The Drunkard’s Walk: How Evolution Explains Why Trump Will Soon Be Impeached

If it be not now, yet it will come

Politics Features Donald Trump
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Evolution Explains Why Trump Will Soon Be Impeached

Trump will be impeached. Given certain observable facts about the known cosmos, the inevitability of Donald Trump being forced out of office grows every day.

How can I be so sure of this—so sure that I have given this feature a Malcolm Gladwell-style title? The New Yorker just had a long piece by Evan Osnos about the possibility of impeachment. That article is titled “How Trump Could Get Fired.” (Italics mine) If the New Yorker cannot guarantee Trump’s political demise, what tells me it will happen?

It doesn’t take an act of God. Nor does it require the Democrats to become good at their jobs, or for the GOP to become moral, or any other impossibility. It doesn’t demand the karma police or the age of heroes reborn or your cousin writing a dozen protest songs with his new girlfriend. All that is required for impeachment is for laws of the universe to continue, and for Trump to stay Trump.

The Drunkard’s Walk tells me everything I need to know about the eventuality of Trump leaving office.


By Drunkard’s Walk, I do not mean the actual walk we have all done at some point. The Drunkard’s Walk is a concept taken from biology. The scientist Stephen Jay Gould thought there was no directionality in evolution, no “progress.” He believed evolution was a series of unplanned genetic changes. But there does seem to be progress: complex animals come from simpler ones. How it possible for two-legged apes with therapists to emerge from a lot of random mutations? As an explanation, Gould proposed the Drunkard’s Walk model of evolution.

In the example of the Drunkard’s Walk, you have to imagine an intoxicated person, walking down a sidewalk. To his back is the bar, which he has just been kicked out of. He can’t go back in. He has to walk forward. The intoxicated person is blotto and has no idea where he is going, or what’s happening. He has no agenda, just as a cell has no agenda.

There is a wall to his left, and a street to his right. The Drunkard’s Walk suggests he will eventually land in the street, even without meaning to, because he cannot go left beyond the wall, but he can eventually go into the street. After enough random stumbles, the numbers suggest he will topple into the gutter.

The message of the Drunkard’s Walk is that we can arrive at a destination, without really meaning to.

In biology, Gould used the Drunkard’s Walk to help explain evolution. Like the intoxicated person, cells don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t plan on getting more elaborate. But there is a wall in evolution, the complexity of a cell. That’s the limit: cells are not going to simply disassemble, since cells are basically machines for making copies of themselves. There’s nowhere to go, except for becoming more complicated. Eventually, given enough time and enough randomness, a cell will “fall in the street”—grow complex. The cell didn’t mean to end up in the street; it didn’t mean to do anything. It doesn’t have a brain, after all. Set enough boundaries, and a direction can emerge without intention.

Although Gould’s example was designed to describe the unconscious actions of cells, Gould’s example can also be applied to careless public figures.

In politics, despite his famous aversion to alcohol, Trump is the very intoxicated man.

He has no plan. No idea where he is going. But he will still end up in the street, face down in the gutter.


All of the following are true:

A) Trump is President.
B) Trump will never quit.
C) With poor impulse control, a complaisant Congress, and a team of yes-men, Trump has no checks to stop him from doing goofy stuff.

If it isn’t Comey or the Russians, it will be the next thing. Or the next thing after that. Trump will keep having penny-ante dumb reactions until it’s too much. Not because he is a Machiavellian monster but because he’s a barely-aware toddler who lives in a narcissistic envelope. He will threaten the Republican agenda to the point where even the leaders of Congress cannot abide it.

We normally think of impeachment as the countermeasure against scheming, power-hungry Presidencies. But for the purposes of my prediction, it doesn’t matter if Trump is deliberately undermining the Constitution or colluding with Putin. We get the same results whether he has an agenda or not. Personally, I don’t think Trump plans anything. I think he is an old playboy with appetites and poor impulse control. In a metaphoric sense, he is permanently drunk.

Gould wrote that the simplest possible organism can only become more complex or stay the same. Let us consider his example as it applies to Trump.

The intoxicated person leaving the bar can’t go back in the bar. A legally-sworn in politician can’t un-President himself. Trump can’t go back in the bar—that is, be a private citizen and a President at the same time. The President cannot leave the spotlight. He cannot fail to discharge the duties of the office; he must keep appearing in public and saying many words and exercising many powers.

The intoxicated person cannot go left, because he will run into the wall. Trump is a prideful man who has become President. He will not quit.

The intoxicated person keeps taking random steps, because at this precise moment, he cannot sober up. Trump is unlikely to change, or submit to someone else trying to change him. God help me, but I am about to quote Ross Douthat from the Times. Douthat says about Trump’s child-like incomprehension:

But ultimately I do not believe that our president sufficiently understands the nature of the office that he holds, the nature of the legal constraints that are supposed to bind him, perhaps even the nature of normal human interactions, to be guilty of obstruction of justice in the Nixonian or even Clintonian sense of the phrase. I do not believe he is really capable of the behind-the-scenes conspiring that the darker Russia theories envision. And it is hard to betray an oath of office whose obligations you evince no sign of really understanding or respecting. … leaving a man this witless and unmastered in an office with these powers and responsibilities is an act of gross negligence.

Trump will not change. He will stay politically intoxicated and oblivious, stumbling randomly, governing on impulse, screaming at cable news.

If the intoxicated person cannot go back to the safety of the bar, go through the wall, or sober up, he will eventually fall in the street.
If Trump cannot become a private citizen again, stop being President, or change his behavior, he will eventually be impeached.

Given these constraints, it is inevitable that the intoxicated person falls into the gutter. And it is pre-ordained that Trump be impeached.

These are odd times. As the New Yorker points out, most impeachments are driven by struggles for power. Andrew Johnson couldn’t abide freed slaves or Radical Republicans, so he flouted the law and eventually dodged removal by one vote. At the height of his popularity and strength, Nixon struck out in paranoia against his perceived enemies. His eventual cover-up involved violating the balance of powers, so he was dispatched. Clinton surrendered to his appetites, so the Congress saw their chance to kneecap him. Trump is unpopular. A substantial portion of the populace hates and fears him, but this is different. He is not a shrewd man, but a helpless one. He will go out the door the same way he came in: by the power of his bungling and despite the incompetence of his enemies.

He will be removed from office, and then Pence will be President, and the GOP agenda will sail through Congress in about ninety days. But Trump will be gone, and there will be a diminished risk of the world ending or the Constitution dying today. Those of us on the left will deal with the devil we know, and not with the baffling demon we have never seen.

Impeaching a President is no small act. When a government falls in the gutter, we all fall with it. But as a wise man once said, when the fall is all there is, it matters.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin