If you’ve spent hours watching Mitch McConnell’s pathetic impeachment trial as have my wife and I, I send condolences. A measure of relief is on the way with Wednesday’s Senate vote when the Trump Party (formerly GOP) majority in the Senate will acquit Donald Trump, a result they announced before the trial began. (Hmmm; who mislaid the oaths?) Oh, well, one upside of a sham trial is an assured outcome, even leaving room for superficial stateliness.
All the president’s men and women steadfastly avoided direct testimony of even one relevant witness unavailable during the impeachment inquiry. They even argued that the House, not having access to useful testimony, performed poorly enough to excuse Republicans from seeking sensitive testimony it when became available. Net outcome: The Senate’s mockery of the Constitution will effortlessly authorize Trump’s right to Make America Grovel (to him) Again.
The House’s impeachment investigation of Trump’s duplicity may have had errors, though for the most part those errors were due to Trump’s having made critical information either unavailable or difficult and time-consuming to attain. “What’s the rush?” one might ask? The impeachment turned in part on election cheating by Trump in his 2020 election bid, cheating he began at least as early as mid-2019. Awaiting court action, even if achieved, would likely have given him longer to continue the practice. Senate errors, however, consist of supporting Trump’s lawyers instead of acting like an honest jury. Individual senators, as did the lawyers, kept up a running display of confused logic.
Because the House due to Trump’s stonewalling could not complete all desirable work on its preparation for Senate trial, the Senate complained that it is “not its job to do the House’s work,” a ludicrous position. As far as I know, it is correct that the Senate doesn’t have to do the House’s work for it. But there was nothing stopping the Senate from issuing subpoenas itself if it were actually seeking to fulfill its responsibility to have a fair trial. (The term “fair trial” was used repeatedly in these past several days. No problem there as long as we remember that “fair” means fair to the country as well as fair to Trump.)
The president’s lawyers often claimed points that were more drama than logic. One example is that senators and Trump’s lawyers frequently pointed out that removing Trump from office would be tantamount to reversing a legitimate election. Silly phrasing was used, for example, to blame House managers for wanting to “tear up voters’ ballots.” The implication was that elections should never be reversed. No one seemed to notice that the Constitutional option for removal always reverses a president’s most recent election; it cannot be otherwise.
It was clear from the beginning that most senators agreed to participate in McConnell’s sham, repeatedly refusing to deal with flaws in Trump’s actions, often making either amateur or illogical excuses. There have even been avowals of the “it’s just politics” sort, that expecting Republican senators to harshly judge a Republican president is just too much to ask. Perhaps the Founders were naïve to think that being in the same party would not make honest service to the country impossible.
Senators Howard Baker, Barry Goldwater, and other Republican senators convinced President Nixon to resign his office ahead of impeachment proceedings. (I was more-or-less Republican at the time and knew Senator Baker, whose ethics in putting the country first made him a hero to me, a Tennessean.) Pardon my unsophisticated expectation, but no candidate who fails to meet that test should ever be elected or re-elected to the Senate. Is that a harsh test met by few? Yes, it is. But would anyone contend that the country doesn’t deserve it? Oh, my mistake; the Senate Republicans just did!
The president’s lawyers regularly shaded the truth, hoping no doubt to fool the TV audience and perhaps some of the Republican senators, many of whom then parroted the dodgy claims. One such notion was that you surely can’t remove a president over a phone call. Senators not intelligent enough to see its absurdity or who considered voters too stupid to see through the claim would then repeat it to journalists.
Other weak points with similarly devious phrasing were part of the usual attorneys’ set of tricks, so it is missing the point to blame them rather than their clients. Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt in The New York Times last week pointed out Pat Cipollone’s presence in the infamous Mulvaney, Bolton, Giuliani strategy meeting with Trump in May. Cipollone, as counsel, couldn’t also be a witness like Bolton, et al., of course, as even non-lawyers know. Although I don’t know the way, but there certainly is the will to cheat the system if possible.
