Keep the Trump Leaks Coming
The president is too incompetent to serve, and Congress must be pressured into removing him.
BY BRIAN BEUTLER August 4, 2017
Both in content and in context, the official transcripts of Donald Trump’s January phone calls with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto—which were leaked to The Washington Post and published —depict a president whose very presence in high office is destabilizing, and whose continued service constitutes a dangerous crisis.
It is perfectly consistent to say that the growing clout of generals John Kelly (the White House chief of staff), H.R. McMaster (the national security advisor), and Jim Mattis (the defense secretary) is preferable to an alternative in which Trump shambles through his presidency unencumbered, but also dangerous in its own right, and evidence of serious institutional failure.
The hope is apparently to keep Trump’s administration within certain guardrails, so that if and when it fails, he doesn’t take the country and the world off the road with him. To that end, this trio has met with some modest success. Kelly has—in his brief tenure, and for now at least—managed to impose more control over the flow of aides, information, and other forms of presidential influence in and out of the Oval Office better than his predecessor, Reince Priebus, ever could. McMaster has, after months of setbacks, successfully removed two corrosive figures from the National Security Council—both holdovers from the abbreviated Michael Flynn era.
Where the generals haven’t been empowered to run the show, they have asserted themselves nonetheless. “In the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday, Mattis and Kelly agreed “that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House.”
It would be sensationalizing things to call this a soft coup, but it is impossible to deny that real presidential powers have been diluted or usurped. Elected officials have decided that leaving the functioning of the government to unelected military officers is politically preferable to invoking constitutional remedies that would require them to vote. When a president can no longer serve faithfully, there are means available to Congress and the cabinet, through the impeachment power and section four of the 25th Amendment, to remove him.
Pushing Trump out of office would be a politically destabilizing event in its own right, perhaps more acutely so than handing the reins of government over to a cadre of generals and hoping for the best. But the processes are legitimate, and were created for precisely the kind of situation that confronts us today. It is often said that impeachment is a political process, but it is also a normative one. Or at least, it should be the norm that elected officials step in to protect the public from a president who is lawless and befuddled—even when the president happens to be from the same party.
If you fear the creep of autocracy or the crisis of absentee leadership in Trump’s White House, then the truly troubling thing isn’t that government officials, current and former, are sounding the alarm. It’s that the people who have the power to end these crises are leaving us all at risk by placing their faith in generals and looking the other way.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.