The January Surprise: Delusion as Inability for Trump Removal Under 25th Amendment

Written Summer 2019, w/ Lead Updated for Post-MAGA Storming of the U.S. Capitol, Violence, & Casualties

With doublespeak for which he is well known, President Trump on January 6, 2021 incited from among a mass of his supporters, certain fanatics, personality cultists, conspiracy theorists, and opportunistic extremist groups to storm the U.S. Capitol building with “strength” after having long used the words strong, or in the negative, weak, to describe those who do or don’t use force respectively to solve public problems or to get their way.

Persistent delusions cannot be an “able” basis for the discharge of presidential powers and duties even if the ability to appear rational in any given setting exists. The bellwethers of delusion are not merely the appearance of confidence or hutzpah, but delusional decision-making and results. From that perspective, President Trump’s delusions of grandeur and paranoia are adversely affecting U.S. national security and constitutional checks and balances.

Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of cabinet officers have the power and duty to remove President Donald Trump from office if the President is delusional to an extent he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” under Amendment Twenty-Five, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution.

Delusion is inconsistent with access to the nuclear football, duties as Commander-in-Chief, judgment on foreign policy, and execution of laws. Before discussing evidence of the President’s delusions, consider Section 4.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s framers rejected restrictive modifiers on the word “unable” in Section 4 to prevent a future president’s unforeseen disability from evading a narrowed definition, according to Calvin Bellamy, in “Presidential Disability: The Twenty-Fifth Amendment Still An Untried Tool.” (Boston U. Public Int. Law Journal, Spring 2000).

The open meaning of “unable” thus suits a ‘totality of the circumstances’ assessment of presidential inability not limited to medical findings. Bellamy noted in 2000 that external circumstances in disability assessments could include wars or national emergencies.

External circumstances now include cyber attacks, political polarity, terrorism, hacks, evolving weapons races, and “grey zone” operations, multiplying the likelihood that persistent delusion is a presidential inability.

Last century’s congressional explorations of presidential disability and the ratification of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment arose in the murky first decades of the Cold War after President Eisenhower’s 1955 heart attack and President Kennedy’s assassination. Much was at stake.

Russia and China now wage a more sophisticated Cold War on the United States with new tools, access points, and advantages. The President’s own delusions have proven a target and vehicle of that war.

Bellamy’s article, written soon after the Clinton impeachment also raised the disability risk of a president’s obsession with his impeachment, a growing risk for the combative Mr. Trump.

Lawfare Blog’s Matthew Kahn wrote in September that Section 4 “could be used concurrently with an impeachment proceeding to keep an off-the-rails president out of office during a trial, for example.”

While Section 4 was not intended to substitute for impeachment, it could preempt it if a president’s disability is adjudged by his cabinet and two-thirds of the Congress as permanent. Neither, if it failed, would impeachment be foregone.

Two glaring examples of President Trump’s delusional thinking in office span foreign and domestic policy, and illustrate larger patterns in the President’s behavior giving force to Section 4 inability arguments.

First, President Trump’s executive performance in his handling of North Korea, China, and South Korea fit into a larger pattern of delusion-based relations with adversaries, allies, fellow Americans, and even his own appointees.

When the President declared the U.S. safe from North Korean attack after but one meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore last year, his delusions of grandeur were on full display. The meeting yielded vague, unverifiable words of intent but Mr. Trump’s confidence in them was as supreme as it was premature.

On that basis Mr. Trump drew down full military exercises with South Korea, cracking the “maximum pressure” cylinder and crippling the hydraulics needed to leverage North Korea’s verifiable denuclearization.

U.S. intelligence chiefs have since re-assessed North Korea as unwilling to denuclearize even as the President declared them wrong, and stated the opposite. That nuclear weapons development activities continue in the North has been widely and repeatedly reported.

Mr. Trump’s grandiose optimism after the Singapore summit put North Korea (and likely China) in control of the Korean narrative, which turned to Korean reunification instead of denuclearization, non-proliferation, and an end to the Kim dynasty’s state terror.