We did learn a lot from Trump’s defense lawyers in this make-believe trial, including Wednesday last week when Alan Dershowitz stunned us all with a gem suitably weird enough for Trump himself: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” To consider the implications of that position, I recommend Dana Milbank’s January 30th Washington Post op-ed, “The impeachment trial hurtles toward its worst-case conclusion.”
What the president has on Republican senators must be powerful stuff. It’s no surprise that, for example, Marsha Blackburn sounds dimwitted when she explains her vote. Ditto for Lindsay Graham who hasn’t even tried to sound either judicious or honest. But it is a waste of time to understand almost all other Republican senators who decided party means far more to them than patriotism. By now, though, Republican senators have had plenty of practice at making Trump happy while pretending to honor their oaths to the country. In fact, the constitutional duties of the Senate have been ignored and pretty much replaced with the care and feeding of Trump. Oh, that’s just politics.
No, it isn’t. And if it is, shame on us, all of us, the American electorate for putting up with it for decades as part of our folk wisdom, then are unprepared to oppose it when big dilemmas come along. We’ve been fortunate not to have lost this great democratic experiment long ago, for happily most presidents have not had Trump’s level of ignorance, incompetence, dishonesty, and downright evil.
Trump’s unfit personal characteristics have been known since years before 2016. But there have been events making the performance of his presidency even more dangerous. Consider these items with their possible effects in mind (I’ve borrowed this sequence from Senator Kamala Harris):
Nixon said “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Prior to his election, Trump said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” After his election, Trump said the Constitution’s Article II gives him “the right to do whatever [he] want[s] as president.” After the Mueller investigation found Trump’s otherwise prosecutable crimes, he could not be indicted due to an internal Department of Justice quirk that exempts sitting presidents from indictment. Then as Trump’s “inappropriate” action toward Ukraine began to fall apart, Republicans protected him at each shameful stage of “it didn’t happen,” all the way to “it happened but isn’t impeachable.” Finally, Alan Dershowitz presented Trump the ultimate get out of jail free card. Wouldn’t any of us, especially if our own ethics were weak, by now have legitimately gotten the point that when partisanship of this type and degree rules the day, in fact the president actually can do anything he wants.
Most Republican senators finally began to risk offending Trump by agreeing that his conduct was “inappropriate,” “wrong,” or whatever spineless wrist slap they could find just so that their coddling of Trump would enable him to define his win as being “not impeachable” or anything he liked. (Sorry, but he had already been impeached. The issue is whether he’d need a change-of-address card from wherever he’d launch his next real estate scam. Remember, Trump is constantly on the look for cookie jars to stick his hands into, whatever the dimensions they may be.) We may need to wait only a few days before he will define the Senate’s coming acquittal as exoneration or perhaps proof that his phone call was “perfect.”
But, very, very seriously, is there a single senator worth his or her salt who thinks Trump, now chastened by the House impeachment, will become a model president, never tell a lie, stop inflaming half the electorate, cease offending America’s allies, avoid taking impulsive actions that risk war, and other perfidies he’s not yet learned? Of course not. After all, “Trump will be Trump” has been just another way of saying “The personal characteristics that comprise his unfitness are what we have had and what we will have.
So tell me why that near certainty does not put a different spin on what justifies his “removability; he is now emboldened more than ever before.” If anything, we have reason to be alarmed that Trump’s future in the White House will bring more horrors. Has the Senate never heard, as Senator Murkowski quoted recently, “If you attack a king, be sure you kill him…you don’t want an injured king.” We have reason to believe that this president’s paranoia and vengeance have cost America greatly already and will go still further in ways not yet imagined.
He will persist in attacking the rule of law, disregarding Constitutional roles of courts and legislators, preparing for global climate change, and even weaning the country off truth itself. I fear Republicans, thoroughly ensnared by Trump, will continue to endorse this unethical man-child’s jeopardizing of our country and its institutions.
As Murkowski also accurately said, “As an institution, the Congress has failed.”