(CNN) What more does it take? President Donald Trump has brought the country to depths of division, unrest and instability that once would have been unthinkable — even if they were completely predictable. The entire world watched aghast as a mob of Trump supporters, whipped into a frenzy by the President’s incitement, stormed the US Capitol, smashing windows, forcing a lockdown and bringing a temporary end to a constitutionally mandated affirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
What more does it take?
It’s time for Vice President Mike Pence and the members of the Cabinet to pull the country back from the edge of abyss and remove Trump from office.
Trump has only a little less than two weeks left as president, but every day is a day he is harming the nation. Every day the damage is becoming more difficult to heal. Every day he is in office there is a very real possibility that he will unleash his backers in new and harmful ways. It’s no wonder people are using the term “civil war” when contemplating what could happen, although for now that, mercifully, still seems avoidable.
The scenes from the Capitol are being watched by the entire world. America has never been more profoundly humiliated. Its reputation lies in tatters. But the country is also facing one of the most crucial tests of its nearly 250-year history.
Will its democracy survive?
On the same day that Trump rallied his backers, turning them into a violent, law-breaking, destructive mob, Pence managed to stand up to the President publicly for the first time. As part of his pre-emptive coup attempt, his effort to keep American citizens from having the president they chose, Trump had been pressuring Pence to reject the Electoral College vote that had confirmed Biden’s victory.
Today, January 6, as dictated by the Constitution, was the day Pence was supposed to perform the duty of presiding over a joint session of Congress where both chambers would recount the Electoral College vote and declare Biden the winner. Trump wanted him to somehow turn the event into an opportunity to block Biden’s ascent. Pence found his voice and told him “No.”
In a letter released only hours before the session, while Trump was speaking to his supporters at a rally, Pence said, “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral vote should be counted and which should not.” He closed by noting that four years earlier he took the oath that ended with “So help me God,” and ended his letter by doing the same.
If Pence is thinking about his duty to the Constitution, and looking to God for strength, he should seek the courage to invoke 25th Amendment.
Until today, Pence had been one of Trump’s enablers, one of his accomplices. Now he has a chance to save the nation.
The Constitution didn’t give Pence the power to block Electoral College votes, but it gives him the ability to save the nation. Amendment 25, Section 4, says:
“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 United States is in the midst of an attempted coup d’etat by Trump and his backers. This is not a surprise. It’s the reason the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, had to remind the troops and reassure the country that the military would not get involved in domestic politics. It’s the reason all the living former secretaries of defense wrote a letter saying the military must be kept out of the political process.
It was almost inconceivable that it needed to be said. But does anyone now doubt that Trump would try to use the military to stay in power if they had the ability to do so?
The current national calamity is Trump’s fault, but it’s not his alone. Every member of Congress who enabled him — Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, all of the Republicans who excused his increasingly alarming transgressions over the years — helped bring us to this place. The scores who joined in his outrageous efforts to claim the election was rigged bear even more guilt.
And, yes, Pence has been one of those enablers. But he now has the ability to start atoning. He should organize the removal of Trump from power to stay the President’s hand so the country can at least limit Trump’s ability to cause even more injuries to the nation. Two weeks of a presidency is not a long time, but the risk now is much too great.
Despite pleas from inside and outside the building, Trump delayed any instructions to his backers to get out of the Capitol. Pence, with a newfound strength, told them to “immediately leave the building.” When Trump finally released a video telling them to go home, he used it to repeat the lie that the election was stolen and seemed to be preparing his backers for another push.
By then, of course, Trump had already turned the mobs against his vice president.
What more does it take?
The whole world is watching. It’s watching guns be drawn inside the House of Representatives, just feet away from elected members of Congress. It’s watching Trump’s mobs try to replace the American flag with a Trump flag over the Capitol. It’s watching rioters in the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate, threatening police inside the Capitol, violating the sanctity of what was once the shrine of representative democracy.
What more does it take?
At this moment when everything is at stake, Pence can not only save the country, but he can also start the process of repairing America’s battered reputation. He can reassure shaken Americans and show the rest of the world that the Constitution he swore to defend is so wise, perhaps divinely inspired, that it contains the mechanism to save itself and the country from the unimaginable, a coup attempt by a sitting president of the United States.
Invoke the 25th Amendment. Remove Trump now.
Opinion by Frida Ghitis