Moon Jae-In, South Korea’s North-sympathetic leader, took advantage of Mr. Trump’s grandiose confidence, posing for hand-holding photo-ops with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ reminiscent of emotional North Korean propaganda about reunification. This despite China’s military flights over South Korean islets, a “bad-cop” signal to the South Korean people as their President followed Mr. Trump’s lead in bolstering Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Moon recently admonished the U.S. that it must take steps to match North Korea’s future denuclearization as if the parties were morally equivalent in the impasse. Mr. Trump’s erratic year in the rhetorical nuclear weeds with Kim Jong-un helped Mr. Moon’s sell that angle.

Mr. Trump’s later statement that he and Kim Jong-un “fell in love” was delusional no matter how it was intended. It implied unseriousness about and or surrender to North Korea on issues such as Otto Warmbier’s demise, weapons development in the North, WMD proliferation, state terror, taking hostages for political leverage, hacking and totalitarianism. This undermined the U.S., allies, partners, and individuals violated by dictators’ 21st Century acts of state terror, such as Kim Jong-un sanctioning the murder of his half-brother Kim Jong-nam by nerve agent in a Malaysian airport. It also degraded international expectations for accountability where WMD and borderline agents are used by states to assassinate people with impunity.

A reality-based Commander-in-Chief makes real alliances ever-stronger, but while President Trump claimed “maximum pressure” on North Korea he also pushed South Korea into common position with China, imposing tariffs on its imports to the U.S. and quibbling over the costs of joint ROK-US military exercises, as widely reported.

Mr. Trump similarly pushed the Syrian Kurds, important U.S. allies on the ground in the Mideast toward the terror-sponsoring regime of Bashar al-Assad.

After these events, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, like Vladimir Putin, had to conclude that personal summits with Mr. Trump are highly desirable shopping opportunities.

As Mr. Trump’s need for political victories increases, his vulnerability to Chinese and Russian leverage increases, for example, in that China can use Trump’s agricultural base as a targeted bargaining chip for a unified Korea firmly under Chinese control. That is a result of Mr. Trump conflating trade with national security policy so that each works as a counterforce to the other. Whereas, national security should be the first priority anchor on which fair trade deals can be firmly founded.

Mr. Trump’s recurrent delusion making this possible is that South Korea and other allies deliberately “rip-off” the U.S. while dictators get good deals, so the U.S. may as well act like a dictator toward U.S. allies and find common ground with dictators.

The tariff policy Mr. Trump has enthused about has had the predicted side-effects against allies, while hurting emerging nations the U.S. needs good relationships with for any hope to check China’s Belt and Road Initiative (mercantile expansion).

Now Kim Jong-un seeks sanctions relief from Mr. Trump if Mr. Trump is to earn trust, and Mr. Trump has just granted that wish in addition to suspending US-South Korea joint military readiness exercises. All this has given Kim Jong-un more time to prepare his next moves.

While Mr. Trump’s delusions of paranoia deceive him into thinking he is justified in treating allies shabbily, his grandiosity makes him believe he can do it without cost, and that dictators will honor their deals with him because they respect him. No, they will befriend America’s nonplussed allies.

Kim Jong-un has not honored Mr. Trump’s Singapore memorandum. Mr. Putin violated, then claimed that the US violated first, the INF treaty. Yet because the President so depends on his perceived importance and he gains esteem from the autocrats’ communicated respect, Mr. Trump tries to please them the more with concessions.

That is one probable reason that Mr. Trump renews his threats to leave NATO, rationalized by his “rip-off” delusion toward fellow NATO allies. The threat to abandon NATO allies follows Mr. Trump’s pattern of susceptibility to the disinformation and praise from his imagined friends in Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang that feed his grandiosity.

For example, in 2017 Mr. Trump declared that Xi Jinping had taught him the history of the Koreas as once part of China, angering South Koreans. He also repeated Moscow’s agitprop that NATO is obsolete, and recently related Mr. Putin’s legend that the USSR’s war in Afghanistan was a counter-terror operation. It was a KGB-run assassination and coup.

Mr. Trump’s photo-op and presser with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki confirmed his reverent subordination and submission to Mr. Putin’s assertions even as he played tough with his own subordinates. This implied a pecking order with Putin on top as most trustworthy, and Mr. Trump’s American subordinates below. This is a major psyop achievement by Moscow.

