Impeachment Chronicles 3
This is the week that, generations from now, historians will cite as the pivot point; the moment when everything became blindingly clear and the choices increasingly binary.
Trump survives, the constitution doesn’t. Trump is finally destroyed by his own hubris, democratic governance survives by the skin of its teeth. Trump’s doctrine of presidential infallibility is upheld by the courts, or the courts finally say “enough” and force the White House, and Trump himself, to comply with subpoenas. The ordering of State Department personnel to not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry grinds the process to a halt, or honorable men and women risk their careers and their retirement benefits by refusing to participate in a grubby coverup and by appearing before Congress as witnesses. Much of the public either continues to be snowed by Trump’s litany of lies and propaganda, or the sleeping giant of aroused, informed public opinion finally wakes up to the full enormity of Trump’s assault on democracy and on decency and demands change.
It’s starting to look like that public is awake and on red alert now. For the first time in Trump’s law-skirting presidency, polls are showing a majority of Americans want him removed from office. Even Fox News, which has largely served as a propaganda mouthpiece for Trump since 2016, released a poll this week showing 51 percent of respondents want Trump to be impeached and to be forced from office. The beleaguered president took to twitter to denounce the network and, in a glaring example of his middle-school pique, to say their pollsters “suck.” Juvenile insults notwithstanding, when even conservative networks conclude that the country is turning decisively against the president his grasp on power has become peculiarly precarious.
It’s also beginning to look like the courts and the professional bureaucracies have simply had enough of the madness. Daily, leaks, whistleblower complaints, anonymous sources, are now revealing the scale of decay of American foreign policy – and the enormity of Trump’s actions in holding hostage aid to the Ukraine, its release contingent on their playing ball and helping gather dirt on the Biden family. The same week that Trump, in probably his most megalomaniac tweet to date, touted his “great and unmatched wisdom” regarding his policy of abandoning the Kurds in Syria and hoping that a few tough words about economic consequences would deter the Turks from massacring them, state department officials began staring down Secretary of State Pompeo – some testifying before Congress, others resigning.
I’d guess that trickle of resignations will become something of a flood in the coming weeks. And I’m guessing it won’t just be restricted to the State Department. There are, after all, limits beyond which one cannot venture, moral compromises one simply can’t make, without irreparably sabotaging one’s good conscience.
In the courts, Trump has, this week, been handed one defeat after another, with judges standing up to his extraordinary doctrine of presidential infallibility, of the idea that anything the president does is legal and that any document he wants to withhold from Congress he can so withhold. Trump’s tax paperwork has now been ordered handed over to investigators in New York and also to Congressional committees. Trump will, in all likelihood, try to further stonewall by appealing up to the Supreme Court – but the signs are that the courts are now pushing back, and pushing back hard, against his concerted effort to claim unrestricted powers. They will likely, in the days ahead, push back too against his ghastly Public Charge rule, that, under cover of a bureaucratic rule tweak, fundamentally rewrites American immigration policy.
Conventional wisdom has it that the GOP wall in the US Senate will hold fast, and that Trump will continue to be able to get away with anything and everything. That whatever the House concludes on impeachment, the Senate will quickly and convincingly acquit the president of all wrongdoing. I’m not so sure that holds anymore. Trump’s behavior has become so entirely erratic, his personalized attacks on enemies real and imagined so extreme, that he has clearly given senators both reason and political cover to break with him.
If the polls keep heading south for Trump – or, to paraphrase him, if they get suckier and suckier — and, in particular, if the number of GOP voters supporting an impeachment inquiry climbs up towards 25 or 30 percent, it will become ever-harder for Mitch McConnell to hold the line.
There is, after all, historical precedent here. Richard Nixon was widely viewed as a political rock until his support amongst GOP legislators crumbled, fast and furiously, in the early summer of 1974. By mid-August, he was gone. Nixon was undone by a combination of lies, of evidence tampering – witness those notorious missing minutes in his White House tapes – and obstruction of justice.
On all those fronts, and more, Trump is now at least as vulnerable. He is publicly intimidating witnesses. His personal attorney was running a shadow foreign policy, key players in which have now been arrested – and, who presumably, have every incentive to cooperate with investigators. The “rough” transcripts of his phone call with the Ukrainian president suggest impeachable offenses, and that’s before the contents of the missing twenty minutes of that phone call come out, which they almost certainly will as the investigation gathers pace. His Attorney General is flying around the world trying to rope other governments into investigations into America’s own intelligence services – which will likely trigger more leaks and tell-alls from disgruntled agents. And his cavalier, on-the-fly foreign policy decisions will further alienate professional, career staff at the Pentagon and State Department.
Trump, as thin skinned as they come, will, as predictably as day following night, lash out in evermore bizarre and harmful ways as the sewage he has swum in his whole adult life rises up to engulf him. Over the coming weeks his financial shady-dealings, his trading of favors, his foreign policy-as-blackmail methods, his intimidation tactics, all will be on full display. And Trump, in fighting to protect not just his presidency but his personal fortune and his freedom, will become increasingly unpredictable. The danger he presents will, I suspect, become all-but-impossible for even the most craven, most self-flagellating of GOP grandees to ignore.
Trump will ultimately fall — and fall hard — because he has made it all-too-clear that his staying in office will undo the Republic. And the Republic, still relatively young, still with work to be done, won’t go quietly into the night. Instead, with aroused and righteous fury it will rage — it is already starting to rage — against the dying of its light.