Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 8

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 20, 2017

This is my 13th installment to a now-ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections (see Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.) And this is also my 8th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and with many already deeply concerned as to his competency for holding office – and at just under 60 days into his administration as I write this and precisely 60 as it goes live, counting his inauguration day as day one.

I have been discussing the Trump presidency and its disorganized and dysfunctional challenges in this series, since its Part 6. And as part of that ongoing narrative, and in recognition of the levels and types of concern that Donald Trump has raised from his behavior, I have been discussing issues relevant to succession in authority challenges for when a sitting president has been found to be either incapacitated or unfit for office.

I focused in Part 12 of this on the United States Constitution’s Article 2, Section 4 as it addresses the possibility of impeachment and trial of a federal official such as a president, and their removal from office as a consequence of that and from explicit malfeasance. And I did so there in general terms, and from a largely historical perspective as to how such proceedings have become established in their current form. My goal for this posting is to shift directions to more explicitly consider how Article 2, Section 4 might be applied in the now immediately current context that president Trump has created. And in that, I build its narrative from essentially all of what I have offered up to here in this series as any such determination would of necessity also have to at least acknowledge possible mental health issues here too.

I explicitly begin addressing all of this from the vantage point of the line of discussion that I offered in Part 9 of this series, regarding the question of president Trump’s mental health and his capacity to perform his constitutionally mandated duties of office. I argued there, that any determination as to the president’s mental health and as to whether he might be incapacitated in his ability to serve as president, would take place at the level of examining his individual behavioral traits and the individual actions and decisions made that would indicate them. The precise wording offered in the US Constitution in its Article 2, Section 4 is all but Zen-like for its sparseness, as discussed in detail in Part 12. But one detail that it does offer and quite clearly in what little it says, is a point that aligns precisely with how a 25th Amendment, Section 4 consideration of presidential incapacitation in office would be conducted too. It is that both avenues for considering succession of power from a sitting president, would focus on specific actions and behaviors taken – and not on more wide-reaching and generalized conclusions as to diagnosis (for mental health considerations) or tendencies towards malfeasance (for criminal ones as identified as grounds for impeachment.) And this brings me to the first really significant step in what could perhaps best be considered the gauntlet that members of the US Congress would have to run, in order to carry out the drafting of a possible article of impeachment in the US House of Representatives, and trial on those charges in the US Senate. We see: we all see the specific actions that would have to be considered there, and with president Trump openly exposing them to the world on a seemingly daily basis. But what do they actually mean and would they fit more closely into a pattern that would be addressed by the 25th Amendment, Section 4, or by Article 2 and its Section 4?

Let’s take that out of the abstract by considering some specific examples and by at least acknowledging some of the pressing questions that they raise – that members of Congress would have to come to consensus agreement on, in addressing them.

• One of the more long-standing of these sets of issues as a still unfolding news story is in how Donald Trump has both praised Vladimir Putin and his Russian government administration, and actively sought to suppress any real investigation into what is by now a certainty: that Russia, and almost certainly with the direct knowledge and approval of their national leader Vladimir Putin, actively sought to influence the 2016 US elections, and to help Trump win in his presidential bid.
• And one of the perhaps most contentious of these issues: one that Donald Trump himself has directly raised and as an issue that could have and should have never arisen, is his publically Tweeted and then press conference spoken claim that president Obama had the FBI wiretap his phones at the Trump Tower in New York City during the 2016 election campaign, and with his making these accusations absent even a trace of evidence either offered or available.

We see a great number of chaotic actions that president Trump has taken and we see and hear and read his statements and pronouncements about all of that, a disturbing number of which pronouncements create those action points of chaos in the first place. Similar questions to the ones that arise regarding the above two news stories, could be raised regarding a large and actively growing list of other possible points of concern here. But to focus for now on these two, what do they mean as far as serving as bases for action on the part of Congress, or anywhere else in government for that matter? Do they represent delusional and other mental health challenges that should more properly be considered from within a 25th Amendment framework, or would they best be addressed for their high crimes and misdemeanors potential or even as possible indications of treason in the case of the Russian connection example – and in accordance with Article 2, Section 4? Or do these actions primarily just represent complete incompetence – where mediocrity or worse is not in and of itself a sufficient ground for removal of office through any specific constitutionally stated succession mechanism besides the electoral process that is followed every four years – making Trump’s behavior a clarion call to voters to do better next time and from now on, but just that. Or do at least some of the challenges and questions raised here qualify as meeting reasonable standards for two or even all three of these possible paths forward?

