Why are we not out in the streets?
We really are a nation of sheep. I don’t wanna sound like a xenophile, but I can hardly think of another Western country where the people would take an outrage like this lying down.
Our ruling political party just shamelessly whitewashed the most egregious imaginable corruption by its leader, demonstrating a contempt for the rule of law that is truly gobsmacking. In fact, they went even further than that: on the way, they argued for near-absolute, unfettered power for that leader. And as the kicker, all of it involves their attempts to undermine the fundamental fairness of the one mechanism they claim is our recourse, which is free elections, that they would turn into a sham.
And here among the engaged segment of citizenry there is moaning and lamentations and wringing of hands as we ponder what we ought to do. But what we won’t do—not yet anyway—is let our wrath be felt by putting these gargoyles on notice, by harnessing the power of public dissent and making it known that that we will not stand for this bullshit.
But by all means enjoy the Super Bowl…..
ACQUITTAL WITHOUT EXONERATION, OR EVEN ACQUITTAL
As the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser wrote, “The Senate can stop pretending now.”
Over the first ten days of Donald Trump’s trial, and particularly in the three consecutive days that the House managers had to make their case uninterrupted, the Democrats mounted a professional, proficient, methodical argument for his removal from power. The fact the craven Republican Party refused to acknowledge the evidence and even objective reality is an act that will stain its members forever.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois noted that this White House could not find even one witness who would stand up under oath and defend what Trump did. But there were loads of them—Trump’s own staffers and appointees—lined up to testify under oath about his misdeeds. Which is why the White House was so desperate to block that.
In a scathing editorial, the New York Times wrote:
(Senate Republicans) didn’t refuse to hold a fair trial so much as they refused to hold any trial at all. Of course, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader for whom bipartisanship is a dirty word, had promised no less. He announced in December that he planned to work in complete coordination with the White House in protecting the president from any accountability, and that he had no intention of honoring the oath he would take to be an impartial juror.
The irony is stifling. For months, Mr. McConnell and other Republicans complained that the impeachment process was being rushed, that the president was being denied basic procedural protections, and that there was no testimony from those with the most direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s actions and motivations. Then they refused to hear from a single witness and refused to demand a single document from the White House…..
I’m beginning to think the Republican Party might be slightly hypocritical.
The vote…..brings the nation face to face with the reality that the Senate has become nothing more than an arena for the most base and brutal—and stupid—power politics. Faced with credible evidence that a president was abusing his powers, it would not muster the institutional self-respect to even investigate….
Chuck Schumer referred to the “permanent asterisk” that would be by Trump’s name in the history books. With characteristic élan, Nancy Pelosi went further, saying Trump won’t be acquitted at all. “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial,” she said. “And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation.”
I am going to adopt Nancy’s attitude, and I encourage you all to do the same. Previously my position was that we were going to have “acquittal without exoneration.” But truly, this is not even acquittal by any reasonable definition of the word.
The man who delivered the coup de grace, longtime Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), took the absurd position that the House managers had more than proved their case; he just didn’t think it was a big deal. (On the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, Alexander was even more appallingly dismissive.) But as I noted last week, this is not a position the White House defense team argued, opting instead for their boss’s preferred argument, “I am a king.”
In explaining his decision, Alexander argued that Trump’s removal ought to be settled in the next election. But the WaPo’s Greg Sargent blisteringly dismantled that irrational position, which he describes as “self-refuting”:
What Alexander fails to acknowledge is that Trump’s own conduct was both an effort to solicit foreign help in rigging that very election and a clear sign Trump believes it’s absolutely within his authority to continue using his official powers to do just that…..
Alexander’s position—that Trump did solicit foreign help in the election, but it’s up to voters to impose accountability for it—refutes itself. While acknowledging the corruption Trump is capable of, it clearly tells Trump he can continue corrupting that very mechanism of accountability with impunity….
A vote against witnesses—especially when paired with an acknowledgment of Trump’s corruption—can only be a vote to carry through Trump’s own coverup to completion, leaving the country exposed, adrift and in the dark, unable to know precisely what Trump is prepared to inflict on us.
The last point is especially true given that it was clear that there was a mountain of relevant evidence that the ostrich-like Senate refused to examine, let alone reveal to the public. As Garry Kasparov puts it:
Trump’s actions were not an attack on Ukraine or on Biden, but on the integrity of the presidency, US elections and American democracy. And it was surely just the tip of the iceberg. Alexander admitting that and not caring is doubly cowardly.
