So now President Trump’s impeached. You can count me among the skeptics like Nancy Pelosi who originally urged caution in pursuing his impeachment. I worried that it might damage Democratic prospects at the ballot box, which is where decisions really matter. I worried that a Trump impeachment might lead to a President Mike Pence, who might turn into a more effective advocate for an extremist right-wing agenda.
As a former political pro, I have a healthy dose of skepticism when I read political rhetoric. Yes, Trump sucks. I will be the first to say that. Yes, he is corrupt and incompetent, damaging American interests worldwide. But again, I hope to defeat him and his Senate cronies in 2020 in a historic, game-changing election. So when I heard about the whistleblower report that was being withheld from Congress, I thought, “This sucks, but it’s more of the same.” As it turns out, Trump is far worse than I even imagined.
The key moment was when the “transcript” was released. You have to remember, this was actually a redacted summary of the call released by the White House to defend itself from Democratic attacks. When I heard such a document would be released, I assumed that it would whitewash Trump’s actions. But as I said at the time to my wife, if this “transcript” was meant to help him, you can only imagine what really happened.
The document is clear as day. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Trump about military aid pledged to his country. The Ukrainians need this assistance to protect themselves from Russian aggression pushed by President Vladimir Putin. In the call, Zelensky also asked about a face-to-face meeting with Trump, something that would give credibility to the Ukrainian cause.
After Zelensky made that inquiry, Trump answered “I would like you to do us a favor though.” The favor was for Zelensky to coordinate with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to announce investigations into two debunked right-wing conspiracy theories: first, that it was Ukraine who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s server, not Russia, and second that former Vice President Joe Biden had used his influence to assist his son Hunter.
In any court of law, that would stand up as stone cold evidence of soliciting a bribe. Bribery consists of giving something that you have control over but does not belong to you in exchange for something of value to yourself personally. The aid to Ukraine belongs to the American taxpayers, not Trump, and Congress had allocated it. The value Trump sought was the announcement of politically-embarrassing investigations into his Democratic opponents. That is bribery, pure and simple.
For those who claim that the transcript cannot be trusted, I remind them that it was the White House that released it. If the document is inaccurate, why didn’t they release the accurate one? And if it is inaccurate, wouldn’t it tend to make the president look better, not worse?
For those who claim there was no “quid pro quo,” that question was resolved when White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted as much on live television during a press conference. Later, he claimed he did not say that, but you would have to ignore what you can see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears to believe that denial.
For those who claim that quid pro quos happen all the time in foreign affairs, I answer that the quid here was something belonging to the taxpayers, the quo was something that benefited Trump personally. Had he bargained for something that benefited our national interests, such as increase trade or a closer security arrangement, such a quid pro quo would be okay. But presidents are supposed to put the national best interest ahead of their own. It’s called a “fiduciary relationship.” In this case, Trump put his own interest over the national interest.
In leveraging the Congressional approved funds (which the president does not own) in exchange for potentially damaging investigations into his political rival, Trump commited bribery.
Finally, for those who claim that this is not an impeachable offense, I direct you to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution which explicitly lists bribery as a basis for removal from office.
That’s all the evidence we need, and it was available to us by October 17, long before the impeachment hearings started. Since then, testimony has only served to bolster that evidence. Trump is guilty based only upon his own admissions and the admissions of his top staff. Everything else is noise.
But why impeach? Why not just defeat him in 2020.
The problem is what this incident indicates. The call with Zelensky occurred one day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress. In his report, Mueller revealed that he would not be filing charges against Trump, an announcement Trump trumpeted as “exoneration.” So rather than accepting this judgment and moving on, Trump decided to double-down, and take Mueller’s report as permission to engage in election-rigging for 2020. After all, Trump’s behavior indicates, he got away with it in 2016, he may as well do it again in 2020.
This fact raises the disturbing question of whether we can have a fair election in 2020. What happens if we vote out Trump, but due to his machinations, he manages to stay in office anyway? At a minimum, the casts doubt upon the validity of our election process. Indeed, the Mueller report revealed that Russian interference in the election might have actually swayed Florida to Trump. Without Florida, Clinton would now be president.
