Leadership in Liberal Democracies III – Who Leads? Who Should Not? Now What?

Though he will not be president much longer, Donald Trump is continuing to exercise his prerogatives as chief executive. Which is to say that he is continuing to lead the American people to unnecessary chaos and unprecedented corruption.

One might even venture that the president is exhibiting a sadistic streak. For while he is ostentatiously playing golf, he is causing countless Americans to endure hardship over the holidays for lack of knowing how, or even if they will be able to stay in their homes, keep the heat on, put food on the table.

Again, the torment is needless, a heedless intrusion on an agreement reached (tortuously) by Congress to ensure a modicum of stability for legions of people for months to come. In fact, as I write, unemployment benefits have lapsed – Trump’s doing, single-handed.

So, again, the question I ask often: What is to be done? How to get rid of a leader who is bad? It will not suffice to respond in this instance, “Hang on, hang in, Trump is almost out the door.” It will not suffice first because even in his remaining weeks the president can do damage. And it will not suffice second because it avoids the larger question of how we can repair a system that as it stands is ill-equipped to self-correct?  

The 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1967. It deals with presidential disability and succession. It was intended to make it feasible to remove from office presidents who are disabled to the point of being unable responsibly to carry out their duties.

Section Four of the amendment pertains directly to this discussion. Its rather vague and open-ended language is intended, in part, to be used in those cases in which the president’s unfitness to hold office is contested by the president himself. What has become clear over time is that this contestation might well arise regarding a physical impairment – and that it might even more readily arise regarding a mental impairment. In other words, the system works well if the president is fine with what common sense would dictate. It does not work well or even at all if the president is not. Moreover, if the problem is psychological as opposed to physical, the likelihood that a president would readily or even reasonably acquiesce to prevailing opinion is slim to none.  

Bottom line is we are stuck. For various reasons ranging from the political to the psychological, from the legal to the medical, the American people have no exit. No way out from under a president who is bad.

Does this mean that there is nothing to be done? No, it does not. What it does mean though is that the act of electing a president must be much, much more careful and considered. And what it similarly means is that the system must be fixed so it is far, far better prepared to protect itself against leaders who are as unethical as they are incompetent.

We have learned in the last four years that we cannot depend on the better angels of our nature getting the better of those who are not. This means it’s up to us to fix what’s broke.

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