Alexander, of course, is retiring and has nothing to lose by standing up to Trump, making it all the more disheartening that he chose not to do so. If any Republican in the Senate could take a stand on “principle,” it’s him. So watching him cast the deciding vote that not only sealed Trump’s (fake) acquittal, but protected him from further public exposure of his crimes, ought to disabuse us all of the notion that Republicans are somehow holding their noses when they support and abet this bastard. They have no principles to compromise, apart from maintaining their own power, lining their pockets, and serving the venal interests of their own kind. They are active, enthusiastic accomplices to Trump’s ongoing corruption.
So is Trump using the GOP or is the GOP using Trump, or is it both? And which is worse?
GRAND OLD PARTY
And so, with the announcement of his vote, Alexander put an end to this kabuki.
But what of the other Republicans?
Walter Sujansky writes that many of them “were contorting into pretzels to explain their votes, but Marco Rubio took the prize with the most mealy-mouthed and self-contradictory rationalization”:
(Rubio said), “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.” That’s like a juror saying “the evidence convinced me that he committed a serious crime, but I think we should let him go free because he’s my boss and I might lose my job if he’s not around to run the business.”
And watch: that will not be good enough for Trump, who demands not just a defense of “wrong but not impeachable” (per Alexander), or “impeachable but never mind” (Rubio), but affirmation of no wrongdoing at all—a Dershowitzean decree of l’etat c’est him. Look for Little Marco to get bitch-slapped by the White House and quiveringly backpedal on even this initial statement, embracing instead the “perfect call” stance. Somebody get him a glass of water.
In fact, as I also wrote last week, Trump’s legal team—especially the vile Mr. Dershowitz— went much further even than that, offering what Amy Davidson Sorkin of the New Yorker called “a pseudo-intellectual scaffold for Trump’s self-delusion.”
Dershowitz was arguing that, as Schiff said on Thursday, if the President believes that a deal is in his political interest, “then it doesn’t matter how corrupt that quid pro quo is.” Schiff was not exaggerating when he called this argument “a descent into constitutional madness”……
(B)y Dershowitz’s logic, a President could not only seek foreign assistance in a campaign; he could unleash any number of investigations into his political opponents, declare spurious emergencies to prevent their parties’ political gatherings, engage in surveillance, or take measures to limit access to polling stations—suppressing, rather than amplifying, voters’ voices.
As Jamil Smith wrote in Rolling Stone, leave it to Trump to use even impeachment to grab even MORE power.
Meanwhile, Rand Paul disgraced himself by trying to get Chief Justice Roberts to name the original Ukrainegate whistleblower…..and when Roberts refused, did it himself at a press conference.
Kentucky might have the worst two senators in the country which is saying something.
Speaking of which, once he knew he had the votes to block witnesses, the senior Senator from the Bluegrass State, Mr. McConnell, gave Susan Collins a “hall pass” (in the worlds of Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes) so she could vote “yes” for witnesses, purely to help her on Election Day in purplish Maine, where she rightly faces an electorate furious at her cowardice on Kavanaugh and throughout this administration in general. (No US Senator is less popular in their home state.)
Yes vote last week or no, she still richly deserves to be chucked out of office, and rob Moscow Mitch of one more seat in his caucus.
And lastly there is Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Susan’s pal, once thought to be a likely “yes” vote on witnesses, whom the New York Times described as engaging in “a suffocating tautology” when she announced she was voting no:
Ms. Murkowski was saying that because the trial would be unfair, she would vote to prevent witnesses, ensuring that the trial would be unfair. On the other hand, her statement was such a searing indictment of the institution’s capacity to perform a critical constitutional function that one wonders how she can bear to work there.
FEBRUARY SPAWNED A MONSTER
We all knew this was coming of course, but to be on the verge of actually watching it happen is still grim and depressing. Is it any comfort to know that we are on the side of the angels and that history will remember these Republican men and women as the cowards, quislings, co-conspirators, accomplices, and in some cases outright traitors that they are? I don’t know, but it’s all we got.
It’s strange how we talk of the acquittal being “set for” Wednesday, like a scheduled C-section. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to look upon the Rosemary’s baby it promises to bring forth. At least Trump has been denied the full force of trumpeting his latest Houdini-like escape during the Super Bowl and the State of the Union, though he’ll do his best of course. Throughout this ordeal it was often said that if Nixon had had Fox News, he wouldn’t have been forced to resign. I guess that’s been proved true.
And so Trump’s lifelong run of vastly undeserved good luck continues, proving that there is no God.
