Many years ago, during the 1982 Falklands war, I remember watching a news item in which a video taken (if memory serves) in the officer’s mess of HMS Invincible recorded the moment when news came over the PA that the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano had been sunk. Belgrano was an old, WWII era warship, but its large guns would have pounded the thin-skinned RN ships of the Falkands Task Force into scrap had it been allowed to run amok. Its existence under the circumstances simply couldn’t be tolerated, and its destruction eliminated a grave threat to the men in that mess, but the news was greeted with silence, gloom, and somber exchanges of glances. A great many sailors had just been plunged into the freezing waters of the South Atlantic. “Naval personnel do not celebrate such things”, explained the journalist narrating the clip.
I was reminded of that as I watched Nancy Pelosi gavel in the first Article of Impeachment last night. She was dressed all in black, like a mourner at a funeral – this was not a happy day. When, upon her declaration that the first Article had been adopted, a smattering of cheers and applause began among her ranks, she put an immediate stop to it with a fierce look, a chopping motion of her hand, and an audible “un-unh“. Properly motivated legislators in the House of Representatives do not celebrate such things. This wasn’t a frigging basketball game. It was like watching Mom shut the kids up in church, with a look that said what did we discuss about decorum? There was something awesome in the certainty with which she commanded them, and the speed of their obedience.
Some readers will recall my periodic frustration with House Democrats (and especially Pelosi) for dragging their heels on the impeachment of Donald Trump. After all, it’s been obvious to anyone not certifiably deranged that Donald has merited impeachment since long before the Dems took over the House following the 2018 midterms; it was, however, just as obvious to Pelosi that she’s dealing with an electorate that is certifiably deranged, and it’s been clear all along that she never, ever wanted to do this. This drove me to distraction. I wanted her to want to. I wanted her to be champing at the bit. Yet instead she carried on, month after month, as if desperate to avoid anything both constitutionally and politically futile, and self-destructive to boot, which just isn’t how I roll.
But Fat Donny painted her into a corner.
Here’s another thing that’s always been obvious about Pelosi: caution, even extreme and calculating caution, is not at all the same thing as weakness. You can only push her so far, and you don’t want to find out what she’ll do if you mess with her – so then, of course, enter Donny. By courting a second round of foreign interference in America’s elections barely 24 hours after Mueller’s testimony about the first one was concluded in Congress, Trump messed with her, and now he’s been impeached.
The asymmetry between the two sides of this struggle – and it does start to feel like a death struggle, doesn’t it? – was stark last night. The Republicans, all red-faced screeching white men of a certain age, compared Trump’s persecution to Pilate’s crucifixion of Jesus, and mouthed outright lies and talking points which, Brian Williams later observed wryly on MSNBC, had been “translated from the original Russian”. The Democrats, many perhaps behaving according to their own natural inclinations, and all of them certainly operating under the strict instructions of their Speaker, responded with reason, facts, a minimum of theatrics, and in many cases something close to sorrow. Adam Schiff, brilliant as always, and speaking without notes, summed it up this way:
Go ahead then, betray your oaths. I intend to uphold mine. I damned near wept.
Donald, of course, had crawled back into the womb, and spent the night ranting and playing air accordion at another of his MAGA rallies, this one in Michigan. All but frothing, and even more orange than usual, he thought it’d be great fun to take vicious digs at Debbie Dingell, the widow who, in the strange way of US politics, now holds the seat of her spouse, John Dingell, a beloved Michigan Representative who served 60 years in the House (a record), playing an important role in all manner of historic legislation along the way. She’d just voted to impeach, even though the magnanimous Trump had allowed – had allowed, mind you – her husband to be buried with the full honours due to a WWII vet bound for Arlington. Expecting nothing in return, no, not him, Donald had even ordered the White House flag to be lowered to half staff. She called to thank him at the time. She did! All teary-eyed and appreciative! Now she votes to impeach? Ingrate. Yeah, well, he was probably burning in Hell anyway.