Before either of the two removal from office and succession of power and authority options that I have primarily been discussing here can be considered, it is going to be necessary to make a determination as to what portions of this flow of disruption and chaos, uncertainty and concern would go in which of those three buckets:

• Mental incapacity,
• Impeachable malfeasance and criminality,
• Or just plain incompetence – which would mean four years of a Trump administration, assuming he was not reelected and that this was all that was found.

To set the stage for considering the two overtly very significant news story issues that I just noted above, I am going to at least start here by returning to a much more inconsequential, if perhaps still telling early example from the Trump presidency and from his day one in office, that might be viewed as pattern setting here: a controversy that a newly inaugurated president Trump himself created, and entirely on his own initiative and that he would not allow to die down: his strident photographic evidence-denying claims as to how big the crowd was at his inauguration. And the question that I would raise here is one of whether Trump is delusional or knowingly self-serving as he panders to his alt-right base with claims like that.

Reframing that news story and its questions in terms of one of the two news story issues that I would more fully address here, does Trump’s behavior in actively distorting and challenging the truth indicate specific mental health challenges faced? And are these behaviors indicative of more pervasive challenges faced that could lead him into taking positions of the type exhibited in more consequential matters, as for example when stridently repeating his wiretap claims? Or is president Trump simply knowingly attempting to rule by way of what is sometimes called The Big Lie, and as a conscious and thoughtful administrative policy? Think of that possibility as representing a Big Lie version 2.0 where Trump selects rumors and accusations from his alt-right social media connections as offered through Twitter, and repeats the ones that look to have viral marketing reach, from how they are being retweeted and from how they are picked up on by sites such as Breitbart.

Did Donald Trump actually, literally see crowds larger than any actually there at his inauguration? In a different but perhaps parallel scenario that he has also intentionally created and pushed into the news and into public awareness, and as a parallel example of this basic phenomenon that is much less benign than that crowd size example, does Donald Trump really actually believe that he was in Jersey City, New Jersey on September 11, 2001 watching the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall – as crowds of thousands, all presumed to be Muslims, cheered what was happening? See Part 4 of this portion of this series for my discussion of that reported event, that Trump has recurringly invoked to justify his travel and immigration ban attempts.

If president Trump is truly seeing and hearing what is not actually there: if he actively hallucinates while attempting to serve in office as the president of the United States, that would all but certainly prove to constitute sufficient grounds for invoking and enforcing the 25th Amendment and its succession of authority powers, and probably long-term and through the rest of his elected term of office. The risks would be too high for anything short of that, if a sitting president were found to be so incapacitated and even just occasionally. If this simply fit into a larger and more criminal pattern with Trump actually knowing what is and is not real, even as he chooses to fabricate and falsify, that would suggest a more Article 2, Section 4 approach.

Now let’s more directly consider the two specific sets of issues that I raised as case in point examples for discussion above: Russian entanglements and those wiretapping charges.

Concerns where first raised during the political campaigns leading up to the 2016 presidential election, that Russian hackers had begun to very actively attempt to influence the national electoral process in the United States and its likely results. And the principle US federal government agencies that are responsible for identifying and proving such activities all formally, officially stated that this was actually happening, and that they had specific proof of that, and certainly regarding activities carried out by Russian-based hackers and with evidence gathered about Russian government activity in this as well. Confidential Democratic Party computer servers where hacked into and troves of carefully selected emails and other confidential files were leaked through WikiLeaks and other channels, and in ways that would cause maximum negative impact against both Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate and standard bearer, and against Democrats running for election or reelection in the US Congress and at the state level too. No such action was taken by these leak sources against Donald Trump or against his Republican Party. And considering the attacks launched against the Democrats, they included massive online trolling and disinformation campaigns as well as computer server hacks and leaks. And all of this was coordinately launched against the Democratic Party at the same time and with all of it fitting together into a single election disrupting targeted attack campaign – and as what would even charitably be considered a hostile act by a foreign power, intent on disrupting the basic democratic processes of the United States and its government.

