U.S. — Trump’s unfitness for office runs deeper than policies, personal flaws – By Mohamed Hamaludin

 — By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

If the criterion to be president is fitness to hold the office and the power which comes with it, then a persuasive argument can be made against Donald J. Trump, his detractors insist. Even before he won the 2016 election and was sworn into office in January 2017, he boasted of abusing women. He declared that he could shoot someone on the street and his supporters would not care. So far, he has uttered at least 16,200 false or misleading statements, according to tracking data from The Washington Post.       

Trump picked some of the worst people to be his closest aides, some of them now in prison or awaiting sentencing or trial. He has provided comfort to racists seeking to make the United States a whites-only nation. His administration has forcibly separated migrant children from their parents. He has issued executive orders that threaten the climate.  He maligns the courts and the media which he denounces as “enemies of the state.” His policies have divided the nation and undermined the institutions on which its traditions stand.

He has fomented trouble with America’s staunchest allies. He has further destabilized the Middle East. He has become a buddy to North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un and boasts that he is a friend to Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, America’s archrival. He sacrifices human rights at the altar of economic expediency.

These are some of the reasons why Trump’s opponents see him as unfit for the presidency. But fitness can be subjective and unpopular policies and even character flaws do not necessarily make someone unworthy of being the president. It is another matter when presidential behavior is detrimental threatens the national interest.

Trump crossed that line when, during his campaign, he called on Russia to hack his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton’s email server. U.S. intelligence services concluded that Russia waged a cyber campaign against the election and the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Muller as special counsel to investigate whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians. Twenty-four months later, Robert Muller submitted his report, finding no evidence of collusion. He did report that Russia interfered in the election “in sweeping and systematic fashion” and such interference “deserves the attention of every American.”

Muller also described 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump and the report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime” but that “it also does not exonerate him.” Muller chose to defer to a long-standing Department of Justice opinion – not a law or constitutional edict — that a sitting president may not be put on trial., so any further action would have to come from Congress. Trump seized on that outcome to claim “no collusion and no obstruction.” The House of Representatives, even with a Democratic majority, declined to launch an impeachment inquiry, seemingly further strengthening that argument.

This outcome obviously further emboldened Trump, who, according to a whistleblower, withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure that important American ally to launch an investigation into Joe Biden, one of his political rivals, and his son Hunter. This time, the House acted, launching an impeachment inquiry which resulted in Trump’s becoming only the third president to be impeached. He is accused of abuse of power over the Ukraine incident. Also, because he blocked the release of any document and ordered witnesses under his control not to testify, he is also charged with obstruction of Congress. The proceedings have moved to the U.S. Senate, which, on Tuesday, opened a trial, as the constitution mandates, to determine whether Trump should be removed from office.

Politicians and analysts have said that impeachment is a political matter, that politics, not the evidence, dictates whether a president should be forced out of office. That is how this trial will most likely play out. Even if all 47 Democratic senators, the two Independents and a handful of Republican senators vote to convict Trump, they will likely fall far short of the needed 67 votes.

Republican senators seem to be driven by the fear that, if they find him guilty, Trump would campaign against their re-election. It is not clear how that would work if he is actually removed from office but the assumption is that he would still remain popular enough to do it. Several have said that even if Trump is guilty, his pressure on Ukraine does not rise to the level requiring his removal from office. But if trying to pressure a foreign nation to interfere in American elections for partisan, personal purposes and using the power of the office to try to stymie an investigation do not warrant a president’s removal from office, what does?

It is very likely that, if he is allowed to stay in the White House, Trump would feel free to take even more egregious actions with impunity. At some point, elected officials must be guided by the oath of office which they swore; so must the senators comprising the jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial. The alternative is to risk further damage to the nation’s democratic norms — by a president who already claims to have unlimited power.

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On January 24, 2020 at 5:03 am

    What Sort of “Abuse of Power” Would Amount to an Impeachable Offense?

    Philip Bobbitt | Just Security

    SOME HAVE ARGUED THAT THE PRESIDENT HAS EXECUTIVE POWER IN ORDER TO ACT IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST, AND THAT WHEN HE USES THAT POWER TO FURTHER HIS PERSONAL OR POLITICAL INTERESTS, HE IS ABUSING HIS OFFICE.

    As Professor Noah Feldman put it, “You define the abuse of power by the idea that the president is doing something that’s within his constitutional authority, it’s within his power, like putting pressure on a foreign government, but he’s doing it not to serve the interests of the United States BUT to serve his personal interest and the interest of getting re-elected.”

    THIS CANNOT BE RIGHT. The White House will negotiate a photo-op with the Queen – with no significant diplomatic content – for no other reason than creating campaign materials. Many trade deals are negotiated against a backdrop shaped by the electoral prospects of incumbents from agricultural and manufacturing states; the timing of foreign arms control treaties is often calibrated against the timing of upcoming elections.

    It was not simply that President Trump in his conversations with the Ukrainian president attempted to entice a “favor” that might prove helpful in Trump’s campaign for re-election.

    RATHER, it was what the president did to get that favor:

    The refusal of the president to disburse congressionaly authorized military assistance is a violation of law that strikes at the heart of Constitutional government.