The comedy writer Peter Mehlman of “Seinfeld” fame (the “shrinkage” episode, the “yada yada yada” episode, among many many others) tells an anecdote about being a young man working for Howard Cosell in the 1980s, and being present when Cosell interviewed the young-ish up-and-coming Trump, who back then was just a brash and crass and relentlessly self-promoting New York real estate developer and running punchline in Spy magazine, not a potential Mussolini.
Afterward, Mehlman reports, Cosell remarked privately, “That’s the dumbest, luckiest SOB I ever met.”
I miss Howard.
As we come to terms with Trump’s (non-)acquittal, we all know what will happen next. He will surely be further emboldened by his latest escape from justice, having gotten away with yet another epic set of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Going forward Trump will no doubt behave in an even more brazenly criminal and unfettered way with even less fear of being held accountable—if you can conceive of that. He will also surely act vindictively to punish those who attempted to do so.
The implications are terrifying. As Sargent writes, “There is zero doubt Trump will continue to abuse his powers in any way he sees fit to solicit more foreign interference—or potentially to wield the government against his 2020 opponents in more grave ways.”
Steve Almond again:
The moment he’s acquitted, we know Trump will immediately crow about his glorious exoneration, because his entire brand is based on impunity—the idea that he is powerful enough to say and do whatever he wants without consequence.
This exoneration, in turn, will establish a new precedent: for Trump himself, and all future presidents. They’ll forever more be able to pressure a foreign government to dig up dirt on opponents, freely subvert our elections and block Congress from investigating them. This behavior will no longer be abuse of power. It will become standard operating procedure.
And former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal:
If Trump is acquitted, he can call on foreign governments tomorrow to investigate every Democrat in our nation (and do so in secret). He can ask DOJ to target every Democrat as well, too. And his legal argument, voiced by his lawyer, is that there is nothing wrong with this. Buyer beware.
Of course, this is a one-way street, one affixed with tire puncturing spikes, as the author Michael Gruber writes:
Let us also note that any Democrat who approaches a foreign power with an offer of special help if elected, in return for, say, hacking Trump’s financials, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY THE SAME
Of course, the GOP can’t keep the truth from drip drip dripping out—or even gush gush gushing. What will happen when it does? Needless to say, MAGA Nation won’t care, and the Republican leadership will try to ignore it, but the further airing of evidence promises to make their craven actions even more blatantly shameful, for those who give a shit.
Bolton’s book has already made fools of the GOP, not that it derailed the 9:15 Acquittal Special, making stops on Capitol Hill, Mar-a-Lago, and Trump Tower Moscow. Then, within hours of Senate Republicans voting to end the trial without hearing from Bolton or anyone else, or considering any evidence, the Trump administration admitted in federal court that it was withholding two dozen crucial emails containing precisely the kind of the information germane to the proceeding: Trump’s orders regarding the withholding of military aid to Ukraine.
Yet Senate Republicans still stubbornly crossed their arms and insisted, “Nope, we don’t need to see any of that.”
And now we have just learned that White House counsel Pat Cipolline was in the goddam room when Donald Trump directed John Bolton to withhold aid to Ukraine, and Bolton refused. And yet there Cipolline stood, for days, in front of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and all 100 assembled members of the United States Senate, the “greatest deliberative body in the world” (stop, stop—it hurts when I laugh) insisting that there was no evidence whatsoever that Trump knew anything about the scheme, which Cipolline knew firsthand was a bald-faced lie.
That all by itself is a world-beating scandal, or should be. That it isn’t is a terrible indictment of how cynical and numb to corruption we have become in the past 300 years since Trump took office.
Cipolline is a material witness to this impeachable offense and ought to be subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and disbarred, or worse.
What the United States look like on the other side of this debacle remains to be seen, but it doesn’t look promising.
It’s true that Trump will be tarred forever with the stain of impeachment, which he clearly knows, and which clearly eats at him. But he will not have been truly held to account, not by a long shot.
Impeachment has loomed so large over this entire presidency since day one (per the right wing complaint) that it’s hard to imagine what life will be like when it is over. I realize that Trump can be impeached again, and will surely do things to deserve it, very possibly things even worse than he’s already done. I’m not at all against a second impeachment (or a third, or a fourth), although I think they stand even less chance of helping our cause, thanks to sheer fatigue, and the danger that they would feed Republican spin about so-called Trump Derangement Syndrome. Continued investigation, on the other hand, is a certainty, especially as more facts come out. But its objective will be aimed primarily at the ballot box.
So for all practical purposes, what we will be left with is the election. That will be a brave new world, and perhaps the forced focus on that will be a good thing.
