Full disclosure: This essay is about something that most people I know would dismiss as a pipe-dream. But there’s a difference between (a) the likelihood of an idea being adopted and fulfilled — the usual definition of success — and (b) having an influence. Even if (a) is impossible, (b) is worth pursuing. I would love you to read this with an open mind. In fact, I’m begging you to read this with an open mind. If you have a few minutes, please do that.
Did you know that a sitting president can be removed for unfitness for office? I’m not talking about impeachment. I’m talking about pressuring those in high places who have sold their souls for profit over people. Whether or not that pressure influences them directly, I’m absolutely certain it would influence voters. I’m talking about the political power of rebuke.
Imagine many thousands of people rebuking the individuals who hold public power for refusing to use it for the public good at a time of clearest and keenest need. Imagine the hashtag #HaveYouNoShame going viral, awakening countless voters to the stark fact that high officials prize their own glory and profit far beyond the lives of the people whose well-being they are entrusted to protect. Imagining them taking that realization along when they mark their ballots.
The 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlines processes such as the succession order if a president leaves office before the term is up. It also contains a provision for removal of a president who is no longer fit for office on account of illness or other incapacity. This was briefly a subject last year, when it was rumored that some of #IMPOTUS’ close advisors were exploring invoking the 25th amendment.
Section IV reads:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Now, the first reason most people I know would call deposing #IMPOTUS a pipe dream is that practically, it would take the Vice President and 13 Cabinet members to send the declaration of unfitness to Congress, and then a majority of both houses to ratify the declaration so removal could take effect. Especially since loyalty is #IMPOTUS’ primary qualification for any and all public appointments, and Congress has allowed him to bring a passel of liars and toadies onto the Cabinet, I have to agree the odds of that happening are zero. (The second reason is that it would make Mike Pence into President Pence, but since that actually happening is deemed impossible, what’s the point of debating it?)
The crux is this: in contrast to actually removing #IMPOTUS, the odds of helping to shift public opinion by calling for use of Section IV seem to me very good. I’m thinking back 66 years to the Army-McCarthy Congressional hearings. They were part of what is called the Red Scare or Witchhunts of the 1950s in which the vicious and deranged Senator Joseph McCarthy played a leading role. The Army-McCarthy hearings were the last in a sequence of appalling fiascos that destroyed lives and nearly destroyed any semblance of democracy. Why?
Attorney Joseph Welch represented the Army against increasingly baseless and destructive accusations by McCarthy and his equally corrupt, self-serving, and immoral henchman Roy Cohen. Until that point, these two bullies had come to seem nearly untouchable. But on June 9, 1954, Welch had finally had enough. With great dignity and a sense of fatigue that ruptured the pretense of McCarthy’s legitimacy, Welch said this:
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
McCarthy never recovered.
We greatly underestimate the positive impact of shame deployed in the interests of justice. Unlike guilt, which resides inside, shame comes from having fingers pointed at evildoers, from understanding oneself as worthy of rebuke. It calls the evildoer to change, but unlike pleading, persuasion, education, and other strategies we use to influence those we care about toward better behavior, it is a last resort, something to call on when ordinary means have failed. It is not a tactic I would advocate in most one-to-one human relationships. But in an extreme time, under extreme circumstances, when not only human life but the life of the planet is at stake, I embrace it.
I doubt that any of #IMPOTUS’ Cabinet members are all that susceptible to shame, although I’m not counting the possibility entirely out. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not it affects them personally would not at all reduce the impact of a blizzard of tweets, posts, petitions, (and when gathering in public again is possible) vigils outside their homes and offices, all unified by a question that echoes Joe Welch’s outrage:
Along with every progressive I know, there are some Republicans who know that #IMPOTUS is “Unfit for Office” (the title of George Conway’s October Atlantic article spelling out in considerable detail the obvious truth of #IMPOTUS’ unfitness:
You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don’t need to be a mental-health professional to see that something’s very seriously off with Trump — particularly after nearly three years of watching his erratic and abnormal behavior in the White House. Questions about Trump’s psychological stability have mounted throughout his presidency. But those questions have been coming even more frequently amid a recent escalation in Trump’s bizarre behavior, as the pressures of his upcoming reelection campaign, a possibly deteriorating economy, and now a full-blown impeachment inquiry have mounted. And the questioners have included those who have worked most closely with him.
Could #HaveYouNoShame go viral?
The basic message would be a call for #IMPOTUS to be removed, for example:
#HaveYouNoShame? Cabinet members must invoke Section IV of the 25th amendment. Remove #IMPOTUS before he destroys any chance of national recovery. Be remembered as a hero or a toadying coward: your choice. Voters won’t forget.
If you have a better way to put it, please let me know. But whatever words are used, if you think this is a good idea, please share it.
A list of Twitter handles for the main Cabinet members can be downloaded here. I don’t know that it’s important to message them directly or even cc them. The vital thing is to get the message to voters. But in case you prefer direct address…
Ben Harper, “Show Me A Little Shame.”