors any more disreputable to bring into the White House circle?
Meanwhile, there’s what we all witnessed in Helsinki. The president takes an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” this country. That he did not do while standing next to Putin. Some, including former CIA chief John Brennan, have called his behavior treason. What is indisputable is that his behavior was due to one or both of two factors: either his naïveté and narcissism make him believe he’s the dealmaker he is not or Putin has something on him. Collusion in 2016? The infamous golden showers tape from the Steele dossier? Financial corruption at the heart of his global real estate empire, which would explain his tax returns obstinance?
Maybe Mueller can answer that question. If anyone can, the special counsel will.
But even without that verdict in, the jury has come back on the existential threat Trump poses to this nation. He is a dangerously, pathetically unstable man and every day he serves keeps this nation and the world in peril. We all need to keep reminding our fellow Americans of that inescapable truth.