    To use that violation as the basis for securing a political advantage is an abject ABUSE OF POWER.

    THE FACT THAT RELEASING THE FUNDS WAS CONDITIONED ON UKRAINE DOING A POLITICAL FAVOR FOR DONALD TRUMP IS WHAT TRANSMUTES AN ORDINARY BIT OF POLITICS INTO THE SUBVERSION OF OUR MOST IMPORTANT CONSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURES.

    Many supporters of this president see nothing significant in the withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression — an aggression that has already claimed 13,000 lives and dismembered parts of the Ukrainian state.

    THEY MAY WANT TO THINK AGAIN.

    SUPPOSE THE NEXT PRESIDENT WITHHELD EMERGENCY DISASTER RELIEF, APPROPRIATED BY CONGRESS FROM AMERICAN TAXPAYERS AND SIGNED INTO LAW — UNTIL A STATE OFFICIAL PROMISED TO ANNOUNCE AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE PRESIDENT’S POLITICAL OPPONENT?

    Or suppose a president redirected funds appropriated by Congress for medical assistance to a stricken country — perhaps even one on our borders where a pandemic raged — until local officials opened criminal investigations of American political figures or their relatives?

    THE REASON SUCH MANEUVERS ARE SO CONSTITUTIONALLY DAMAGING

    THE REASON THEY ARE PRECISELY THE SORT OF HIGH CRIME — LIKE BRIBERY AND TREASON — THAT THE FRAMERS MADE THE BASIS FOR IMPEACHMENT, IS THAT THEY STRIKE AT THE HEART OF GOVERNMENT UNDER CONSTITUTIONAL LAW.

    In this case it is the constitutional law of Congressional appropriations, which is more fundamental to the integrity of our constitutional system than seems to be widely appreciated.

    The central bargain of representative government is that the taxing and spending powers are placed in the hands of elected officials who are accountable to the voters every two years.

    When the president refuses to disburse funds related to US government operations for a political favor, he commits the gravest of Constitutional offenses.

    THIS IS WHY THE IMPOUNDMENT CONTROL ACT OF 1974 WAS ADOPTED:

    To prevent the president from acquiring a super-veto over legislation by simply refusing to execute appropriated funds.

    And this is why the finding last week by the Government Accountability Office [GAO] that the president had violated that law is so salient to the ongoing impeachment proceedings, and should be a game changer of sorts, at least, for those not fully paying attention.

    The GAO was deliberate in saying that President Trump’s withholding the aid ran afoul of his constitutional duty.

    “FAITHFUL EXECUTION OF THE LAW DOES NOT PERMIT THE PRESIDENT TO SUBSTITUTE HIS OWN POLICY PRIORITIES FOR THOSE THAT CONGRESS HAS ENACTED INTO LAW,” the agency stated.

    Furthermore, this is not the only statutory and constitutional violation implicated by the president’s maneuvering to get the Ukrainians involved in our elections.

    Federal law makes it a crime to “attempt to cause any person to make a contribution of a thing of value, including services, for the benefit of any candidate … by means of the denial or deprivation, or the threat of the denial or deprivation, of …. any payment or benefit of a program of the United States, … if such ….. payment, or benefit is provided for … by an Act of Congress”.

    IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE A STATUTORY PROVISION MORE CLOSELY MATCHING THE FACT PATTERN IN THE UKRAINE SCANDAL THAN THIS PROVISION.

    MY POINT IS SIMPLY A CLARIFYING ONE:

    Abuse of power may indeed be the basis for the impeachment and removal from office of a president if he corruptly acts to further his political interest.

    This is not just a matter of perspective.

    To withhold funds of this magnitude in the context of active warfare in order to influence the reputation of a political adversary is a high crime of the highest constitutional importance.

    It is NOT merely a matter of politics as usual – Politics as usual do NOT constitute abuse of office.

  • kamtanblog  On January 24, 2020 at 5:27 am

    Not unlike Hitler
    Humpity. Dumpity is a “neccessary evil”

    USA will take a berry berry looong time
    to recover …but so did Germany.

    China is the ‘red herring “ …Russia the boogeyman” communism history.

    Remain optimistic on USA bouncing back !

    Have no plans to adopt Cantonese as my
    second language !

    Que sera

    Kamtan

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 24, 2020 at 6:08 am

    “Have no plans to adopt Cantonese as my second language !”

    Kamptan: It won’t be necessary ….

    There are more English-speaking people in China ……

    THAN English-speaking people in all of the USA

    • kamtanblog  On January 24, 2020 at 8:31 am

      Good point !
      Was being bit sarcastic ….
      Guess that’s a bit of my Britishness !
      Trying to be witty….

      Just hope Guyana remains guyanese
      at least culturally !

      K

  • Ron Saywack  On January 24, 2020 at 8:57 am

    The author laments:

    “It is very likely that, if he is allowed to stay in the White House, Trump would feel free to take even more egregious actions with impunity.”

    The prescient Alexander Hamilton predicted that such a man could one day occupy the Oval Office:

    “When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits — despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”

    R.S.

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