Unless the person getting the boot is the star of Piranha 3DD and the position from which he is being removed is a fictitious one, President Trump prefers not to fire people in person. Trump was in New York on Monday for a meeting of the United Nations, which is one reason why reports that Rod Rosenstein had resigned or been fired after he was called to a meeting at the White House with John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, were widely believed.
At present it’s impossible to say whether the deputy attorney general will have a job after he sees Trump in person on Thursday. There remains a distinct possibility that a chastened Rosenstein, disavowing all talk of wiretapping and the 25th amendment and kowtowing before a president who demands a swift resolution of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, will remain in his position, especially if Trump feels at liberty to berate him on Twitter and in speeches.
But Rosenstein’s fate, and that of the special counsel whom he appointed, is ultimately irrelevant. This is a secret that even Trump does not seem to have guessed. If Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives, which seems likely, they plan to impeach Trump on any pretext, regardless of Mueller’s findings or lack of them. If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, which also seems likely, they will not remove Trump from office; he will remain in the White House, bloody but unbowed, on the charity of Mitch McConnell. This arrangement would suit both men fine. Congressional paralysis would not affect Trump.
Trump has, by his own lights, already made America great. Which of his toadies would dare suggest otherwise? The stock market has climbed precipitously, rising to heights of which Republicans had never dreamed. Taxes have been cut. The president, as I write this, is engaged not only in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement but in fundamentally remaking the nature of our trade relationship with China, in bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula, in reversing the supposed failures of the Obama administration in Iran and in Eastern Europe. All of these things have been done, with the exception of the tax bill, without the help of Congress and with the horrible shade of Mueller looming over him.
There is no better illustration of the weakness of our legislature or the indifference of our highest court than the success, as some would measure it, of Trump’s first two years in office. Even subjected to a formal investigation of virtually unlimited scope, to media scrutiny often indistinguishable from hysteria, and even to internal sabotage, the president can make and implement policy — in trade, in immigration, in foreign affairs — univocally.
This has been true for some time. Is anyone, apart from this columnist and a handful of aging reactionaries such as Roger Goodell, concerned with the fact that the possession and distribution of marijuana were federal crimes until President Obama decided that they were not to be treated as such? The rule of law is not an immutable norm to which institutions return following the pendulum shifts of errant administrative decisions but a dynamic force that proceeds outward from the whims of the executive branch. As the formal constitutional contradictions heighten and the hoary clichés of middle-school civics dissipate in the face of an impeached president still at the height of his powers, all of this will become impossible to deny or ignore.
This is a good thing for President Trump and his Republican supporters. Whether it is good for the country — and in the coming months and years, many who insisted it was under previous administrations will suggest otherwise — is an open question. Well-meaning progressives should ask themselves seriously whether they really care if the policy agenda they cherish is imposed by a series of executive orders and memoranda issuing forth from various executive agencies rather than from the lobbyist-haunted corridors of Capitol Hill.
The bottle-necking of American power into the narrow channel of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will continue regardless of whether Rosenstein is fired or the president is impeached, even if Trump himself is the last person to acknowledge this reality.