A few things have lately been giving Trump-haters like me a rare jolt of hope, and probably shouldn’t. There’s the wealth of fresh evidence that emerged in the interval cannily imposed by Nancy Pelosi, including a trove of e-mails between administration officials and an increasingly alarmed Pentagon over the extortion of Ukraine, and the public testimony, with numerous accompanying receipts, of Trump/Giuliani henchman Lev Parnas. There’s the General Accounting Office conclusion that Trump broke the law when withholding funds from Ukraine, irrespective of his motives. There’s also the feeling that maybe, just maybe, at least the requisite four Republican Senators will buck Mitch and allow the new evidence in to the impeachment trial, as well as the testimony of witnesses, especially the newly willing John Bolton (as unlikely a liberal saviour as could be imagined, but who knows?). Maybe Romney, Collins, Murkowski, and one or two others, will finally do something principled to back up their usually feckless talk?
Well, maybe. Don’t bet the mortgage, but maybe. And all that new evidence is at least now public, while you can bet there are tons more revelations where those came from, and not just about Ukraine, but Iran, Turkey, Russia, and God knows where else, while we all wait for a whole slew of shoes to drop on Trump’s vast campaign of domestic corruption, tax fraud, and unconstitutional use of his office for his own enrichment. The sheer tonnage of all this should damn any President, not just to removal from office, but eventually to prison, and ultimately to the flames of Hell, if such flames there be. It should. But the thing is, sitting here looking at it as it appears today, it won’t (except maybe the Hell part – fingers crossed!). Hope is sweet, but…well, by now, you know what I always say about hope.
You never know how things are going to break when events take such an anomalous, unprecedented turn, and the stakes are so high, but the sober assessment right now is that it won’t matter worth a two-pound bag of dog poo what gets admitted into evidence at the upcoming impeachment trial. They may hear all the new facts, even demand to see all the withheld documentation – nothing says they can’t, and everything says they should, at least to some degree, just for appearances’ sake. They may even allow witnesses, if not grilled live on the Senate floor, then deposed and testifying on video under oath, as was the case during Clinton’s impeachment. McConnell, perhaps chastened by the backlash that greeted his public gloating over the depravity of his scheme to coordinate with the White House and hold a meaningless non-trial, may now feel it necessary for his Senators to put on a show of sagely considering the facts, and the reasonable inferences from all the evidence, at least for some decent and plausible length of time before rendering a verdict. None of that’s entirely implausible.
But at the end of the day, so what? They’ll all vote to acquit, and that will be that. Maybe there will be one or two defections – don’t count on it, but let’s allow for the possibility – but to convict takes 67 votes, and that means at least twenty GOP Senators would have to grow spines, and consciences, and, well, c’mon. I won’t be at all surprised if even Romney, Collins and the rest of the supposed waverers vote to acquit. We sure as Shinola ain’t getting to twenty guilty votes among Mitch’s merry band.
So then what? How does the constitutional order survive the Senate so obviously, flagrantly, and cravenly ignoring the truth, and its sworn obligations, and voting to acquit anyway? The Republican base will be delighted, sure. But something between 60-70% of the American population, for whom the whole ugly truth has perhaps not yet fully been absorbed, stands to be taken aback by jury nullification of a sort that some pundits liken, I think drawing a perfect comparison, to what used to happen in the Jim Crow South when white people were tried for lynching black men. The message will be inescapable: we all know what Donald did, but what y’all don’t seem to understand is that shit, he gets to do that, and no goddam law applies no matter what it says, and ain’t a goddam thing any of you peckerwoods can do about it. With that, the task of destroying all remaining confidence in America’s institutions and the rule of law, begun many years ago by the likes of Newt Gingrich, continued by the arsonists in the Tea Party, pursued assiduously by Mitch McConnell, and all but completed already by Trump, will finally have reached fruition. Incredibly, those who abet Trump imagine this would be a good thing, perhaps blinded by the short term sugar highs of cutting taxes, deregulating the landscape, shredding the New Deal, gutting health care, and stacking the judiciary. Some day though, even they may suffer for what a deadly thing their victory will be for a constitutional republic.
Some of the punditry thinks this could all be over before the State of the Union, allowing Trump to stride into the Joint Session like a triumphant caesar and proclaim his vindication. Failing that, he’ll certainly run on his impeachment victory all the way to what, in my worst nightmares, seems possible to become a romp next November (especially, God help us, if the Dems nominate somebody like Sanders), and then imagine how emboldened Second Term Donnie would be.
Even if Trump loses in a freakishly archaic and undemocratic electoral system in which the whole contest comes down to a handful of swing states rife with his biggest fans, national popular vote be damned, he leaves behind wreckage that won’t be easy to fix. The GOP, bitter and twisted beyond all reason, is likely to retain enough legislative power to do to the new Democratic President the same thing it did to Obama, and the public will be treated to the spectacle of a Congress that still doesn’t do anything at all. Come the next set of midterms, the often idiotic US electorate might react just as it did during Obama’s tenure, and hand the legislative reins fully to the GOP, at which point watch out – what do you bet they decide to cook up a vengeful impeachment of their own? Meanwhile, a federal bureaucracy sapped of its talent and morale by years of Trumpism will perhaps prove impossible to bring back to health, with all of Donald’s miserable warping of the departments once tasked with defending the environment, the health and safety of Americans, the decent and lawful enforcement of its federal criminal and immigration regimes, foreign diplomacy, and the gathering of intelligence, among hundreds of vital functions, continuing in its destructive effects.
I’ll tell you this: I sure wouldn’t want to be the Democrat who takes the White House in 2021, if, God willing, that’s what happens. It’ll be like buying a house and being handed the keys to a door that now sits charred at the bottom of a smoking hole. And anyway, who can be confident any more that it’ll happen?
It was a rush, watching Pelosi and Schiff do their damnedest to bring this corrupt and lawless thug of a President to heel, and it’s possible in the delusion of this intermediate moment, before we pop the lid on Schrödinger’s cat to see how the critter fared, to feel good about the state of American democracy. At last, the immune system has kicked into high gear. At last, the contagion is being attacked. What a crushing feeling it’ll be, though, if the poor, sickened bastard dies anyway. What will people do? Will they rage against the corruption, rise up en masse, and vote in record numbers to throw all the bums out, thus paving the way for the overdue death and replacement of this monstrous perversion of a Republican Party with something new on the center-right? Or will most people in that 60% majority, the youth especially, throw up their hands and spread the dejected gospel of hopelessness, ceding the field to Trumpism and its enablers, and think about moving to another country as Donald Junior or Ivanka runs for the 2024 GOP nomination?
There’s so much riding on the long odds that will be played out over next few weeks, and it’s hard to quell the awful dread of opening that box, knowing that within rests an indeterminate creature waiting to resolve itself down to its possibly inevitable state: dead as a nit.