What’s more is that these revelations demonstrate that Ukraine might only be the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that the Zelensky call is not the only call with world leaders that White House lawyers have moved onto the classified secure server. If White House lawyers saved the Zelensky call in a secure location to protect Trump politically, who’s to say what other classified documents might reveal. Did Trump make similar appeals to China? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Turkey? And of course, we don’t know what he said in his private conversations with Russian President Putin. The full extent of Trump’s efforts to recruit foreign nations to interfere in our election is shocking.
Indeed, after the secret Ukrainian request came to light, Trump publicly asked China to investigate Biden. So if you think Ukraine is the only country Trump pressured for political help, you’re kidding yourself.
Given the overwhelming weight of the evidence against Trump, you might ask yourself how Republicans can continue to defend him. After all, not a single Republican congressman voted to impeach. Justin Amash, the conservative congressman from Michigan who found the Mueller report disturbing, was chased out of the Republican party. As an independent, Amash voted to impeach.
What’s more is that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has announced his intention to rig the trial. Essentially, he has announced that he will coordinate the impeachment trial with the White House, and will not call witnesses, simply bringing the articles of impeachment to a vote without any further proceedings. Given the partisan make-up of the Senate, and the requirement of a two-thirds majority for removal from office, such a step would likely lead to a rapid acquittal. Trump would certainly highlight that result much as he has pointed to Mueller’s decision not to prosecute.
And finally, there is the persistent forty percent or so of our country that continue to support Trump no matter what he does. As Trump himself said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Among his hard-core supporters, that is likely true. It appears that Trump’s supporters may understand he committed crimes, they just don’t care.
Attempts to understand this phenomenon have emphasized Trump’s uniqueness. But such analysis ignores history. Since Richard Nixon engaged in his “southern strategy” in 1968, appealing to disaffected white southern voters angry with the Democrats who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism has been the central appeal of the Republican party. In the past, Republicans were circumspect in how they announced their racism. Nixon and Reagan talked about crime. Bush the first specifically referred to Willie Horton, a convicted black man. Inevitably, the crime they point to demonizes Black men.
Republican voters have responded enthusiastically to these appeals. Their frustration has been in the lack of progress their cause has made. While Republican politicians promise to stop the relentless march of inclusivity in our country, they have not delivered. Trump, though, is different.
Rather than signaling his racism with dog whistles, and then backing away upon entering office, Trump has doubled-down on his racism. White supremacists in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” He has imprisoned immigrant children in cages. He tweeted that three American-born Congresswomen of color should “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” With such actions, he has not let down the racist base of the Republican party.
There are some who claimed that the Republican party was something more than a racist organization, that it stood for limited government, lower taxes, and fiscal conservatism. Such arguments, however, were always just cover for the reality of the Republican party. Their hypocrisy is striking. While they call themselves fiscal conservatives, they pass tax giveaways for the rich — and not just under Trump. Indeed, the federal deficit has consistently increased under Republican presidents, while it has fallen under the Democrats. So who is really the party of fiscal responsibility?
To be sure, not all Republicans were driven by racist frenzy. There are some who were true believers in fiscal conservatism. But those well educated principled conservatives are fleeing the party in droves. Some of Trump’s harshest critics are people like George Conway, William Kristol, and Jennifer Rubin. Then there is the aforementioned Justin Amash. All these people claim the Republican party has left them. But in reality, they were relying upon rhetoric that masked the true essence of modern Republicanism: racism. Trump’s refusal to sugarcoat this reality has thrilled his supporters while it has outraged the few truly principled conservatives, chasing many of them out of the party.
Trump, then, is the culmination of Republican politics over the last fifty years. Despite the behind-the-scenes grumbling of some Republican politicians, they are thrilled with what he has done. As long as America continues to have a substantial white, racist constituency, they will find their home in the Republican party. And as long as Trump continues to proudly personify racism, he will have their support.
Nothing else he does matters to them.