Then still candidate Trump, from before the election itself, spoke out in glowing praise of Vladimir Putin and of his leadership and in scorn of any such accusations, and against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and all others who offered those negative reports, and he spoke out in disparagement and attack against them for even investigating this. And he even publically spoke out at one of his campaign rallies to sarcastically invite Putin and Russia to hack the Democrats all they want and with a request that they share all of the dirt that they find for the world to see.

Since the election and certainly since taking office, Donald Trump has consistently continued to do essentially everything that he can to block any real investigations into any of this activity and into his administration’s possible entanglements in it. But in spite of that, it has come out that a significant number of the most senior members of Trump’s new administration where in direct contact with, and in illegal contact with senior members of the Russian government and with members of their state security apparatus. One of these people, Trump’s first National Security Advisor: Michael Flynn was literally forced out of office because of revelations of this sort, and under circumstances where it was made clear that Donald Trump and his administration knew of his illegal and unreported conversations for weeks before they became more widely known – and that they had done nothing about that. And they really did nothing about this until forced to take action, covering up serious violations of United States federal law in the process.

The CIA was wiretapping the Russian side of several of these illegal phone conversations that Flynn entered into, and under warrant approval to do so as they were investigating Russian activity detrimental to United States interests. And Flynn “negotiated” a more measured response to president Obama’s sanctions against Russia for their interference in US elections with Russian officials, by arguing that as soon as Trump was sworn into office he would lift them, as a part of his side to these conversations, explicitly acting against the interests and actions of a still in office president Obama while doing so! Would Flynn have offered any such reassurances to the Russians, who had already been found to have interfered with elections in the United States, entirely on his own? Would he preemptively and unilaterally attempt to make that type of decision and offer for someone like Donald Trump, with his insistence on his always being in control, and without his explicit approval and blessing? And I have just touched upon a small portion of this story here, were it is equally uncertain what types of business entanglements Donald Trump and his business empire might have with Russian businesses, state controlled and state owned included, and Vladimir Putin controlled and owned included, and with the Russian government itself. We do not know. Trump is the first US presidential candidate and the first US president since Richard Nixon to not publically share their tax returns – and his returns would show a great deal as to where he has and still does receive income from, and who he owes money to as well. How much of that financial entanglement and on both profit and debit sides to it, involves Russia and the Putin administration and their interests? Is there a quid pro quo in president Trump’s attempt to forestall any investigation into any of this?

I have written this brief and I add highly selective summary account of this troubling news story in terms that would be oriented more towards an Article 2, Section 4 resolution, than a 25th Amendment, Section 4 one. And to briefly highlight the incompleteness of what I offer here regarding this story, I add that even if Donald Trump were to release all of his federal tax returns for the last twenty years and with all schedules and attached statements of clarification that were sent to the Internal Revenue Service included for them, that still might not resolve any of the financial entanglement questions that he raises – and particularly if he has as actively run his business and financial dealings through off-shore shell companies as I expect he has. We would see the names of those shell corporation business entities, with them headquartered in national jurisdictions that protect against disclosure by law. And any real understanding as to what those shell companies are sheltering and hiding, would require a piece-by-piece breaking through of those non-disclosure barriers to find out if and where and how Russian interests, among others might be involved in Trump’s business and financial dealings.

But to return to the question at hand as to what this all means, what of all of this, and certainly for his chaos-creating assertions and actions, might stem from more mental health issues faced such as grandiosity and paranoia on Donald Trump’s part, and other more mental health-related challenges?

Donald Trump and his administration are drowning in chaos, confusion, disorder and distractingly avoidable problems and scandals – that Donald Trump and his administration seem to be completely incapable of avoiding starting and continuing. Is Trump challenged by mental illness or is he aware of what he is doing and functionally capable at a mental health level but still unable to carry out his duties of office at least with him acting within the constraints of the US legal system while doing so? He publicly claims that he really knows how to “act presidential – I can act more presidential than anyone.” Is this delusional, or is it marketing to his base or is it more an example of what many saw as his sarcasm when for example, he so publically invited Russia to interfere with United States national elections?

