It is a measure of the frustratingly insane circumstances of recent times that even a hard-bitten old news warrior like Carl Bernstein can succumb to flights of unrealistic optimism. Bernstein recently told Chris Cuomo, “I think we have to recognize that we have a national emergency unlike anything in our history. And that national emergency is that we have a president of the United States who is demonstrably unfit, incompetent, not honest, not capable of dealing with this horrible situation, and we need a political and cultural protectorate in this country between now and Election Day from the president of the United States and his recklessnesss.”
I would be the last person to argue with him. If such a thing as a political protectorate actually existed in the realpolitik of 2020 then now would be the time for it. The urgency of Bernstein’s message is underlined by the grave reality of daily American deaths. “People are dead because of his recklessness,” Bernstein continues. “We need the political system to respond, which means Republicans particularly. Because the Republicans on Capitol Hill as well as those who have left the White House, they know he is not a stable individual … We need to be protected from this president so that we can be protected from COVID.”
He is correct. In fact, I can say with incontrovertible certainty, that there are Americans who are alive right now, functioning normally and well, who will be dead by Election Day if Donald Trump’s incompetent policies of inaction are not subverted. But there exists no realistic Constitutional mechanism to bring this about. Certainly there’s the 25th Amendment, but I believe I used the word “realistic.” That option requires Mike Pence to take sane action on his own initiative.
There are reasons why Trump has not jettisoned Pence and this is another of them. I cannot imagine how anyone rational could possibly believe that Trump’s ineffectual dybbuk of a Vice President would contemplate making a move against Trump. Bernstein doesn’t mention 25A, and with good reason.
What does Bernstein expect to happen? “What happened in the Nixon presidency? A group of Republicans, led by the great conservative Barry Goldwater, and by the minority leader of the house and by the Republican leadership marched into the White House and said to Richard Nixon, ’You are unfit to remain in office. You must leave the presidency, we will no longer support you.’ Something similar has got to happen in some kind of conscience-rendering by Republicans to save us and to save lives in this country.”
Again, Bernstein is right. Another soft coup like the one led by Goldwater against Nixon needs to happen. But will it? I see no evidence that such a thing is being contemplated. Bernstein goes on, “We are in need of action by the political system and by Republicans on Capitol Hill including the craven Mitch McConnell.” But it is precisely because McConnell is craven that he will never stick his neck out to contradict Donald Trump in so brazen a way. I don’t know if Mr. Bernstein noticed or not, but the crop of Republicans we are dealing with today are very different from the ones of his day.
As a doctor delivering bad news to a family might say, we need to learn to manage our expectations. We are in for a very rough ride over the next six months. Donald Trump is going to kill tens of thousands more Americans between now and January 20th, and there is nothing we can do about it but vote.
It is tempting to reach out for the homeopathic alternative to realpolitik, but I would be remiss in encouraging such hope, and I think Mr. Bernstein is too. But I understand his impulse. He’s a human being and he’s frustrated and he doesn’t want more Americans to die. But Republicans are going to let them die. They are even going to play games with their lives while they watch them die.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, is what evil looks like. That is how evil operates right out in the open, in the false smiles and feigned outrage of hypocrisy. The only thing we have to combat it with is our mandate. So use it. Vote. And, above all, stay safe.