Street art by ELMAC.
New portrait of Leonard Cohen; work in progress in Montreal.
Street art by ELMAC.
New portrait of Leonard Cohen; work in progress in Montreal.
Photo Credit: USA Today
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for the succession of power when the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It empowers the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to remove an incapable president, over his objections, with the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.
As alarm about Trump’s mental state ripples from the 30 percent of Americans who think it is “poor” to the 62,000 mental health professionals who have signed a letter of warning to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)—who worries about Trump starting World War III—to the White House staffers who think he is “unraveling,” the 25th Amendment is now getting attention previously devoted to the Constitution’s provisions for impeachment.
This talk is no longer confined to the president’s enemies. When adviser Steve Bannon told President Trump that the real danger to his presidency was not impeachment but the 25th Amendment, Trump reportedly said, “What’s that?”
As Trump and the rest of the country come to understand the 25th Amendment, they may come to agree with Bannon that it poses the greatest threat to Trump’s tenure in office.
Choose Your Remedy
The 25th Amendment and impeachment are remedies for different problems. While the impeachment process controls a president who acts irresponsibly by committing “high crimes or misdemeanors,” the 25th Amendment applies to a president who is incapable of acting responsibly.
Ever since Trump’s unhinged speech in Phoenix in August, his erratic behavior has shifted attention from his political actions to the underlying question of his mental competence.
“I really question his ability to be—his fitness to be—in this office,” former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said after Trump’s rambling speech to a crowd of supporters who grew bored and puzzled by his ranting.
That view seems to be gaining credence within Trump’s own camp.
In August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called a Trump a “moron” after the president demanded a 10-fold increase in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Numerous reports from the White House indicate that Chief of Staff John Kelly is tightly controlling access to Trump in order to curb his self-destructive behavior. One former official even speculated to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump orders a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?”
Even a close Trump friend and ally has said he is “shocked” by Trump’s recent outbursts.
Such worries are elevating the 25th Amendment process from a liberal fever dream to a distant yet real possibility.
If Trump’s extreme behavior grows more extreme, more obvious and more detached from politics, senior officials like Kelly, Tillerson and/or Mattis might feel obliged to invoke the 25th Amendment publicly. Then the Cabinet would have to decide if Trump was capable of holding office. If a majority of the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence agreed, and two-thirds of both houses of Congress agreed, then Pence would become acting president.
The 25th Amendment gives Congress a role in the process. Section 4 states that while the Cabinet must issue a written statement, Congress may create a body to issue “a written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” which would elevate the vice president to acting president, if approved by two-thirds vote in both Houses.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) has introduced legislation to create a panel on presidential incapacity. So far 28 Democrats have signed the resolution.
While the 25th Amendment solution now seems highly unlikely, it was highly unlikely nine months ago that any Cabinet member would disparage Trump’s intelligence (and not publicly deny that he had done so), or that Bannon, of all people, would see the 25th Amendment as a threat to Trump’s presidency.
A year from now, things could be very different. If Trump has failed to pass tax cuts or tax reform; stumbled into war in North Korea or Iran; and alienated more GOP allies with his “malignant narcissism,” the feeling that he is simply incapable of carrying out the duties of office may well grow and spread within his own administration.
One attraction of the 25th Amendment as a solution to the problem of Trump’s mental instability is that the criteria for removal from office is not the abuse of power but the inability to exercise it. The issue is less political than clinical.
If current trends continue, this might eventually make the 25th Amendment attractive to Trump’s supporters. In the event of obviously deranged presidential behavior, Pence and the Cabinet could invoke the 25th Amendment without accusing Trump of abuse of power or renouncing his political agenda.
Indeed, Pence & Co. could advise Trump to take a medical leave of absence in the best interests of the presidency, his family, and his supporters. Trump could declare victory over the “Swamp” and retire to Mar-a-Lago, giving his political heirs a clearer path to power. The 25th Amendment might turn out to be the vehicle that carries Pence (and Bannon) into the 2020 presidential campaign unburdened by Trump’s madness.
In short, if the problem is that the president is clinically incompetent, the solution is the 25th Amendment. If the problem is that the president is constitutionally dangerous, the solution is impeachment. If the president is both—and there is plenty of evidence that he is—the country will have to choose between the political remedy and the medical remedy.
The 25th Amendment beckons as impeachment-lite, a constitutional method of forcing the president out of power without passing judgment on his politics. It’s that hardy Washington solution: an attractive cop-out. Which is why we will be hearing more about it.
Natalia Rak in Luxemburg
The last 10 days have marked an escalation of the bipartisan conspiracy against the health care rights of working class Americans. After Congressional Republicans’ numerous failed attempts in recent months to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Trump administration has issued a series of executive orders aimed at undercutting the legislation popularly known as Obamacare.
The president’s first order expanded exemptions for employers who claim moral or religious objections from requirements under the ACA to provide their workers with no-cost birth control.
