Storming the Bastille

Creative Commons image by Romanus Too

A political neophyte takes controls of the reins of power. His foreign-born wife seems more concerned with fashion and wealth than the needs of the people, many of whom are struggling. One reckless decision after another leave average citizens afraid for their well-being and hoping for radical change. A group of individuals, unafraid of evoking the wrath of this ill-prepared leader, take matters into their own hands. They form a committee to circumvent the power of the executive and protect the needs of the people.

While this may sound like a summary of the latest headlines from your favorite news agency, students of history likely will guess I am referencing the actions of Maximillian Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, which sought to countermand the actions of French king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.

Although it seems society should have advanced by leaps and bounds since the dark days of late-18th century France, the fact that a group of Democrats are seeking to create an Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity in order to enact an obscure provision in Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, suggests we might not have come that far from the days of Tennis Court oaths and use of what the French politely called the “national razor” (and the rest of us call a guillotine).

For those who follow President Donald Trump’s penchant for indiscriminately lobbing Tweets, his latest fight is with MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. While there is nothing new for Trump’s abrasive approach to politics, even Republicans are saying his latest antics are beyond the pale.

Mudslinging in politics may be as old as Cicero (or at least Thomas Jefferson), running for office in the Age of Twitter means the media can track everything you say and hold you accountable when your rhetoric may have “a casual relationship with the truth and reality” (a zinger popularized in the last election cycle).

The challenge with Trump is that, while his words are harsh, many of his positions are bread-and-butter Republican mainstays. He is harsh on North Korea, fighting for a Republican version of healthcare, trying to tighten restrictions on travel from certain terror-supporting countries and frustrated with inner-city crime.

If senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had moved from Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they would have had some of the same items on their agenda and the same concerns from those who had come to favor President Barack Obama and his policy initiatives. Then again, unlike Trump, I doubt they would be trying to find their footing with the Senate, or had to face regular rebukes for the Republican Speaker of the House.

While I imagine the Democrats seeking to challenge Trump’s mental capacity are harkening back to the words of the Declaration of Independence about “the Right of the People to alter or abolish” a destructive government, there is a higher threshold for removal under the 25th Amendment than there  is for Impeachment in Article II, Section 4. Also, one wonders if this would establish a precedent for forming such committees when future presidents act outside the bounds of what members of Congress would prefer.

Either move would require the Republicans to eat one of their own (though Trump isn’t doing much for the GOP brand right now), but if Democrats use the 25th Amendment, they may be seen as fomenting a coup d’ état.

And, if the French Revolution is any indicator, the problem with those who overthrow government is that the ones who lead the charge often can get ground up in the process.

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