Quite early yesterday morning, so early, in fact, that I had to arrive at the office before Gretchen, a consultation began with a gentleman who insisted I call him “Randy Harry Merkin,” although that obviously could not be his real name. He paid cash, and told me that he is a policy advisor to a member of the current presidential Cabinet. When I inquired as to which department or agency in the Cabinet, Mr. Merkin was similarly cagey, refusing to reveal its name. All par for the course in my line of work, where about one in ten clients don’t want the specifics of their identities revealed. Those hundred dollar bills he handed me were genuine – I always check – and that’s all the identification I require to begin dispensing advice.
“No problem,” I told Mr. Merkin as I slid his cash payment into an envelope, marked it with Mr. Merkin’s alias, along with the date and time, and locked it in the upper right-hand drawer of my desk. “What can I do for you today?”
At that moment, a blood-red beam of light reflected from a mirror on the wall fell across his face as the sun rose over downtown Washington. “I want to talk about the Constitution, Mr. Collins,” he averred, leaning forward on the couch in front of the picture window overlooking the White House.
“I’m not a lawyer,” I cautioned.
“Understood,” he dryly responded. “Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken with plenty of lawyers – and psychiatrists and psychologists, too. Now I want your take on the… situation.”
“You spoke with doctors about the Constitution?” I remarked, somewhat nonplussed, being, as I was, only halfway through my first cup of cappuccino. “What part of the Constitution are you interested in, sir?”
Merkin narrowed his eyes as the red light beam intensified, giving him an altogether Satanic aspect. “The Twenty-fifth Amendment.”
“Oh, yes,” I allowed, “now it makes sense. The primary interest of your boss, I presume, would be Section Four, then, would it not?”
“I can assure you,” he declared with sly smile, “that nobody in the Cabinet is overly concerned about the other three sections.”
“Good old Section Four,” I mused, “just reading it invokes the zeitgeist of the 1960’s, don’t you think? The Cold War, the Bomb, the Kremlin Hot Line, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, the Kennedy assassination, Dr. Strangelove – all there as subtext, lurking behind the words like Soviet spies, Chinese double agents, East German defectors and CIA covert operatives.”
“It appears, Mr. Collins,” Merkin assessed, “that you find a great deal more in the Constitution when you read it than most people do.”
“Perhaps,” I conceded as I performed a quick Internet search to retrieve the relevant text. “It is doubtful, however, that most people have ever read the Constitution. Ah, here we have it – Amendment Twenty-five, Section Four: ‘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. Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days 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. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.’ Awesome words, writ large for the ages, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’ve got to admit,” Merkin remarked, “the way you read it, Section Four sounds like some pretty hot stuff.”
“Hotter than that pool of liquefied uranium underneath the Chernobyl Light Water Graphite Moderated Reactor,” I opined. “Potential dynamite – in the right hands, that is.”
“Ours, hopefully,” Merkin smirked.
“So,” I surmised, “all the rumors running around this town about using Section Four to get Donald Trump out of the Oval Office haven’t just been a lot of wishful thinking, then?”
“Well,” Merkin confessed, “I can’t say that there hasn’t been a certain amount of… hopeful speculation about it, but nevertheless, some important individuals are on the verge of getting quite serious about it.”
“So you and your… colleagues… have been polling the shrinks and the shysters alike, testing the waters, seeing which way the wind blows, so to speak?”
“We have been doing just that,” Merkin affirmed, “beating the bushes, so to speak, as I said, for a couple of weeks. We’ve been going to them, quietly, of course, and telling them we see President Trump pretty much every damn day, and it looks to us like he’s turning into a raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic, and then asking them, what the hell can we do about that under Section Four of the Twenty-fifth Amendment?”
“And can you tell me,” I requested, “what the consensus assessment of those learned ladies and gentlemen has been?”
“Sure,” Merkin shrugged. “The lawyers all tell us that being a raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic isn’t illegal and what’s more, it’s damn hard to prove, because you’d need at least three doctors to agree on what exact flavor of raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic Donald Trump is, and if you did, then you’d have to conclusively demonstrate that being that particular kind of raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic renders a person unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office of president of the United States.”
“And what,” I continued, “did the shrinks tell you?”
“Oh, them,” Merkin sighed with a heavenward roll of his eyes, “every single one of the various kinds of head doctors we asked about this all made a big, ponderous pedantic point of telling us that ‘raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic’ isn’t in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Then they rattled off a list of things that are, all of which some head doctor or another thinks Donald Trump might have, and some other head doctor thinks he probably doesn’t, but might have something else instead, and in any case, none of them could possibly make a definitive diagnosis without at least a three hour interview.”
