As the US reels from the insurrection and attack on the Capitol, calls to remove Trump grow. Foreign Editor David Pratt looks at how his presence in or out of office will continue to bedevil and imperil America

Amid the flurry of responses in the US press these past days to the unprecedented scenes in the Capitol, some lines from one article caught my eye.

They were written by David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and seem to distill the poison that plagues America right now. Let me quote those lines here.

“But there are dark spectres running through our nation – beasts with shaggy manes and feral teeth. They have the stench of Know-Nothingism, the hot blood of the lynchers, and they ride the winds of nihilistic fury,” wrote Brooks.

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter: Trump's stupid white riot has handed the future to the left

Those spectres, that fury, those lynchers have, of course, long existed in America. But few now within Washington’s corridors of power and among its citizenry are in any doubt that those who make up the current ranks of such hatemongers were openly stirred into action last Wednesday by President Donald Trump.

Trump’s subsequent address to the nation on Friday, in which he finally conceded the election to President-elect Joe Biden and promised an “orderly” transition of power, is fooling few. The president has spoken too often with forked tongue for any but the most gullible to be taken in again.

As many observers have remarked, the whole “conciliatory” tone of Trump’s televised address was at odds with the man’s character and bizarrely reminiscent of those speeches made by hostages under duress.

The words might have come from the president’s mouth, but no-one for a moment believed that it was what he wanted to say or that the script had not been carefully written by other, more rational individuals.

Those that drafted the speech did so perhaps through misguided loyalty or were simply ordered to, so helping protect Trump from legal exposure related to events that played out last Wednesday. Whatever their motives, the speech was a sign of how vulnerable Trump now is.

But as experience has shown, with vulnerability comes Trump rage and potential backlash. According to White House sources cited by the US press, the president is said to be “consumed with anger”, “ranting” and “in a very dark place”.

They say Trump is more preoccupied with his election loss than remorseful for the riot or deaths that resulted from the violence at the Capitol last week.

“It’s like watching someone self-destruct in front of your very eyes, and you can’t do anything,” one adviser who recently spoke to Trump was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying.

But if the president is angry and in a dark or uncertain place, then so too is America at this moment in time. Trump and what he might do next remains unfinished business – as does what should be done about him and those who did his bidding in what Biden called an “insurrection” and others an attempted “coup”.

Three years, 11 months and 17 days after Trump warned from the West Front of the US Capitol building that “American carnage stops right here”, the very spot on which he stood making that inaugural address was engulfed by his own protesters bringing carnage of their own.

Even if Trump does leave office in 10 days’ time, Biden, in his own inaugural speech, will know that he’s left with the daunting challenge of picking up the pieces of that carnage and healing the festering wound that comes with it.

Hardly surprising, then, that many see the place to start in tacking such challenges is in ensuring Trump’s capacity to personally foment more trouble is emasculated once and for all.

But for Biden, much as he would like to see Trump and others held accountable, this poses something of a political dilemma.

READ MORE: The most memorable and controversial tweets from Donald Trump

As CNN journalist Jeff Zeleny perceptively asked on Friday, would the new president really want his first 100 days to be about Trump’s last two weeks?

Biden has so much he needs to get done – tacking the coronavirus pandemic that still ravages America being an obvious priority. Then there are the issues of Obamacare and tax revisions.

Becoming bogged down with a protracted legal battle over Trump’s abuses would not only absorb valuable time and energy but ensure wounds remained open while angering “ordinary” Trump supporters and his extremist far-right cadres alike.

Then again, such threats to the new administration and America’s democracy will never recede unless Biden and the Democrats, along with those Republicans who recognise the danger, take concerted action against Trump.

As time of writing, calls for invoking the 25th Amendment – allowing for the removal of a president from office or further impeachment proceedings against Trump – are gaining volume and traction. Options that were deemed somewhat distant at the start of last week are now common currency in Washington discourse.

But as a Financial Times editorial also pointed out, neither invoking the Amendment nor impeachment guarantees order. Each would almost certainly increase the far-right’s baseless sense of dispossession and Trump doesn’t need formal office from which to inflame them.

Meanwhile, it’s a measure of the bad place in which Trump now finds himself that Jay Timmons, the head of a major US business group that represents 14,000 companies including ExxonMobil Corp, Pfizer Inc and Toyota Motor Corp, has urged senior political figures to consider removing the president.

Trump “incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favour of anarchy”, said Timmons, chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers, a business body usually politically well-disposed towards Trump and his Republican administration.

For the 25th Amendment to be invoked, vice-president Mike Pence and most of Trump’s Cabinet would need to declare that Trump is unable to perform the duties of the presidency and remove him. Pence would take over in that scenario, but he has reportedly ruled out the idea even though pressure on him to do so continues to mount.

Meanwhile, other voices calling for Trump’s ouster are more predictable. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, and Chuck Schumer, the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, have called for the Amendment to be invoked and warned that they would proceed with impeachment efforts otherwise.