Only under a strong delusion could an American elected to the U.S. Presidency lend aid and comfort to dictators after having sworn: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Foreign policy is not the only victim of the President’s delusions. Mr. Trump, while the 2018 California wildfires were still burning, tweeted disinformation that they were caused by state forest mismanagement.

California firefighter unions and local officials promptly corrected Mr. Trump, stating that the wildfires were brush fires irrelevant to forest management and that most California forests are under federal management anyway.

The delusion temporarily put out by firefighters ignited again in January as the President, on the same basis threatened to deny FEMA disaster relief funds for California as its communities mourned scores of dead, thousands of lost homes, and blackened landscapes.

As with his suspicion of allies, the President nurtures a deluded premise that California was somehow trying to rip-off the federal taxpayer by asking for FEMA disaster relief funds.

Mr. Trump’s delusions of grandeur and paranoia complete a self-feeding loop leaving him in his own mind as ‘one man’ who can run the U.S. the right way; who sees himself as a “pretty good general;” who ‘sacrifices’ to stay at the White House during a government shutdown he created that wasted twice as much as the funds he sought for border wall and hurt government morale.

Mr. Trump’s paranoid delusions make the Presidency a behavioral funnel toward dictatorship as his delusions isolate him, and his isolation deludes him more. This increases his need, and susceptibility to outside help.

It does not matter why Mr. Trump acts this way, it is disablingly delusional regarding his presidential powers, duties, and oath. It matters little if the President gets a lot done in a flurry of executive decisions and deals if those ultimately serve dictatorships, not the defense of the U.S. Constitution and the people it protects.

Mr. Trump’s delusions are also driving the U.S. toward a costly, divisive impeachment battle. Given Moscow’s political war to divide Americans and scorch the rule of law, an impeachment war between the GOP and Democrats is the first priority for Mr. Putin, while a divisive 2020 election is his second choice.

A Twenty-Fifth Amendment Section 4 removal could be just the cure the nation needs to stay free. If Mr. Trump’s appointees find that the President is disabled by delusion, it is one step removed from his own admission, for he appointed them. This showed-up after the Helsinki summit as Mr. Trump had to read from a written statement that he hadn’t meant it when he said he “didn’t know why it would be” Russia running election-interference operations against the U.S. in 2016.

Much depends on Mike Pence and the majority of cabinet members who have pretended to go along with the delusions thinking they could put out the fires. However, new summits with Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping approach. What will he give away in his trust for these dictators?

Do the Vice-President and the majority of Trump cabinet officers have the courage to uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution from foreign enemy leverage over the President’s delusions? If so, Moscow’s leverage in Washington D.C. would dissipate.

A Section 4 solution requires that all cease positive or negative co-dependence on a president who is clearly not well, and who claims credit for everything that goes well in his bouts of grandeur.

Nothing says that evidence in the Mueller report, FBI files, Congressional files, and from open sources such as the President’s twitter account could not be used to illustrate how the President’s delusions make him unable to discharge the powers and duties assigned him by the U.S. Constitution.

While Bellamy’s research found vice-presidents and cabinet members reluctant to invoke presidential succession when disability issues arose for Presidents James Garfield, Woodrow Wilson, and Ronald Reagan, the reluctance stemmed from disabilities beyond those presidents’ control from which they would either recover or not: gunshot injuries and a stroke. Mr. Trump’s presidential disability is more insidious in that he appears functional on the surface, but his disability risks ultimate decisional error beyond the point of no return.

Mr. Trump’s disablement is mental in the context of the Presidency, even if he may be deemed functional as a real estate man and show business personality. His delusional impulses, tweets, and related impulsive behaviors cause ongoing dysfunction in the executive branch and thwart cabinet members’ attempts to cure the effects of his delusional, impulsive decision making.

Who can deny the writing on the 25th Amendment wall reportedly left by President Trump’s current and departed cabinet officers? Words and phrases include: “erratic behavior,” “acceptance of alternate realities,” “crisis of integrity,” “engages in repetitive rants,” “impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions,” and “not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”

If the writing materialized on the wall for the ancient Belshazzar, it glows on the Washington Monument today, a monument of unity and high ideals now in the shadow of a delusional man who does not know himself, or his true enemies. In the words of Sun Tzu:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

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