“So bottom line,” I summarized, “is that (a) the president of the United States is turning into what any reasonable person can see is a raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic; and (b) any reasonable person can tell from reading Section Four of the Twenty-fifth Amendment that the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet could decide on that basis to declare Donald Trump unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office; but (c) the legal and medical experts the Cabinet has consulted aren’t reasonable people – they’re legal and medical experts; so (d) somebody in the Cabinet decided that under those circumstances, a reasonable person would send you to ask me what to do.”
“Not to put too fine a point on it,” Merkin confirmed, “but yes – exactly that. So – what are your thoughts on the subject?”
“You are aware, no doubt,” I mentioned, “that the special prosecutor investigating President Trump has produced at least one sealed indictment, and that arrests are imminent?”
“Of course,” Merkin acknowledged, “some small fish Mueller wants to lean on, most likely.”
“Naturally,” I agreed. “That would be classic Mueller, although he may surprise us with somebody major, such as Paul Manafort. But no matter who it is, I advise that you and your boss carefully observe Trump’s reaction.”
“What’s your reasoning there?” Merkin asked. “I mean, Trump’s already insane, right? So what difference would it make if the Justice Department hauls somebody away in handcuffs? What’s spitting in the [expletive] ocean?”
“True,” I clarified, “whoever it is, their arrest won’t necessarily make Trump any more insane than he already is. But individuals with the types of mental disorders most commonly attributed to Trump – admittedly, from afar, but nevertheless, five thousand shrinks agreeing with one another in groups of three to four hundred apiece simply can’t all be wrong – nutcases such as President Donald J. Trump invariably respond to what shrinks call ‘stressors,’ which is to say, some kind of triggering event which can be counted on to set them off. And, according to generally accepted psychological theories, when a triggering stressor event occurs, the aberrant behaviors which mark such individuals as mentally ill are magnified in frequency, intensity and level of physical expression. So if you want proof that Trump is a raving, bat-spit crazy lunatic, it could very well be coming quite soon, and served up to you on a silver platter, no less.”
“Okay, say that happens,” Merkin pondered, “what behaviors are you talking about?”
“Increased fabulism, almost certainly,” I opined.
“You mean lying?” Merkin huffed dismissively. “Trump already lies like a spoiled three-year-old.”
“No argument there,” I replied. “But after Mueller arrests someone, Trump’s fantasies are likely to go clear off the plausibility scale. When he starts telling lies that the polls show even the people who watch Fox News don’t believe, that will be a sure indication that he’s a mental case responding to a stressor.”
“What else?” Merkin pressed.
“Paranoid ideation,” I continued. “After the arrests, expect Trump to start finding disloyal traitors under every bed, behind every door, in every closet. His conspiracy theories will become even more baroque and Byzantine. Don’t be surprised if he starts accusing his own staff of spying on him, or of working for Mueller, or of being Democrat agents. He could start insisting that invisible drones are flying around the White House, or that insects in the Rose Garden are tiny little robots out to get him. He might even start believing that those around him – your boss, for instance – are wearing disguises, or that they have been replaced by impostor body doubles or even mechanical androids. And if he starts insisting that he hears voices, even if he says it’s God Almighty doing the talking when he prays, well then, you’ve got him right where you want him, because that will be the great, big neon sign floating over Trump with an arrow pointing at his head and the words ‘Bat-spit Crazy Lunatic’ flashing off and on in multiple colors.”
“We have to wait until he insists?” Merkin wondered. “How come?”
“Well,” I speculated, “he probably already hears things that aren’t there. His stomach squeaks and he thinks it’s an ex-spouse’s disembodied voice telling him she’s the First Lady, not Melania. But he still has enough grip on reality to realize it’s an auditory hallucination. You have to wait until he can’t make that distinction anymore – that’s when you will have what it takes to give him the old Section Four.”
“All right,” Merkin huffed, spreading his arms out slightly in a gesture of dismissive resignation, “we’ll wait until Trump starts proclaiming that he’s receiving policy guidance from the ghost of Roy Cohn and hope to hell that happens before he decides to nuke North Korea.”
