A Clear And Present Danger

Alan Zendell, January 5, 2018

The investigation of possible collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign and renewed scrutiny of the circumstances that led to the president firing FBI Director James Comey are once again dominating the news media and talk shows. Reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is aware that the president ordered White House Counsel Donald McGahn to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ not to recuse himself surfaced on the heels of the president’s assertion that he has the absolute right to control how the Justice Department conducts investigations.

The White House compares Trump’s positions with President Nixon’s attempts to influence the Watergate investigations. On one hand, that seems odd, since Nixon’s actions ultimately caused him to resign under threat of impeachment. On another, the issue of using the White House Counsel as the president’s personal fixer was addressed yesterday by John Dean, who served in the same capacity for Nixon. Dean, who famously testified against Nixon before Congress, explained that the White House Counsel’s job is to protect the integrity of the Office of the President, not to defend or support the president himself.

Allegations from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury turned the heat up further and caused the president to erupt on Twitter, attacking Wolff, Steve Bannon, the New York Times, the FBI…the list goes on. Typically, Trump is accusing everyone who criticized him or reported something he doesn’t like of lying and making up false news. Ironically, the chief architect of this approach, Steve Bannon, has now joined the ranks of alleged liars and saboteurs.

I’ve long wondered how long this tactic could be effective. I doubt that anyone but Trump could have made it work as long as he has, but I got some insight into that yesterday when a service technician came to repair my refrigerator. A television newscaster was discussing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the technician commented that Kim was crazy and you couldn’t believe anything he said. Then he said Trump was as crazy as Kim and he didn’t believe anything he said, either. With a smirk on his face he added, “…but I love him, and I’ll vote for him again.”

I encounter this kind of thing frequently, and it always strikes me as mindlessly irrational. Much of Trump’s base knows he’s unstable and unfit to be President. They know he has no respect for the truth, but they seem to take a perverse joy in his ability to disrupt everything around him without regard for the harm he causes. The same impression continually percolates down through Wolff’s Fire and Fury, as he asserts that virtually everyone in the White House views the president as a volatile, erratic child who constantly needs to be managed and controlled. They continue to support and cover for him because they have to.

And now we see reports that a dozen prominent psychiatrists have concluded that Trump is dangerous and shows signs of unraveling under the pressure of being president. They’re careful to not diagnose any form of mental illness, since none of them has examined him personally, but as one of them reported yesterday, there is a list of observations as long as his arm that clearly attests to Trump’s “dangerousness,” and it can only get worse. If they’re right, we may soon see broad support for using the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove him from office.

But since I’m not a psychiatrist, it’s not unethical me to espouse my own theory. I believe the president suffers from severe mental disorders that include narcissism, megalomania, and an obsessive need to always control and be at the center of events. I have no idea whether he is guilty of collusion with Russia; if the Mueller investigation finds that he is, the legal system will deal with him. But perhaps more significantly, I believe the president’s mental problems drive him to do things which may well be defined legally as obstruction of justice – not because he’s guilty, but because of his conditioned response to being accused. I think he conducts foreign policy exactly the same way, and that’s frankly terrifying.

CNN’s legal specialist, Jeffrey Toobin addressed the legal issue of obstruction of justice yesterday, making the point that the courts have been clear that there can be obstruction of justice even when there is no underlying crime. The implication of that is massive for Donald Trump. Whether or not he is guilty of any federal crime, he can still be charged with obstruction for attempting to interfere with an investigation to determine if one was committed. Recall that what finally nailed Richard Nixon wasn’t the Watergate burglary, but his ham-handed attempts to destroy evidence and cover it up.

I honestly believe that every day Donald Trump is in office places the United States in greater jeopardy. But in the end, either the 25th Amendment or the impeachment process will not turn on court findings. They’re both political procedures which depend on the self-interest of the people taking the actions. I am encouraged by that, because I can’t imagine the Vice President, the Cabinet, or the Congress failing to act in the face of a clear and present danger to the nation.

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