Image Credits: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.
History has taught us that there is more than one way to kill a few million people. Deliberate famine worked pretty well for Joe Stalin, for example. There’s even a term for this (“Holodomor”) which is a compound of the Ukrainian words holod “hunger” and mor “plague”.
Apparently, historians still debate whether Stalin’s Great Famine of 1932 and 1933 meets the technical definition of genocide. I guess it’s hard to parse between benign and malicious neglect. When does maladministration cross over into a maniacal desire to eradicate a whole people? Who is qualified to say?
We’re at risk now of suffering a “Trumpomor.” This is almost solely because the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate neglected to remove President Trump when they were given good cause. Since he is still in power, he’s in a position to cause a million or more excess deaths in this country and more than that on a global scale. He might do it for no better reason than so he can have people visit his resorts and golf courses before his whole real estate empire goes broke.
He might be less inclined to do this if the Republicans in Congress had forced him to divest from his business interests rather than tripping over each other to patronize them. So, as you can see, I’m building a decent case that congressional Republicans are giving us a Holodomor.
I wonder, however, if Trump is acting in such a reckless manner that the Republicans may be forced to remove him after all.
President Donald Trump has never been known for his patience or long attention span.
Now, as the coronavirus crisis threatens his presidency, and upends his campaign for reelection, Trump is rapidly losing patience with the medical professionals who have made the case day after day that the only way to prevent a catastrophic loss of life is to essentially shut down the country — to minimize transmission and “flatten the curve” so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with critical patients.
The president also has been furious that his efforts to halt the harrowing drop in the stock market have so far proven ineffective. He has been calling friends and economists at all hours and berated aides and reporters who try to persuade him to recognize the severity of the outbreak.
The man is berating people who try to persuade him to recognize the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. He is inclined to do whatever he can to get people back to work, back on the subways, back on airplanes, back in our public parks, and (above all) back in his hotels. This has the potential to cause two million excess American deaths. When people tell him this, he yells at and insults them.
Congress doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring this. There are members of Congress who are severely ill with COVID-19, and many others who are currently self-quarantining and unable to vote. They’re also responsible for their constituents’ health, and most of them are not outright insane. They know that the best policy is to follow expert scientific advice, and the best politics is to let others take responsibility for any negative economic consequences that result. Taking actions that will lead to a couple of million excess deaths isn’t going to be good for them on any level, especially because it won’t improve the economy.
There may come a point soon when Trump openly defies his health advisors and causes many of them to resign. That will be the point when members of Trump’s cabinet will have to decide whether or not to invoke the 25th Amendment. The prospect of having a couple million deaths on your conscience can change people’s ordinary calculation of what it means for a president to be unfit for office.
If the 25th Amendment ever is invoked, this is how it will look:
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.
Mike Pence would become president, at least temporarily, and considering that he’s listening to health experts every day, that would be a good thing. But it would be up to Congress to decide if Pence remained in charge.
Thereafter, when the President [Trump] transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days 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. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
A lot of people have been fantasizing about this result for a few years now, but we’re in a different world now.
The president has snapped at aides delivering news that contradicts his relentless belief the crisis will be resolved soon.
Upon his return from a trip to India last month, Trump lit into aides about Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who had provided a dire warning about the virus’ potential impact. He chided Vice President Mike Pence in a West Wing meeting for defending Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a one-time Democratic presidential contender, for his handling of the crisis. And he angrily upbraided medical providers who called on his administration to do more, saying they should be upset instead with their local leadership.
If Trump tries to end the containment policy, he will face resistance.
There is dissent within the Republican Party, however, including from some close allies of the president.
“It would be a major mistake to suggest any change of course when it comes to containment,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said in an interview. “I just spoke with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci — he believes that, if anything, we should be more aggressive and do more. . . . You can’t have a functioning economy if you have hospitals overflowing.”
There has to be some line beyond which the Republicans will not go in their blind obedience to Trump. This crisis seems perfectly designed to discover exactly where that line is.