“Which brings me to my next particular in the list,” I told him. “Irrational actions. Fortunately for the human race, not to mention the entire planet, it isn’t likely the first thing Trump will do when he finally snaps is try to blow up the world. It’s much more probable that he’s going to start off with something less… extreme… but still decidedly disturbing, like going off on a series of extended tirades during Cabinet meetings, for example. That ought to be easy for your boss and his colleagues to spot. Or he might start inventing megalomaniac embellishments to protocol, such as ordering that everyone on his staff get implanted with an electronic ID chip. Or maybe he’ll order new uniforms for the White House security force, like Nixon did when he was losing it, and have his entrances heralded by trumpet fanfares. The pattern is likely to start off with small aberrations, like Nixon’s, and subsequently escalate over time. At some point, the problem will become obvious – if he walks into the Oval Office naked, say, well then, Katy bar the door, that’s it.”
“Oh, God,” Merkin shuddered. “Trump naked! Did you have to say that? Now I’ve got this totally disgusting image stuck in my head and it won’t…”
“Sorry,” I apologized. “But consider this – there are at least three women who have had to actually look at that, and somehow, they managed to overcome the trauma. Which brings us to the next subject – loss of impulse control. As Trump’s Access Hollywood tape readily demonstrates, he’s always been pretty close to the line on the impulse control parameter. As the pressure mounts, he will start to venture across it, and again, it will be an escalation pattern where he goes further and further each time until a total loss of control becomes apparent.”
“So we wait until he actually grabs some woman by the [expletive]?” Merkin sought to confirm.
“In public, you mean?” I responded. “Molests her in front of witnesses, or preferably, in front of cameras? Yes, something along those lines would do the trick, but it would have to be that overt. No she-said, he-said stuff. If Slick Willie Clinton taught us anything, he taught us that. But loss of impulse control can take many forms besides an irresistible urge to pinch derrières or touch the bag at second base. The most obvious impulse control problem Trump has is a form of Internet addiction – his chosen Internet interface, of course, is Twitter. A major crack-up should be preceded by escalating uncontrolled tweeting, starting off, naturally, with a constant barrage about the Mueller investigation, each tweet more outrageous than the other. Many psychologists and psychiatrists suspect Trump has antisocial personality disorder, based, among other things, on his tweeting behavior. His tweets are filled with evidence clearly documenting Trump’s lack of empathy, inability to accept responsibility or exhibit remorse, innate aggression, bullying, deep-seated anger, persistent willfulness, vindictiveness and spitefulness. His use of Twitter to start gratuitous disagreements and fights with others bespeaks of a propensity for expression through projective arguments. All of these tie in with lack of impulse control, not only for antisocial personality disorder, but oppositional defiant disorder as well. It should be noted that individuals with antisocial personality disorder can, superficially at least, be very charming and often have marked ability to manipulate others, and Trump also displays ample evidence of those traits in his tweets. So you and your… colleagues… should baseline Trump’s tweets for these attributes and then monitor their relative frequency and intensity as various stressors, such as the Mueller investigation, impact him. Done properly, this approach will provide you will all the information necessary to determine exactly the right time to invoke Section Four and make President Donald J. Trump’s term of office the shortest since Zachary Taylor – or maybe Warren G. Harding, Gerald Ford or possibly Millard Fillmore.”
“Um… okay,” Merkin murmured, a fretful expression on his face. “This… uh… baselining and ah… monitoring you’re talking about – how would we do that?”
“Well,” I informed him, “it is, frankly, easier said than done. But if you wish, I could do it for you.”
At that, Merkin’s expression brightened considerably. “You could? How much?”
“Approximately sixteen to eighteen hours to set up the baselines,” I estimated, “followed by eight to ten hours per month of monitoring and analysis, and one hour per week to prepare a sanity monitoring report.”
Merkin slowly stroked his chin for several minutes, considering my proposal. “Sounds reasonable,” he uttered at last. “And you’ll let me know if Trump goes completely off the rails in time to avoid any… um… catastrophes?”
“I’ll be using proprietary software that employs state-of-the art data mining, analytics and predictive artificial intelligence heuristics to both compile attribute trend curves and produce significant incident alerts,” I assured him. “I guarantee, you’ll know Trump has lost it at least thirty-six hours before he realizes it himself.”
Merkin rose to shake my hand. “Now, that, Collins, is what I call value added. Get started on it right away.”
“Will do, sir,” I promised as I accepted his handshake. “It’s always a pleasure to serve the nation in a positive manner.”
“Right,” Merkin snorted as he made for the door, “like getting raving, bat-spit crazy lunatics out of the White House before they totally destroy the Republican Party.”
“Or something else important,” I added, “like the rule of law, the Constitution or maybe even civilization itself.”
Merkin paused with his hand on the doorknob and glanced back at me with an acid look. “Yeah, them too, I guess.”