It is surely a time to reflect upon the strength of American institutions, and to take some reassurance in the ways they are moving to protect our system. (For a general State Dept view of these strengths, see here. For my analysis of the importance of communicating internationally about these strengths, see here.)
The most fascinating, I find, was the addition by the Supreme Court, when it took the immigration case, of the issue of meaning of the language that the President should “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” It is generally assumed that the addition, very rare indeed, was driven by Scalia, and that his death puts the matter on hold (indeed, it seems not to have received significant attention at oral argument). But imagine the back and forth in the Conference, and the liberals having to concede that they might want to join with conservatives in beginning to create a consensus intellectual framework to constrain out of control chief executives. I would have gone for it.
Similarly, note how the military has, through those able to speak, made clear the limits of its malleability. I was once told by a friend with senior military experience that there was indeed a history of the military having had to remind its civilian leadership of those limits, and that that history was well taught within the military and the chain of command. Many of us remember how according to The Final Days, the word was past downward to ignore orders coming directly from the by then unstable but still President Nixon. In the Trump case, that warning would be justified on Day One, and one hopes it would be given, one way or another.
Last week, obviously, we also saw certain elements of the Republican party itself, tainted as they are by their prior “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” exploitation of bigotry and racism, move to distance themselves, even for some of them at the risk of arguable short term political loss. (Of course smart money says that Ryan’s position is an attempt to give his House members flexibility as they protect their positions and majority, but by no means does it help Trump gain power, and is unprecedented.)
Of course, all these steps, and there may be many more that we do not know about, not only minimize the short term damage from a Trump Presidency, but also serve to lay the groundwork for a removal proceeding. The steps are helping establish more clearly the unconstitutionality or illegality of what Trump would be ordering, they would help ensure a better paper trail to prove the attempt, and they are educating the public about the issues.
Now, the normal rule in the 20th century was that the precondition to even the commencement of an impeachment proceeding are low popularity numbers and control by the opposing party of both chambers of Congress. The first one is surely met already, and is unlikely to be much changed even by an election victory by Trump, at least by the time of any actual inauguration. By the inauguration, the Senate is likely to be in Democratic hands, and the House, while maybe still Republican, would have a leadership deeply suspicious of Trump, and no problem getting the Democratic votes for a discharge petition). Remember you need only 50% in the House, and two thirds in the Senate.
So, think of it as a host body preparing to first limit and then remove an infection or a metastasis. I’d like to think that the administration’s support for cancer immunotherapy was part of this pattern, but I know that would be pushing it.