Time to think about the unthinkable

Published 10:04 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

“And he’s oh, so good; and he’s oh, so fine

And he’s oh, so healthy in his body and his mind.” — Ray Davies

When you are a novelist, a writer of fiction, it is perfectly fine to create your own reality. When you are the president of the United States, it is not.

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No, I am not herein going to attempt to psychoanalyze Donald Trump. That is neither proper nor am I qualified to do that. But some doctors who are, as well as some people who are around him everyday have begun to seriously worry about his rationality and that means the rest of us have something deathly serious to worry about, too.

And the primary reason for that is there really is no easy answer to a critically begged question: What do we do when this (or any other) president becomes evidently mentally ill? What happens if the most powerful man in the world becomes, if not stark, raving mad, then only intermittently in contact with reality?

That such a thing would represent a problem has been recognized before and there has been at least one attempt to address it — an attempt we shall see is not altogether satisfactory.

First a little background.

In 1965, Fletcher Knebel, newspaperman-turned-novelist and better known for his earlier co-authorship with Charles Bailey of “Seven Days in May,” published another political thriller which was read by and was alarming to a lot a folks around the nation.

It proposed the notion that a sitting president about to seek re-election with a new running mate confided to him his grand vision, which the young senator to his horror, recognized to be paranoid delusions of both grandeur and persecution.

That fictional president, appearing otherwise normal, was actually dangerously insane.

In a word, “Night of Camp David” scared the hell out of Washington officialdom, because it pointed out the lack of any specific prescribed constitutional remedy for such a perilous possibility.

And while  the history books don’t reflect it, Knebel’s speculative novel may actually have been the primary impetus for the proposal and subsequent ratification of the 25th Amendment.

Adopted two years later in 1967, the 25th Amendment ostensibly was drafted to clarify the slightly ambiguous language in Article II, Section I, clause 6 of the Constitution regarding presidential succession. But the bulk of that amendment also added a considerable amount of new language on presidential disability and provided a convoluted and politically unwieldy process, by which a mental ill chief executive could be removed from office.

Section 4 of the amendment reads: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments (the cabinet) or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties as Acting President.”

It goes on to say that should the president contest such an action in writing within a prescribed period, the matter would ultimately be decided by two-thirds votes of both houses of Congress.

I said it was both convoluted and politically awkward, but at least there is now a process where none had existed before.

And that might turn out to be a very good and important thing because heading toward the end of his first year in office, the current president of the United States is progressively sending out signals near and far that he is just about as stable as 30-year-old nitroglycerin.

In addition to his longstanding practice of using his Twitter account as a weapon of mass destruction to U.S. interests foreign and domestic (as well as insulting important people), President Trump remains in the grip of conspiracy theories that project the very definition of paranoia that are evident as such even to laymen.

Not as the mere shenanigans inherent within politics, but rather behind doors with trusted associates, Trump has again begun to again question the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and even more troublingly begun to raise doubts about whether the voice on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape is really his—something he has already admitted and something for which he has already apologized publicly.

Trump’s supporters like to wryly suggest the president is crazy like a fox. But what if — God help us all—the president is instead just crazy?

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.