DRAW A LINE
It’s Time to Censure Trump for ‘Conduct Unbecoming’ of a President
There is a way to punish President Trump for his ignorant, racist words without resorting to impeachment. He should be censured by Congress.
On Dec. 28, Army Pvt. Emmanuel Mensah rushed twice into a burning building in the Bronx and rescued four people. On his third trip in, he died. Mensah was from Ghana, one of President Trump’s “shithole countries.”
Trump’s comment was racist: He was referring only to countries with dark-skinned people. That makes the Fox News blowhards who endorse it racists, too.
It was stupid: We need the help of those nations to fight terrorism and pursue other national interests. Trump just did another huge favor for China, which is already moving aggressively in Africa.
And it was un-American: Immigrants from dysfunctional countries, including those like Trump’s grandfather, who came from impoverished Germany in 1886, built the United States. You can look it up.
Another thing to research: Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. All senior U.S. military personnel—including women— are subject to a court martial for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” Such conduct includes dishonest, indecent, cruel and dishonorable acts. Article 133 charges require no proof of law-breaking. They can be brought for merely “indecorous” behavior, which means acting like an asinine ignoramus.
If the commander in chief were down a few rungs in the chain of command, he would have been court-martialed months ago for “conduct unbecoming,” just as President Clinton would have been court-martialed in 1998 for having sex with a White House intern. It goes without saying that if either president were a mere CEO of a publicly traded corporation, he would have been tossed out on his ear.
But just because the president can’t be impeached (at least not yet), court-martialed or fired doesn’t mean he can’t be punished. It’s time to stop wringing our hands. There are remedies that lie between removal from office and doing nothing.
The best short-term remedy is censure by both Houses of Congress, a move that would begin the essential process of checking Trump.
Andrew Jackson—whose painting Steve Bannon told Trump to hang in the Oval Office—is the only president ever censured (for not turning over certain bank documents). Senator Joe McCarthy was censured in 1954 for dishonoring the Senate with his anti-Communist character assassination, which was engineered by Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn. Censure is what I and a lot of other people argued was the right punishment for Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky case. It wasn’t enough for Republicans who backed impeachment—some of the same Republicans (I’m looking at you, Orrin Hatch) who today think Trump is “one of the best” presidents.
So why would those Trump enablers censure him over this? They probably won’t. They didn’t when three House Democrats introduced a censure motion after Trump said “both sides” were to blame after neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August.
But some big things have changed since Charlottesville. The implications of another international incident for our standing in the world are clearer now. And GOP incumbents are running scared, with 31 members so far announcing they’re leaving their House seats. That’s seven more than the 24 seats Democrats need to take control in November. Even Republicans know that bigotry is not a good look in an election year.
Could Trump walk back his line? Not likely. Roy Cohn gave him two pieces of advice: Retaliate against your enemies times 10 and never say you’re sorry. The only time on record when he apologized was for the Access Hollywood tape—and he rescinded it late last year with the claim that it wasn’t his voice on the tape with Billy Bush. Even his fanboys couldn’t swallow that one.
With no apology forthcoming, every Republican member of Congress will (or at least should) be asked by their local reporters whether the president owes one. It will be hard for many of them to say no, or to explain to their constituents why the remark was OK. The issue would be further crystallized if Democrats threaten to boycott the Jan. 30 State of the Union Address—a possibility, I’m told by congressional staffers, should no other remedy materialize.
White House aides are apparently already claiming that “shithole countries” is playing well with Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-PC base. But it’s bound to play horribly with the much larger combination of Democrats and independents. For that not-so-Silent Majority, failure to pursue this matter in some fashion is not an option.
Even so, passing a censure resolution obviously requires at least some bipartisanship. That’s why the language of the rebuke should come from Article 133. Keeping it in military terms—terms, by the way, that even Trump would understand—puts pressure on Speaker Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to at least let their chambers decide. Members wouldn’t have to debate immigration or foreign policy or even racism, merely vote that the president’s conduct was… unbecoming. Who can argue with that?