I would like to believe that the American people will display enough collective common sense to throw every last Republican bum out in a sweeping cleaning of house in November, chucking not only Trump but also McConnell, Graham, Collins, and all the rest out on their ears. However I am not convinced that that will happen, given the demonstrated willingness of millions of our fellow Americans not only to put up with this bullshit, but to actively cheer it, and of millions of others to be too apathetic to get off their fat asses and vote.
A significant section of American people just don’t give a shit—not a majority, but enough to allow others to put a chokehold on our government, given its counter-majoritarian mechanisms. Barring a national awakening, I have little optimism that those disastrous institutional flaws will ever be rectified. On the contrary, under continued Republican control they are apt to get worse.
Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the GOP does not intend to participate in a fair vote in 2020, or ever again, and that Trump will not willingly leave office regardless of the results. Hell, this entire impeachment was about trying to cheat in the next election! And by letting Trump skate—indeed, arguing that he was within his authority in what he did—the Republican Party has bluntly announced that it is going to cheat in 2020! We can’t say we weren’t warned.
If Trump does manage to win in November, legally or illegally, God knows what the next four years and beyond will look like. It remains possible, as many warned, that the impeachment hearings will galvanize his fanatic base and prove a boon to him. That has always been a danger, no matter what. But we had no choice. Absent impeachment, the GOP would have manufactured something else with which to whip those folks into a foaming-mouthed fury. They may yet do so.
But as I’ve argued numerous times, impeachment was the right thing to do not only on principle, but tactically as well. Even without a conviction, the process aired many of Trump’s worst crimes and made the case against him to voters. The House managers cogently laid out an impressive case publicly airing the evidence of his unfitness for office and his removal therefrom. It is inconceivable that these proceedings have not done damage to Trump. He certainly thinks so. The Senate Republicans certainly think so, based on their transparently desperate efforts to stop it. Some have even copped to it on the record. Even the faux acquittal has done so. Whether that translates into electoral victory in November, notwithstanding foreign interference, Republican ratfucking, and other skullduggery and attempts to rig the election, I don’t know.
If this thorough public accounting of Trump’s wrongdoing and unfitness does not sufficiently move the electorate, that will be a truly depressing verdict on the moral courage of the American people or lack thereof. And if it makes his followers and undecided voters like him more, we’ve got bigger problems than just tactics.
In the words of Adam Schiff:
If right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is,” Schiff said. “It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. Doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. Doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost….
You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed.
WHAT CAN A POOR BOY DO?
As I’ve written many times, how pathetic is it that the American experiment, this glorious republic, should come to an end at the hands of a D-list game show host? But as Bill Maher says, “We’re officially living in a dictatorship….and not even one with good rail service.” For all the talk of liberal hysteria, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and violations of Godwin’s Law, this is no longer a hypothetical.
Steve Almond again:
The transformation of Trump from party pariah—a man Lindsay Graham called “a kook” a “loser” and “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”—to a de facto monarch is the inevitable culmination of this moral rot. “Any time you ignore what could become an evil force,” Graham observed four short years ago, “you wind up regretting it.” These days, Graham isn’t ignoring that force. He’s become its loudest defender.
Now Trump’s Republicans will be on the record for all of eternity.
And for what? To prop up a corrupt and cruel grifter whom most of them despise and mistrust. The only thing greater than their shame, apparently, is their shamelessness. They needed Trump to find that shamelessness. That’s what he’s given them—and all it cost them was our constitutional democracy.
The only remaining remedy is the 2020 election, an election already besieged by voter suppression, gerrymandering and the perverse math of the Electoral College and, thanks to Mitch McConnell, foreign subversion, too.
The only way to repudiate this culture of sociopathic nihilism and lawlessness is for citizens of good faith to become more politically active. We can, and should, watch what’s happening on the floor of the Senate in despair and outrage.
“Citizens of good faith” he is calling upon. That’s us, folks. Bob Mueller’s not gonna save us, and Mitt Romney’s not gonna save us, and John Bolton is not gonna save us. Only we can save us.
Let us again heed Garry Kasparov, who ought to know:
Don’t be surprised, be angry. Show all of these GOP Senators treating Trump like a king that American democracy still works by voting them out. Every last one of them.
The result is bad and the methods are worse. The GOP is saying the president can do whatever he wants. They are a pack of docile reprobates bringing shame on this great nation.
Trump’s pathetic defenders deserve to be grilled every day as further evidence of his abuses comes out. They are also complicit in his every act going forward. They know what he is and what he did, and that now he will do more. The 2020 election is under assault.
Is it possible that Obama will be our last president under a system that bears any resemblance to American representative democracy as we once knew it?
He might be, if we don’t do something about it.
Photo by Samuel Corum / Getty, for the New Yorker