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Impeachment Failed. Was It Worth It?

February 6, 2020


Yesterday’s Senate vote to acquit Trump on impeachment charges was both inevitable and deeply depressing to anyone who still believes that a US president is subject to the country’s laws. But was the impeachment effort a mistake? I still believe it was both right and necessary. Let me count the reasons why. 

  1. Once the whistleblower’s complaint became public, a failure by House Democratic leaders to move forward on impeachment would have made them complicit in Trump’s flouting of the law. Their reluctance to run earlier with the ample material supplied in the Mueller report had made them look dithering and motivated by political calculations. Had they failed to impeach, they would have carried that stigma forever. The fact that they did decide to move forward in the face of near-certain defeat in the Senate is compelling evidence that this was a matter of principle and not, as Trump claims, a politically-motivated coup attempt.
  2. It brought into ultra-high resolution the true nature of this president and his inner circle. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public should have told us that he would absolutely obstruct the impeachment investigation in every possible way. He didn’t even try to present evidence that might exculpate him. He simply defied Congress and dared anyone to do anything about it. And it worked, because his party moved in lock step to back him up. This is what organized crime does.
  3. It made crystal-clear that the Republican Party is the Party of Trump. There is no space for principled dissent. This is why Mitt Romney’s vote to convict is so telling, because it is in such stark contrast to everyone else in the party, Romney can probably remain senator from Utah for life, if he wants, but he has made himself a pariah in the party and will have to do severe penance in the form of votes going forward if he wants to get back in Trump’s good graces. Susan Collins, who is vulnerable for re-election, tried to have it both ways–voting for witnesses, while it was clear that she would cave and vote for acquittal. Even senators like Lamar Alexander who is on his way out and recognized that Trump was guilty as charged, voted to acquit. Crossing Trump threatens both re-election chances and earning potential after leaving office in the conservative big-money support system, which also is now thoroughly part of TrumpWorld.
  4. For once, Democrats stuck together. Despite pundit speculation that there would be some Democratic defections, there were none. Doug Jones and Joe Manchin both voted to convict, even though it may hurt their re-election chances–especially Jones. Both probably would have been given a pass by the party establishment if they had voted the other way. Say what you will, this took some moral courage. It is no longer possible for anyone to seriously claim that there is no real difference between the two parties–the contrast could not be any starker.
  5. Far from being a sinister “deep state”, the anonymous whistleblower and the career civil servants who testified at the hearings emerged as the true heroes who actually cared about laws that Trump was trampling. While the politicians hemmed and hawed, they put their own careers at risk by testifying in defiance of Trump’s gag order. They also demonstrated the falsity and cowardice of Trump administration officials who hid behind Trump’s baseless decree to avoid appearing at the hearings. In particular, Fiona Hill’s crisp and precise testimony implicitly exposed her erstwhile boss, John Bolton, as a self-serving apparatchik for refusing to testify unless he got a Senate subpoena that he knew full well would never be issued.
  6. It revealed the inadequacy of impeachment for holding a truly amoral president accountable, especially in a highly polarized political environment as we have today. It makes even urgent the importance of rescinding the specious DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president. Oh yeah, but we can’t do that either if the Attorney General is the president’s defense attorney.

No one can really predict what the fallout will be for the November election. Will it anger and energize Democrats to turn out and support whoever winds up with the nomination? Or is everyone just too exhausted and beat down to have any energy left to fight?

If nothing else, it’s no longer possible to pretend that we don’t know what we’re dealing with in Trump and his party. The real question is whether the American people actually care. At this point, I’m really not sure.

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