Just when it seemed practically impossible for our bitterly divided American citizenry to become even more splintered, we now have the prospect of Democrats in the House launching an effort to impeach President Trump.
Although right now we are dealing with the inevitable jockeying for the high road (should there be one such) by all involved—a process which has consisted of obvious hearsay, overheated rhetoric, and wild innuendo—it seems our already ugly divisions are set to become uglier still. The questions right now are being answered with speculation rather than fact, so it is perhaps best to put partisanship aside for the moment and wait for substantive and verifiable information instead of half-baked rumors in order to assess the reality of this crazy situation.
My initial feeling is that I find the timing of these accusations—and the rush to impeach—to be disturbing. Unless it can be easily and clearly demonstrated that a clear abuse of office occurred, this could end up being yet another in an endless series of investigations in search of a crime. The overly protracted, breathlessly hyped, and ultimately empty investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller was the worst possible example of how wishful thinking by political opponents can disable good judgement. This new round of investigations, which are based on a complaint by an anonymous whistleblower who is relying on second-hand knowledge—six degrees of separation from actual evidence—gives every appearance of starting another wearying Washingtonian round of crafting narratives to create “facts” that are subject to varying interpretations by all involved.
In addition, given that President Trump has repeatedly defied the overconfident predictions of his imminent political demise—and now appears on track to compete strongly for re-election next year—this new imbroglio cannot help but smell like an effort to subvert the upcoming electoral process by attempting to remove a President whose policies and personality deeply offend many who are desperate to see him out of office. The howls of outrage that greeted Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 still echo through our nation, and those who consider the possibility that he might win again in 2020 to be a sure sign of the apocalypse are now cheerleading a dubious effort to—if not remove him from office outright—at least kneecap him before a single ballot can be cast.
Politics has, of course, always been a contact sport. However, the veneer of respectability, civility, and collegiality that used to help hides the bruises is now long gone. We instead find ourselves in a position where pure self-interest, the scramble for campaign cash, and posturing for the cameras has shredded public confidence in all three branches of our government.
Worse yet, the permanent bureaucracy seems to increasingly see itself as part of the partisan crusade on one side or another, which means that legislative and executive powers and initiatives are now prone to subversion by those charged with implementing the nuts and bolts of law and policy. Toss in judges who are ever more willing to void the will of the people as expressed through those elected to serve our nation, and we can count on little to be actually accomplished by our government and its agencies—but plenty of yelling will ensue.
Of course, after digging through the virtuous rhetoric, this latest battle in the war to unseat the Big Scary Orange Man who haunts the minds of Democrats is ultimately about the electoral math in 2020—and this is “all in” political poker at its finest. Nancy Pelosi has finally taken Donald Trump’s dare and shoved all her chips to the center of the table. If she is able to play a winning hand and either directly remove President Trump from office (which now seems a long shot) or destroy him politically (which also seems a dubious proposition unless there is damning evidence not yet revealed), Speaker Pelosi will rate a golden statue in the pantheon of Democrats. However, failure to impeach and win (however winning might be defined) will cripple Nancy Pelosi’s Speakership and result in tumult that will reverberate through the Democratic ranks for years to come.
One aspect of the current fervor to impeach that is difficult to fathom is that pushing to drive a duly-elected President from office is totally at odds with the moderate messaging that served Democrats well in the 2018 midterm elections and seemed—at least until a few weeks ago—to be the soothing and calming message they hoped to ride to victory next year.
Although many of the public positions taken by Democratic candidates for President—open borders, abortion up until birth, and The Green New Deal, and banning cheeseburgers—are wildly unpopular with many voters, the overriding desire to sell 2020 Democrats as the soothing antacid after the jalapeño persona of Donald Trump seemed to dictate that impeachment was off the table. Only time will tell whether this new and risky embrace of high drama will turn out to be a winning strategy, but it is certainly an abrupt and unexpected shift from the reality of only a month ago. Is this the Democratic path to the White House in 2020? It had better be because there is no turning back when you have decided to dive off a cliff into the unknown below. Much may change before the formal House impeachment vote during the deep cold of December—and the upcoming Inspector General report on the conduct of the Russia-gate investigation is still a wild card—but we may see some clarity as more details are revealed.
However, during the course of this impeachment drama, we will certainly learn the answer to the surprising question actually lurking at the core of this inquiry: Does the President of The United States have a Constitutional duty to be a passive piñata for his implacable enemies?
Although not widely discussed, this question and three others that spring from it will be at the center of what transpires over the next several months leading up to the scheduled impeachment vote in the House. When accused of wrongdoing, does asking others to speak in your defense or present exculpatory evidence constitute an obstruction of justice? Does mounting a vigorous public rebuttal of charges you believe or know to be false imply a threat of retribution toward those who speak against you simply because of the enormous powers inherent in the Presidency? Does any conversation between the President and another foreign leader concerning political opponents carry with it an immediate whiff of collusion because of the powers invested in their respective offices?
Donald Trump pugnacious and sharp-elbowed political style has been his signature since he first announced his candidacy. He has shown absolutely no restraint when it comes to publicly and privately castigating those who oppose his will or question his policies, and this characteristic has both helped and harmed him with voters. Whether a failure to speak in low tones and meekly submit to abusive and disrespectful speech by those who hate all that you stand for can now, in our age of politically correct norms, be turned into a justification for voiding an election and tossing a President from office will ultimately determine how this year’s Capitol Hill soap opera is finally resolved.