The amendments at the end of the list rarely get much attention — though your local bar may have an ode to the 21st and the story of how a college sophomore revived and helped pass the 27th amendment in 1992 after it had lain fallow since 1789 is a good one. The amendment is completely worthless, but the trivia is fantastic.
However, in the last few days, very high levels of attention have been focused on an Amendment that comes in the middle of those two.
At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”
Corker’s tweets, and the Vanity Fair article excerpted above, have inspired a massive uptick in chatter about the 25th Amendment—which includes the idea of removing the president from office if he is loony as … Trump.
Amendment 25, Section 4
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments 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 of the office as Acting President.
The idea that Trump’s cabinet might revolt and send the orange menace packing itself seems like a crazy thought … so much so that Steve Bannon only gives it about a 70 percent change of happening.
Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment—the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?” According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term.
See, it’s the questions like “What’s that?” that make the 25th Amendment seem like an all too possible outcome. That … and doing things like making ominous noises about the “Calm before the storm” in a room full of generals and their wives.
But if the enthusiasm for setting Trump aside before he makes a field test of America’s nuclear arsenal seems to be growing, there is still plenty of doubt about raising the necessary votes in Congress to uphold the 25th. After all, they may be belittled, screamed at, and forced to work around impossible demands, but they’re Republicans. Canning Trump might get in the way of a tax cut.
The 25th Amendment option is a paranoid conspiracy theory extraordinaire that puts the notion of a deep state — a favorite of Bannon’s — to shame. In this case, the Deep State is Trump’s own Cabinet.
Yeah, but … the 25th Amendment isn’t a conspiracy. It’s right there, holding down a slot between outlawing poll taxes and lowering the voting age to 18. However, this doesn’t seem to be the scenario that was on the mind of most legislators when the 25th Amendment was passed. The revision was made in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, when the need to clarify the rules of succession became obvious — and when the possibility that a would-be assassin might fail to kill the president, but leave him terribly injured, perhaps in a way that seriously impaired his judgement, seemed all too real.
The authors never seemed to consider that the United States might elect to office someone who was already so unraveled that no further injury or illness was required to make them unfit. But hey, the 25th Amendment is the tool we have, and people have definitely been checking out the instruction manual.
According to an analysis of Google Trends, in the past five years there was relatively little — if any — search traffic for the amendment until Nov. 13, one week after the 2016 presidential election.
By February, searches for the 25th amendment dramatically increased, and have continued to ebb and flow ever since.
Let it flow. Let it flow.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.