Imagine with me — since extraordinary times call for extraordinary imaginings — that tonight, with little forewarning, there were to be a television event of great national importance. A joint press conference, more precisely a joint address-to-the nation, is going to be carried live on all networks and news outlets at the nationally convenient hour: 5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern time. There will be no question-and-answer session afterwards, no moderating host — in short, an absolute minimum of media or journalistic trappings of any kind. The participants will be all living former presidents and vice presidents of the United States — by headcount, nine in number — and their purpose will be to inform the American people of their unanimous opinion that Donald Trump is reckless in mind and utterance, insecure in his grasp not only of constitutional government but in general of what is real and what is not real, and that he is dangerously unsuited to remain as president.
It has been agreed among them that one will speak for all; the others, standing beside him, will remain silent except for a brief verbal assurance each will give that he is in agreement. The speaker will be George W Bush, to obviate as much as possible the anti-Obama, anti-Clinton mood in which, successfully or not, the public has currently been schooled. What the speech will stress above all is that this is an emergency: The Republic is not safe. Its people are not safe. Knowing to a unique and agonizing degree how difficult and demanding the president’s job is, these former occupants of the Oval Office are agreed that its moral, political, temperamental and intellectual demands are beyond President Trump’s evident capacity.
It would be a considerable understatement to say that, other than this, these men do not agree on much. There is little in terms of domestic vision or geo-political goals or strategies upon which they could find much common ground, let alone such unanimity as we will witness tonight. They could not agree on where to have lunch or how to spend a leisurely Sunday, let alone North Korea, ISIS, immigration, or what to do about our post-industrial economy. The conversations and debates leading up to tonight’s presentation must have been something to behold. But right now their differences, right and left, are beside the point. Policy is beside the point. If Democrats would oppose current Republican policies, let them win the White House or the Congress next time around. Likewise, if Republicans wish to pursue an agenda they have nursed for decades, let them seek an opportunity other than the one the Trump presidency provides — one that does not subject the nation to the seismic instability fostered by the personality, the character, the woozy distance from reality of their party’s current leader.
I leave to others the question of whether my fantasy press-conference (which need not be a fantasy at all) should go on to prescribe exact steps by which the president is to be removed. At a minimum it is a call for impeachment, but the urgency that has brought these men together might call for something more swift and total. To speak strictly of the last week, we have witnessed the retweetings of hate videos known to be false, the resurrection of the Obama birther delusions, racist anti-Native American name-calling in the presence of Navajo war-heroes, the denial of the Access Hollywood tape for which on another occasion he has apologized. Conspiracy theories of a patently unreal variety pour from him. It is not that we “disagree” with him, or that he is “wrong” on these matters. It is rather that the state of mind his words and actions betray is wayward. It is not entirely necessary to agree with those reasonable observers who have been moved to speak of madness itself; enough to acknowledge, with appropriate anxiety, that we are in his hands. It is as if the driver of the bus on which we are passengers has been drinking; it is not a question of whether or not he is on the right road.
That is the view of the situation that has brought our nine men forward. In plain fact, whatever their sharply differing opinions of his policies as such, can it be doubted that this view of the president is one that privately and individually they share? If so, they bear a responsibility which can only be met by the collective authority of this specific group of men.