Almost a year of “Russia-gate scandal” alleging collusion between President Trump and the Kremlin has produced nothing in the way of pressuring his resignation from the White House. No doubt, that’s simply because there is no substance to this “scandal”. However, the failure to bring Trump down through Russia-gate by his domestic political enemies, may have found a new lever in the form of salacious questions over the president’s mental state.
Trump is due to take a medical examination later this week, and that appointment is fueling media speculation that the doctors may find evidence of the president’s alleged psychiatric deterioration.
The media speculation over Trump’s mental state has exploded after publication of the tell-all book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff. Days after going on sale, the book has already become a best-seller. In it, Wolff quotes senior White House staff and aides, and even Trump family members, whom he says all attest that the president is suffering from mental ill-health.
The White House and senior members of the Trump administration have since come out in public interviews to denounce Wolff’s book as a “garbage work of fiction”. Trump himself has described the volume as a “fake book” and he says he was never interviewed by the author.
Michael Wolff, the author, claims that he interviewed some 200 White House people over a period of 18 months. One of his main sources was Stephen Bannon who was formerly Trump’s chief strategist. Bannon has since retracted his views cited by Wolff and claims that he was misquoted.
Nevertheless, in several media interviews, Wolff has categorically stated that all his interviewees – “100 per cent of people” – told him of their concerns about President Trump’s mental fitness. The president was described as “paranoid, unstable, impetuous, repetitive, infantile and semi-literate”.
Speaking at the weekend from his Camp David retreat outside Washington DC, Trump’s rebuttal of the claims about mental instability were far from convincing. He described himself as a “stable genius”.
“Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart… I went from very successful businessman to top TV star to president of the United States… I think that would qualify me as not smart, but genius… and a very stable genius at that!”
This is by no means the first time that Trump’s mental health has raised questions of concern. Many psychiatric professionals at respected American universities have for months been publicly voicing warnings that the 45th president may not be fit to carry out his duties of office.
One of those experts, Bandy Lee, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, has even testified to members of Congress about “signs of instability” in Trump’s behavior and speech which “place our country and world at extreme risk of danger”.
Professor Lee points in particular to Trump’s unhinged verbal exchanges with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Last week, Trump boasted that his nuclear button was bigger and more powerful that that of the North Korea leader after Kim had noted in a New Year address that his country had acquired a nuclear capability of striking the US mainland.
American political opponents of Trump among the Democrats, some Republicans, large sections of the news media, as well as key figures in the security-military apparatus of the “deep state”, have never accepted Donald Trump’s election as president back in November 2016. The Russia-gate scandal has been the mainstay for the campaign to discredit Trump and to coerce his impeachment.
The problem with the Russia-gate tactic for overturning the US election result is threefold: first, it lacks credibility owing to an objective lack of substance about alleged Russian collusion; secondly, the American public seem to discern this lack of credibility and are finding the whole Russia-gate saga a boring drag; thirdly, if an impeachment were to be mounted against Trump, which is increasingly unlikely given the Russia-gate scandal’s waning credibility, it would require a majority of Congress to support such a motion. Given the Congress’s Republican majority, a motion to impeach a Republican president has next to no chance.
So, that raises the option of a “palace coup”. The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, which was signed into law in 1967 four years after the assassination of President John F Kennedy, gives power to the vice president and a majority of the 15-member White House Cabinet to remove a sitting president if he is deemed to be unfit to carry out his duties. The president’s unfitness for office could be due to physical or mental incapacity.
The 25th Amendment option would circumnavigate the messy political business of Congressionally approved impeachment proceedings. It would remove the president by executive power in what could be called a “palace coup” – if the case could be convincingly made that this president is mentally unwell.
Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence has at all times made public statements of effusive support for the president. There is no indication to date that Pence has ambitions to occupy the Oval Office in the White House. Even though Pence is often touted by the US establishment and media as the preferred option over Trump for the presidency. Pence is a mild-mannered conservative and staunchly pro-military which would make him a better figurehead.
Over the weekend, too, senior members of the Trump Cabinet including CIA director Mike Pompeo, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, all made strident statements of support for President Trump and they rubbished the speculation about his mental ill-health.
However, Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff maintains that during his research the “25th amendment option was talked about every day” by White House staff and aides.
Wolff quotes past and present senior Trump administration officials, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, HR McMaster, and Rex Tillerson, among others, as deploring the president for being mentally unfit, using derogatory comments like “idiot”, “dumb as shit”, or “moron”.
Trump’s Cabinet may be, for now, defending the president in the wake of Wolff’s muckraking book. But if there is any truth to the claims, then one can anticipate that the knives will be drawn at an opportune moment.
Unlike the Russia-gate tactic, the attack on Trump’s mental state may well have substance upon which to build a case for his defenestration.
Trump’s erratic and reckless utterances do betray someone who is undergoing some kind of chronic personality disorder.
Where Russia-gate failed, the palace coup against “crazy Trump” may prove to be the more efficacious option to get the right figurehead into the White House – eventually.