Swamp Rabbit had commandeered my laptop and was reading aloud from a column by David Blight, who got rave reviews for his recently published biography of abolitionist orator and writer Frederick Douglass:
Douglass left a timeless maxim for republics in times of crisis: “Our government may at some time be in the hands of a bad man. When in the hands of a good man it is all well enough.” But “we ought to have our government so shaped that even when in the hands of a bad man we shall be safe.”
The bad man in Douglass’s world was President Andrew Johnson, an unreconstructed racist who was impeached and very narrowly avoided being kicked out of office. But Blight, in his column, was also making a point about our current president — who is as bad as Johnson, or worse — and the flaws in the Constitution that allow truly rotten presidents like Donald Trump and Johnson to abuse the power of the office in a big way.
“Them Founding Fathers really blew it,” Swamp Rabbit said.
He explained that there’s no legal remedy for a president who sucks up to foreign dictators. A president who wants to scuttle healthcare reforms, stir up hatred of minorities and foreigners, sabotage efforts to slow climate change, and use the presidency as a vehicle for further enriching himself.
Impeachment is supposed to be an option, but a corrupt and/or mentally imbalanced president isn’t likely to be kicked out of office while the party he belongs to controls the House or Senate. (So much for checks and balances.) And there’s the 25th Amendment, but that wouldn’t work either.
“Them legal scholars don’t even know if a president can be indicted for committing crimes while in office,” the rabbit said. ” Or how to keep him from blowing up the world if he’s in a foul mood.”
“So how do we fix the problem, rabbit?” I said. “Does everything depend on what Robert Mueller finds?”
He called up an article by a psychiatrist who, together with a bunch of other shrinks, devised a plan that would require a president-elect to take a fitness-for-duty exam before assuming office. She explained that the test would measure “trust, discipline and self-control, judgment and critical thinking, self-awareness and empathy,” just like the U.S. Army’s field manual.
“I saw that,” I said, “But how can a test prove what the shrink called psychological pathology? What if Trump’s bad behavior is part of a calculated effort to please the kooks and bigots that make up his base?”
“Them’s good questions,” the rabbit conceded. “The shrinks ain’t quite thought it through, I reckon.”
“So we’re stuck with a loose cannon who holds the nuclear codes,” I said. “What’s your solution?”
“I ain’t got one yet,” the rabbit said, closing my laptop. “I’d ask that Douglass dude, but he left the building in 1895.”