On its face, the still unfolding Russian interference story, and I add the Trump Russian entanglements story sound like they would add fuel to any effort to impeach and remove him from office for cause, and according to both Article 2, Section 4 of the US Constitution and the history of precedent cases that has developed from when that portion of the Constitution has been resorted to. But given Trump’s overall behavior, some and perhaps much of this story also raises questions that might fit into a 25th Amendment, mental health incapacitation consideration too. And all of this troubling narrative raises questions about his basic competence as a manager and leader and about his judgment, intelligence and knowledgeability – where that per se falls outside of the purview of either of the two courses towards possible succession in power under primary discussion here.

As for the wiretapping accusations, as initially noted here when first raising the specter of Russian entanglements: is Donald Trump simply repeating conspiracy ravings that he picks up through alt-right social media and as pre-repeated through Breitbart? And if so, does he believe all of that, even as he actively denies any possibility of truth when views and information that might challenge his opinions come from the United States’ national security system and its top analysts? Is he being delusional there? And alternatively is he aware of what he is doing and making calculated decisions to retain the support of his alt-right base – and with a goal of prompting them to reach out to the members of Congress who they influence, in order to promote his own personal agenda and stay in office? And connecting the dots, if the later of these two possibilities strikes closer to the truth, is Trump making his wiretapping claims to in effect muddy the waters by saying that Obama and the Democrats were doing it too – and against him and his Republican Party? When people spoke out against Putin for the blood on his hands, among other things when Russian election meddling first came up, Donald Trump responded by talking of the blood and more on American hands too – and not in support of the country he was supposedly preparing to lead. He simply said an equivalent of “so what, we are the same too.”

The incredible richness of detail as to what would have to be examined here, coming from Donald Trump and his administration and from his pre-election campaigning on, and with regard to either process of succession approach as considered in this posting, is a two edged sword. It offers a seemingly endless number of issues and actions that bear consideration and that might lead to action on the part of Congress. But given the import of the potential incapacitation and the potential criminal malfeasance disqualification sides to all of this, that same assemblage of action and decision detail and its complexity also makes it a lot harder to even begin to know what the individual pieces included there actually mean – and which buckets they should go into, to cite the metaphor that I offered above. And competing factions and voices would have to come to agreement that at least a sufficient weight of incident-by-incident and action-by-action evidence has demonstrably occurred that would call for some form of at least temporary removal from office, for any action to take place. And with that noted, I return to the question and challenge, as discussed in Part 9 of even arriving at an expert consensus as to what is and what is not indicative of a specifically incapacitating mental health problem – and what might qualify as abnormal but without it raising to the level of true dysfunctionality.

Similar challenges can be expected regarding impeachment and trial possibilities, where debate might very well devolve into one of foolishness and even incompetence on Donald Trump’s part, as opposed to intentional and knowing malfeasance and illegality on his part – if this actually reaches the House of Representatives in the form of a draft article of impeachment that would be sent to a Special Committee there, for initial formal action.

On the face of it and expressed in those terms, I made it sound like president Trump and his administration would only face two real alternatives, and ones that would prove equally bleak to Trump for their long-term impact on his being able to function as president and with any hope of pushing any type of agenda into law and into day-to-day practice. But as soon as the possibility of incompetence versus competence comes up, outside of or at least along side of the further challenge of consideration as to Trump’s capacity to serve in office per se, this would become a purely political debate with Trump supporters claiming he was simply following an agenda that some do not approve of, for example in how he would “drain the swamp” of Washington governance. This is where this entire matter, and certainly in the House of Representatives, could devolve into an ideological conflict between Republican Party alt-right members of the House, and Democratic Party members, and with swing state Republican members who are facing accusations form their constituents caught in the middle – and holding any deciding vote capability that might actually arise.

I am going to step back from this more here-and-now focused narrative in my next installment to this series, to reconsider some relevant case in point history that might shed further thought on what we currently face here and how it might be resolved and through constitutionally specified mechanisms governing the succession of power for high ranking federal government officials, or through more strictly political means – where at least consideration of both is sure to enter into whatever happens regarding this over the next months and year.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1. (Note that I have broken with my usual pattern here for this type of more-current news oriented posting, and I have not added in a succession of news story and related background links for further reading. I decided to offer a smoother and less interrupted narrative here for this posting, though I will add a more usual mix of reference links to the next installment, where they will prove more important for not simply pointing to news stories that are coming out in new iterations on a currently almost daily basis, and certainly in the mainstream news media.)

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