In the wake of Trump-incited riots in Washington DC, calls are growing from business leaders, major media outlets, and even elected officials within the president’s own party to remove Donald Trump from office.
It’s something you never thought you’d see, and yet something that – if you’ve been paying attention to American politics lately – was nonetheless largely predictable. A huge mob of pro-Trump rioters descended on the US Capitol in Washington DC and violently stormed the building in a desperate bid, fuelled and repeatedly encouraged by the president himself, to disrupt and overthrow the orderly transfer of power to the next president.
The mob, livid after weeks of having false ideas fed to them about an election having been “stolen” from them despite absolutely no evidence to support this notion, breached the US Capitol and invaded the building, including congressional offices and the legislative chambers.
President Trump and a handful of his most ardent loyalists have for two months been pushing the overwhelmingly unsupported and untrue narrative that the US presidential election, which Joe Biden decisively won by a 7 million-vote margin and a 306-232 electoral vote count, was somehow totally fraudulent. Trump has repeatedly insisted that he won “by a landslide” but that a vast network of companies, media outlets, election officials, voting precincts, and states somehow conspired to steal the election from him.
Recounts, audits, and dozens of court challenges have all shown that the election was conducted fairly and freely and that no meaningful fraud took place. Every one of the 50 US states has certified its election results, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as president and vice president, respectively, as mandated by the US Constitution on January 20, 2021.
But with the vast powers and reach of the American presidency at his fingertips, Trump has repeatedly stoked the fires of conspiracy and outrage, quite literally encouraging his followers to take to the streets to overthrow the election results. His attorney Rudy Giuliani told supporters to conduct a “trial by combat” when it came time for Congress to tabulate the results on January 6 and officially certify Biden as the next president.
And a large mob of goons, who are now correctly being called insurrectionists, did just that, carrying Confederate flags and Trump banners.
The images and videos from the siege are mortifying for anyone who has looked to America as a beacon of democracy and hope, even if a flawed one. For Americans, however, many have expressed shock, outrage, and dismay at something they never thought they would see in their country: an actual attempted coup d’etat in the halls of the US Capitol, the heart of America’s democracy.
Early reports have confirmed that at least four people have died in the riots, including a woman who was shot to death. Dozens of arrests have already occurred, and the FBI is investigating the fracas. It seems a foregone conclusion that many more arrests will be forthcoming as hundreds of photos and videos of the attack are available.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The typically ceremonial process of certifying Biden’s victory continues, but the fallout from the riot itself will likely be swift and severe. Already, senior Trump officials and aides have resigned from the administration. And while calls for a second impeachment arising from Democratic members of Congress are perhaps unsurprising, strong criticism is mounting from Republicans now, too.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Utah senator who was the only Republican to vote to convict Trump on an article of impeachment last year, was particularly outraged, calling the President a “selfish man” who “deliberately misinformed his supporters” about the election. Romney also called the attack on the Capitol an insurrection and blamed Trump, saying “What happened at the US Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of the House leadership, shared Romney’s anger, and laid the blame squarely at Trump’s feet. “There is no question that the President formed the mob. The President incited the mob, the President addressed the mob,” said Cheney. “He lit the flame.”
Such criticisms have been echoed by others, too. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democratic congresswoman, said she was drawing up immediate articles of impeachment.
Beyond impeachment, however, the US Constitution provides another mechanism for the removal of a president, this one much more immediate: the invocation of the 25th Amendment.
In part, the text of the amendment states: “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.”
Basically, this means that if the vice president and a simple majority of the president’s Cabinet declare in writing to both chambers of Congress that the president is unfit to retain office, he is immediately removed, with the vice president assuming the presidency. (In such a scenario, Trump could legally challenge the removal, but that would throw it to Congress and Pence would retain the presidency in the meantime. With the House controlled by Democrats, even the enactment of minor procedural measures would delay the process long enough for Trump’s term to come to its ignoble end.)
COULD IT HAPPEN?
In theory, yes. The speed and efficiency of the ’25th Amendment solution’ is precisely what critics are counting on. Though only two weeks remain in Trump’s term, the sheer strength of the office of the US presidency gives him a powerful platform from which to rain destruction on the pillars of American democracy and its institutions. Some have also noted that Trump still retains the country’s nuclear codes.
“What more does it take?” was the question in a CNN opinion piece. “The whole world is watching. It’s watching guns be drawn inside the House of Representatives, just feet away from elected members of Congress. It’s watching Trump’s mobs try to replace the American flag with a Trump flag over the Capitol. It’s watching rioters in the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate, threatening police inside the Capitol, violating the sanctity of what was once the shrine of representative democracy.”
The op-ed went on to exhort Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to “save the country from the unimaginable, a coup attempt by a sitting president of the United States. Invoke the 25th Amendment. Remove Trump now.”
Meanwhile, equally pointed editorials from the New York Times and the Washington Post called for Trump’s removal from office, too, with the editorial board of the latter writing, “Responsibility for this act of sedition lies squarely with the president, who has shown that his continued tenure in office poses a grave threat to U.S. democracy. He should be removed.” The editorial continued, “The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security. Vice President Pence, who had to be whisked off the Senate floor for his own protection, should immediately gather the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring that Mr. Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
A similar editorial ran in the Miami Herald, flatly saying that Donald Trump is “deranged, dangerous, and incapacitated” and should be promptly removed. “There can be no doubt that the president is prepared to have his minions scorch the Earth and blow up democracy itself in order to stay in power,” the editorial opines, warning that, “America cannot wait, with fear and bated breath, to see what abomination comes during the next 13 days.”
The Guardian published a piece on the processes by which Trump could be removed from office very quickly.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes joined the chorus, passionately calling for Trump’s immediate removal from office, saying, “The president of the United States is clearly a danger and threat to the republic and needs to be lawfully removed from office as fast as is legally practicable.”
Will it happen? Such an action would be unprecedented, but sources have confirmed that at the highest levels of US government, including among Trump’s Cabinet, the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment is being discussed. That in itself is stunning.
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter, meanwhile, have finally locked Donald Trump’s accounts, at least temporarily.
WORLD REACTS WITH HORROR AND SADNESS
World leaders have quickly released statements and comments on the violent attack on the US Capitol.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab noted in his own tweet: “The US rightly takes great pride in its democracy, and there can be no justification for these violent attempts to frustrate the lawful and proper transition of power.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, meanwhile, called on Mr Trump and his followers to stop their bid to destroy American democracy. “Trump and his supporters should finally accept the decision of American voters and stop trampling on democracy,” Mr Maas tweeted. “The enemies of democracy will be pleased to see these incredible images from Washington DC. Inflammatory words turn into violent actions.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, condemned the attack, tweeting, “In the eyes of the world, American democracy tonight appears under siege.” Calling the action an “assault on US democracy, its institutions and the rule of law,” he added, “This is not America. The election results of 3 November must be fully respected.”
In Singapore, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean was one of several leaders in the city-state who spoke out against the siege, posting on Facebook, “(I) have been up, watching shocking scenes in the US Congress where protesters have entered the Chamber, stopped proceedings and forced Members to flee… We hope this ends peacefully. It’s a sad day.”
A sad day indeed, for all Americans and for those who champion the cause of democracy.
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