After that first, thirteen hour marathon of Republican lies and smug obstructionism, I haven’t had the heart to watch much more of the impeachment proceedings. I don’t need a refresher on the case against Donald, and while the few minutes that I have seen of the Democrats making their arguments have been encouraging – their presentations, accompanied by visual aids and prior testimony on video, have been excellent, and obviously the product of hard thought and excellent staff work – it’s not a lot of fun watching decent people doing their honourable best in the teeth of a lowdown, despicable, foregone conclusion. However, I stumbled upon Adam Schiff’s closing from Thursday night while idly browsing my Twitter feed, and watched it with an odd mix of pride, righteous anger, and sadness. Readers of this column will know that Schiff has long been a personal hero of mine, with his steel trap mind, and calm, measured delivery of the facts, and usually just the facts, but last night, speaking largely without glancing at his notes, he let a little emotion creep in to the oral argument, and delivered one for the ages. It’s attached above, and if you haven’t yet seen it, you really should.
I’m certainly not the one to tell you that anything the Democrats say or do in this miserable process has a ghost of a chance of making a difference, and I’m well aware how futile Trump’s impeachment can seem, given who runs the Senate. Moreover the odds of a surprise outcome, vanishingly low in any case, were probably not improved by Trump engaging in what amounts to jury tampering and sending, according to the latest reports, this message to the quavering boot lickers in the erstwhile world’s greatest deliberative body:
Time was, a crass move like that would have blown up in the idiot’s face. Any self-respecting Senate, jealous of its prerogatives and conscious of its awesome power, would throw the bastard out on his ear just for uttering such threats, caring not whether the tyrant could still affect political outcomes from his well deserved exile in his garish 5th Avenue vanity tower. Not anymore. Just look where we are now. It would be hard to believe, if we hadn’t already forced ourselves to believe so much: Donald is abusing his power to avoid being held to account for abusing his power. No matter. There’ll be no consequence. There never is. It’s just another Friday in East Trumpistan, and that Trump’s bully-boy intimidation of the once mighty US Senate is working like a charm seems evidence enough that all is lost. Schiff said it last night; if what’s right doesn’t matter, if the truth doesn’t matter, then no constitution can save them. No words on parchment, however well crafted, however clear and resolute the intent of their writers, can ever stand in the way of dereliction of duty by those tasked with upholding the rule of law. They’re only words. It’s that simple, and we seem on the cusp of proving it, as others have before us.
Yet it’s hard not to feel the smallest, most temporary fluttering of hope as you listen to Schiff wrap it all up in a tight little package. Can all those Republicans really bear the shame of hearing those words, knowing the truth of them down to their very cores, and voting to acquit anyway? Really?
Well, here’s betting that yes, actually, they can. Yet one day, maybe within the year, Trump will be gone. Even if he wins the next election, or pulls off a coup in the wake of defeat and refuses to leave, he can’t last forever, and indeed, given the stumbling, bumbling, neurologically degenerative mess he plainly and increasingly is – in Davos this week he talked about Thomas Edison as if he was still working at Menlo Park, and claimed that Americans invented the wheel – it’s hard to believe he’ll be with us for many more years no matter what happens in November. What sort of America he leaves in his wake remains to be seen, but the United States has shown incredible resilience in the past, and the battered nation, which, it bears remembering in this new dark age, has been even more badly battered before, may yet again right itself. If it does, what Schiff said last night will be remembered, and might even be held up as a turning point, the stirring oratory that marked the moment when the tide turned, just before the appalling moral cowardice of the GOP’s vote to acquit the monster was revealed as the last gasp of a dying breed of old, bigoted, corrupt and fearful white men.
All republics die. It’s an historical truism. Maybe, though, not this one, not just yet.