I was going to paste in the clip, but it was just so vile.
Fine. On to the next rollicking shit show. I wrote a few days ago of how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was reported to have gathered his caucus together to lay out his strategy for the impeachment trial: it would be a sham with no witnesses, no presentation of evidence, no nothing, really. It was bad enough to know that this was the plan, but then, perhaps misjudging the politics and overplaying his hand, Mitch went gleefully public, appearing on Fox News to gloat to chortling windbag Sean Hannity that of course the outcome of the Senate trial was pre-ordained. The soon to be delivered Articles of Impeachment would merely be one more bouncing baby sent over from the House that Mitch would be pleased to throttle in the crib. Count on it. He was working in close coordination with the White House on this, in the manner of juries and defense counsel the world over.
A little later, perpetually aggrieved Southern Belle Lindsay Graham, a swollen tick of mendacity if ever one burrowed beneath the skin of the body politic, jumped on the bandwagon, affirming at some conference held in Doha that he had no intention of being an “impartial juror” when it came time to dispose of this impeachment nonsense.
Time was, a corrupt bag of guts knew enough to keep such thoughts to himself. Here in modern East Trumpistan you just up and say them out loud, and I do mean loud, to the cameras, to reporters, on the floor of the Senate, to strangers on street corners, even when it represents an almost literally breathtaking violation of constitutional duty – even if, as here, what you’re saying puts the lie to a solemn oath of impartiality that you’ll soon be taking as part of the process. These guys weren’t just open about it, and they weren’t just happy – they were proud.
You see what they did just there? They messed with Nancy.
Everyone speaks in hushed tones about Mitch’s supposed parliamentary acumen, how he knows every trick in the book, and how to manipulate process and procedures to get his way, to which I say, big deal. He knows a loophole when he sees one and has no scruples about exploiting the letter to lay waste to the spirit. That’s no gift, and anyway, two can play that game, soldier. While Mitch and his buddies were clearly expecting the Articles of Impeachment to be rushed over to the Senate to be squelched with all due dispatch, nothing in the crappy, hole-filled Constitution actually says anything about delivering the Articles to the Senate, how fast it should happen, or even that it has to happen at all. Nothing says that once adopted in the House, Articles of Impeachment ever expire, either. So, O.K. then. Nancy made it clear last night that she was going to hang on to them for a while, and wait until matters concerning the conduct of the Senate trial could be sorted out. Maybe that will be soon, or maybe she’ll just keep them in her pocket for a bit longer. Maybe we’ll wait to see how things break in 2020, whether Trump gets re-elected, whether indeed the deeply unpopular McConnell gets re-elected, and whether the Republicans maintain control in the upper chamber. Maybe in January 2021 the water will be warmer, folks will be more sober about things like upholding the Constitution, and we can take this matter up again, if Donald is still lurking about. Who could say?
Or, Mitch, you could flip-flop and decide to fulfill your duty to the Constitution and hold a real trial. That works too.
You want to play hardball with Pelosi, you can frickin’ well expect to be brushed back when you crowd the plate.
It wasn’t all close-quarter combat with rapiers drawn, though. There were grace notes. One of them was this visual of feminine solidarity in the face of smug male bullying, as Pelosi took the hand of Representative Debbie Dingell in the wake of Donald’s assault upon her grief and the honourable legacy of her husband.
The other came at the press conference held by House leadership following the votes. Speaking into the ether, Nancy invoked the memory of recently-departed Elijah Cummings, another frequent target of Donald’s viciousness, who spent his whole life fighting tooth and nail against the various forms of darkness now championed by Trumpism, and wore himself out during his last days in the House pleading with his colleagues to stand up and do better in this time of peril. “Elijah, we did our best” she said. “The President has been impeached”.
I’ve been frustrated with Pelosi. Very frustrated. I was starting to change my views about her. After last night I’m thinking maybe I got it right at the outset.