In August of 1974, facing impeachment, his presidency coming apart at the seams, his world crashing down around him, Richard Nixon resigned as 37th president of the United States. He was the first, and so far only, president in our nation’s history to resign.
Today, his presidency coming apart at the seams, his world crashing down around him, Donald Trump should resign. With less than two weeks remaining before his term officially comes to an end, Trump’s resignation would be more symbolic than substantive – but it would be an important symbol, showing that the 45th president understands, or at least acknowledges, the explosion of disgust and indignation his conduct has generated all across America.
Calls in recent days to force Trump out of office through impeachment or use of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution are themselves largely symbolic. Impeachment, as we have seen in the past – and as recently as December 2019, when Congress impeached Trump – is a time-consuming process. And none of the three presidential impeachments in U.S history has ever resulted in a president being removed from office.
The 25th Amendment, which provides for the vice president and a majority of Cabinet members to declare the president unfit to fulfill his duties, is likewise a complicated process and has never been tested. There would surely be legal obstacles to invoking its provisions, particularly against a president as litigious as Trump has been.
There is some historical debate as to whether Nixon reached the decision to resign on his own or was persuaded to leave office by a contingent of congressional leaders, fellow Republicans, who met with him the day before he announced his resignation. It doesn’t matter, really. Nixon did the right thing. By leaving office, he spared the country the divisive spectacle of impeachment and potential removal of a president and ended what his successor Gerald Ford later called “our long national nightmare.”
Despite the high crimes and misdemeanors he clearly committed in connection with the Watergate scandal that destroyed his presidency, Nixon was at heart a patriot. He had proved it once before, in 1960, when he lost an agonizingly close election to Democrat John F. Kennedy and decided not to challenge the results despite allegations of voter fraud. These were serious and perhaps provable allegations, mind you, not made-up fantasies, but Nixon believed it would be in the best interest of the country to let the election results stand. He conceded defeat and Kennedy became president.
Whether or not Donald Trump is a patriot is a matter of debate. He claims to be. His supporters say he loves this country and that even his most questionable actions are motivated by his determination to preserve America’s greatness. If that is true, he now has an opportunity to prove it.
Trump is now condemning the mob violence he fomented at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 but that condemnation is too little, too late. At the time that pro-Trump thugs were invading and vandalizing the seat of our democracy, Trump released a video message telling the invaders he appreciated them and loved them. That statement alone was enough to disqualify him from serving one more day as president.
We know this plea is almost certainly falling on deaf ears – the president’s and his loyalists’ – but it’s a plea that must be made. Trump has abused his power and demeaned his office relentlessly for four years but his incitement of a riot that led to the deaths of five people, including a U.S. Capitol police officer injured while defending that treasured building, was beyond the pale – for any American, much less the president of the United States.
Trump has proved himself unfit to be our president. He must resign. He must do it now.