These and other Democrats are joined by a growing number of Republicans who have joined the chorus for Trump to be removed from office, including former White House chief of staff John Kelly and the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan.

The reality, though, is that the constitutional mechanisms to remove the president are cumbersome and give him the benefit of the doubt. That said, the arguments and capacity to do so remain and in Trump’s case are perhaps more clear-cut, say some legal experts.

Frank Bowman, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Missouri, said Trump “arguably fomented sedition”, or an attempted overthrowing of the US government.

But Bowman said Trump could also be impeached for a more general offence: disloyalty to the US Constitution and failing to uphold his oath of office. Congress has discretion in defining a high crime and misdemeanour and is not limited to actual criminal offences.

“The essential offence would be one against the Constitution – one of essentially trying to undermine the lawful results of a lawfully conducted election,” Bowman said, speaking to Reuters news agency.

There is also an argument that an impeachment could be continued after Trump leaves office. Some observers say that potentially impeachment is even more valuable than removing him by Amendment because it would bar him from holding public office in the future.

Trump has said more than once he might run again for office in 2024, even if the toxicity associated with the Trump political name and brand is now such that this seems increasingly unlikely.

Short of the pressing need to remove Trump quickly over fears he might yet again unleash his “troll army”, as one pundit called it, or detonate some political time bomb such as provoking Iran before his term ends, by far Biden’s priority in response will be to establish calm and a renewed sense of confidence in America’ s democratic processes and institutions.

However, some US watchers insist it’s still too early to determine precisely what Biden’s strategy towards Trump will be and what the attack on the Capitol means for America in the longer term. “Either it marked the beginning of the end of Trumpism, or another stage in the unravelling of American liberal democracy,” observed another NYT columnist, Michelle Goldberg, last week.

While uncertainty remains, commentators and counterterrorism experts alike say it confirmed something that has been obvious for years now. In short, America has a national security problem in the form of the far-right.

“The extremist violent faction views today as a huge win,” Elizabeth Neumann, a former Trump counterterrorism official who has accused the president of encouraging white nationalists, told the NYT in the wake of last Wednesday’s insurrection.

Neumann also pointed out that “The Turner Diaries”, the seminal white nationalist novel written by William Luther Pierce, published under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, depicting a violent revolution in America, features a mortar attack on the Capitol.

“This is like a right-wing extremist fantasy that has been fulfilled,” said Neumann of the recent events in Washington.

But it’s not just the extremists who have to be called out, insist some critics of the Trump administration. This often-shadowy world of the far-right, fuelled by paranoia, conspiracy misinformation and grievance, has all too frequently received a helping hand from America’s mainstream conservatives of which Trump is only part, critics insist.

“Almost all of the Republicans on Capitol Hill let him do it. They aided and abetted him. They voted to acquit him of impeachment charges. They endorsed him for re-election,” explained Susan B Glasser, staff writer at The New Yorker, who writes on life in Trump’s Washington.

Even after Trump decisively lost the election, Glasser points out, Republicans across Washington went along with him as he spread lies and conspiracy theories.

“When Trump called for a final reckless coup against the constitutional order, many were willing to follow him even to this legal, political, and moral dead end – cynical opportunists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, in the Senate, and a majority of House Republicans, including their leader, Kevin McCarthy, of California. But now not all,” Glasser continued, hinting at some shift in thinking.

In the coming days there will be many questions to ponder over what happened last week in the Capitol. Questions over security and those asking what efforts are being made to identify and charge those Trump supporters who attacked police? Questions too will continue over what to do about Trump himself?

Then there will be the even bigger ones to ponder about America’s democratic credentials and place in the world.

Writing in Foreign Policy magazine these past few days, Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, the US-based organisation that advises and assists on behalf of governments, ministries and NGOs in governance projects, summed up how pressing answers to all these questions now are for America’s political wellbeing.

“Based on my experience working on election observation and democracy promotion in some 50 countries over the last 30-plus years, I am convinced that the chances of the US remaining a genuine democracy may well depend on the way the country’s leaders and institutions now react,” observed Bjornlund, who firmly believes that Trump must now be removed or impeached.

“Mobs storming parliaments are all but a definition of a fragile democracy,” he added in warning.

This weekend, barely 10 days before Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, Trump remains a loose political cannon – fully primed.

As I write, two news stories are breaking from the wire services on my computer. The first, not surprisingly, is that Trump will break with custom and not attend Biden’s inauguration. The second, from the Financial Times, rather chillingly reads: “Pelosi contacts US military officer to warn of ‘unstable president’ launching nuclear strike.”

Yes, Donald Trump’s authority might be ebbing before our eyes, but he remains president for the next 10 days barring moves to drag him out of the White House.

He also remains both stubborn and dangerous. Even when gone from the Oval Office, his malign presence will continue to bedevil and imperil America for some time to come.