Next, Trump finalized an executive order to allow “association health plans” an exemption from the ACA’s requirements to provide 10 essential services in their insurance coverage.
Finally, the administration announced that, beginning next Wednesday, it would be scrapping cost-sharing reduction payments (CSRs) to private insurers that help low-income Americans purchase health coverage.
Trump made clear that he is seeking to reach out to congressional Democrats to make a deal on health care “reform,” that is, changes to Obamacare to further reduce health care coverage. In a post on Twitter Friday morning, he said, “The Democrats[’] ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!” He went on to call the law “a broken mess.”
All of Trump’s orders will have the effect of raising insurance premiums, particularly for older, poorer and unhealthy people, and denying access to basic medical services for millions. But this is not what concerns the Democrats in Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a demagogic statement Friday night scolding Trump for stopping the CSRs, stating in part: “[I]t seems President Trump will single-handedly hike Americans’ health premiums. It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America.”
But the Democratic leaders concluded with their real point, which was to chastise the president if his actions meant he “is walking away from the good faith, bipartisan Alexander-Murray negotiations and risking the health care of millions of Americans.”
Earlier this month, following the Republicans’ failed repeal and replace attempts, Trump tweeted, “I called Chuck Schumer yesterday to see if the Dems want to do a great HealthCare Bill.” Schumer responded: “If he wants to work together to improve the existing health care system, we Democrats are open to his suggestions. A good place to start might be the Alexander-Murray negotiations that would stabilize the system and lower costs.”
Schumer is referring to the health care talks being led by Senators Lamar Alexander (Republican of Tennessee) and Patty Murray (Democrat of Washington). These bipartisan negotiations have nothing to do with expanding medical coverage to the 28 million Americans who remain uninsured, improving the already hopelessly inadequate benefits of many, or in any way reining in the profiteering and power of the insurance and pharmaceutical monopolies.
Instead, their “fixing” of Obamacare involves shoring up the insurance industry by means of various payouts. The Democrats have also agreed to a “compromise” allowing insurers to skirt the Obamacare regulations requiring insurance companies to offer a set of essential benefits by offering “skinny” plans, as well as to dodge ACA protections for individuals with preexisting conditions.
Any “compromise” between the Democrats and Republicans on health care reform is by its very nature a conspiracy against the working class. It is entirely premised on the subordination of the need for health care to the profits of the corporations and the functioning of the capitalist market.
Ohio Governor John Kasich was more transparent on what a bipartisan deal on health care would look like, stating this summer, “After two failed [Republican] attempts at reform, the next step is clear: Congress should first focus on fixing the Obamacare exchanges before it takes on Medicaid. … Once we see these repairs taking hold, Congress should then take up needed improvements to Medicaid as part of comprehensive entitlement reform.”
All of the failed Republican versions of Obamacare repeal and replace cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, elderly, the disabled and pregnant women. They posed the virtual end of the program as a guaranteed entitlement program, by imposing block-granting and per-capita caps to the states, which would force states to deny benefits to people who qualify.
Through these measures, Medicaid would be starved of funds on the road to privatizing and ultimately dismantling the program. There have been no clear statements from leading Democrats opposing in principle the termination of Medicaid, which everyone in the political and media establishment knows is the first step to dismantling and privatizing Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly, and Social Security, the government pension system.
The bipartisan plans to “fix” Obamacare in the interests of the insurance companies—further slashing benefits and raising premiums for working families, while cutting costs for the government and corporations—are not at odds with the spirit of Obamacare. In fact, they reflect its essence and objective: that workers are living too long into retirement, receiving costly and “unnecessary treatments,” and that something must be done to curb costs in the interest of corporate profit.
As early as 2009, the year before the ACA was signed into law, the World Socialist Web Site wrote:
“[Barack Obama’s] drive for an overhaul of the health care system, far from representing a reform designed to provide universal coverage and increased access to quality care, marks an unprecedented attack on health care for the working population. …
“Obama’s health care counterrevolution is of a piece with his entire domestic agenda. It parallels the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the banks, the imposition of mass layoffs and wage and benefits cuts in the auto industry, and a stepped-up attack on public education and on teachers.”
The Democrats’ policies on health care reform are no alternative to Trump’s. Both will lead to untold suffering, misery and preventable deaths. The defense of basic social needs such as health care requires a fight against capitalism, which in its advanced stage of crisis is incompatible with basic democratic and social rights.
A fight in defense of health care requires a fight for socialism. The health care industry must be removed from private hands and placed under public ownership and the democratic control of the working class. This is not an unrealistic pipe dream but the only rational solution to a health care system dominated by profit and defended by an outmoded ruling elite.
Street art by ATİONE
Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.
Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.
“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”
Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.
But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.
One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”
In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.
One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.
At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.
Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.
Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.
The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?
What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.
“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.