Trump began his failed presidency when he was sworn in on Inauguration Day and was immediately and instantaneously in violation of the US Constitution right after swearing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” due to the Emollient Clause and his various conflicts of interest, especially his new hotel in Washington DC. He has no “political capital” to spend with the lowest approval ratings in history, and is already becoming a huge liability for Republicans with his elevation of the quasi-fascist Steve Bannon to a position above our nation’s security experts on the National Security Council – so very soon we might expect to hear the “I Word” being used…
As we approach the one-week mark of Donald Trump’s presidency, conversation among his enemies naturally turns to impeachment. As Robert Kuttner wrote in The American Prospect, the process of assembling the charges “needs to begin now.” And that was two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Imagine Kuttner’s impatience today.
Web sites have already been launched in support of such efforts, and Mother Jones reports that bookmaker Paddy Power offers a 7:4 payout on Trump failing to complete his first term (i.e., seven dollars in potential winnings for each four dollars you bet) and 4:1 on his getting impeached during his first six months in office (versus 500:1 on Trump painting the White House gold). Many people don’t just think it’s possible that Trump will exit office early; they think it’ll happen within his first year. We can’t deny that it’s daffy, but if people have the idea, let’s entertain it. It’s time for a bettor’s guide.
To start with, make sure you’re offered generous odds. Getting rid of a president in year one is a heavy lift. No U.S. president has failed to complete his first term, let alone his first year, unless death got in the way. Nor has any been impeached while his own party had a majority. Only one president, Nixon, has ever resigned. So Trump would either have to do something exceptionally terrible or fall victim to something exceptionally terrible.
Let’s start with the Trump-does-something-terrible possibility. The site ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org argues that Trump, by maintaining ownership of a world-spanning business empire and receiving income from it, is in violation of the “Foreign Emoluments Clause” of the U.S. Constitution. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has already filed a lawsuit along these lines. But it’s a long shot. Even if the plaintiffs prevail on the legality, they’ll have trouble convincing skeptics that the alleged offense rises to the level of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” So Trump would have to do something more severe, like accept a royal fiefdom in Saudi Arabia.
In theory, of course, Trump could commit serious crimes. In a recent Slate roundup, contributors predicted that a Trump presidency would see the killing of a prominent anti-Trump journalist, the collapse and bailout of the health-insurance industry, and the extinction of polar bears. This sounds a little excessive, but let’s roll with it.
At least one of those things, a murder ordered by the president, would qualify as a high crime, and the elimination of polar bears, which enjoy high approval ratings, would soften a lot of Trump’s support. Nevertheless, problems relating to bears and bailouts would take longer than a year to come about, and conspiracies to kill someone take a long time to investigate. Also, even the mafia has traditionally avoided killing cops or journalists, because it makes problems 10 times worse. Perhaps the deep state could plant evidence of a horrible offense on Trump, but that, too, would take a while to engineer. “High crimes” within a year is a possible bet but not a good one.
That leaves the darker options: the incapacitation or demise of Trump. No matter what you think of our president, these would be very bad for the country. But, in the name of thoroughness, we’ll go ahead and consider them.
One risk to which the elderly are vulnerable is that of losing their minds. Trump, at 70, is on the old-ish side, and dementia afflicts about 1 in 20 people ages 71 to 79. He was more lucid in interviews a decade ago, and his impulse control today seems lower than ever. Then again, Trump has never been known for extreme self-restraint, and we’re all going mentally downhill after 30, so his decline is probably normal and trivial. If not, dementia isn’t obvious in merely a year anyway. Trump could instead suffer something more dramatic, like a stroke, but we’d still have no set way to deal with it. Melania Trump, like a modern-day Edith Wilson, could wind up becoming our de facto president, which would definitely be an aesthetic improvement but not an official changing of the guard. (The “palace coup” remedy of the 25th Amendment makes things easier than they were in Wilson’s time, but only a little.) So don’t put your money on Trump leaving office for anything cognition-related.
Another possibility is that Trump could die from sickness or accident. This would be disastrous and launch a thousand conspiracy theories, at least if the cause were anything other than a tidal wave. But all of us are mortal, and four U.S. presidents—nearly 10 percent of the number we’ve had—died of non-criminal causes while in office. All it took for poor Zachary Taylor, it seems, was a bad batch of milk, apples, and cherries. George W. Bush nearly succumbed to a pretzel. Trump seems robust over all, but he is at least a few dozen pounds overweight, so there’s an above-average risk of a stroke or heart attack. Odds of it happening in year one are still low, though. Even a 50:1 payout might not be enough.
Far worse—nation-destroying, at worst—would be a premature end to the presidency because of assassination. At a time when Americans are already in a cold war with one another, such an event could trigger violence across the country and warp our politics enduringly, making Trump’s presidency look like a minor ripple by comparison. Still, nearly every president in the past 50 years has experienced attempts on his life, and that includes Trump, who has already survived at least one. (The would-be killer goes free in less than a year, which, on the face of it, seems very soon.) If the Trump-is-Hitler narrative continues to gain force even among normally level-headed people, it’ll surely inspire crazed crusaders to attempt stupid things. Depressingly, the odds of such calamity are not as low as they ought to be.
Finally, there’s a good old-fashioned military coup. This would be the South American option. You have a military that fears that the country’s democracy is sliding into dictatorship, so it seizes control by force and makes the country officially into a dictatorship, thus prompting supporters of the ousted regime to respond with guerilla methods, provoking brutal counterattacks, while the rule of law recedes ever farther into memory. It’d be a hell of a way to wreck a country, but bookmakers would be busy. The trouble with this option: coups take a while to plan. Salvador Allende got three years at the helm in Chile before getting deposed, and Juan Perón got nine in Argentina. Only the most seasoned coup leaders can get an overthrow together in a year or less, and U.S. generals aren’t steeped in the usurpation tradition. Even at 100 to 1, I’d refuse that bet.
If I’d taken statistics, I’d know, based on the estimates so far, which numerators and denominators to multiply to give you my cumulative made-up odds of Trump leaving office after less than a year. Since I haven’t, and I don’t, I’m just gonna say there’s a 1 in 40 chance of it happening. Yes, that number is, strictly speaking, useless, but perhaps for some readers it keeps hope alive. So place your bets accordingly if it makes you feel better. Just make sure you can spare the cash.
This article has been updated.