A Bad Picture of Our Republic
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A Bad Picture of Our Republic

The Impeachment Trial Is Providing a Lesson in How Republicans Govern. It’s Not Pretty

Terry H. Schwadron

So, this is what rot in American politics looks like.

It arrives in the padded cats-feet of mostly polite testimony and argument, of tipping hats and heads to Misters, Ma’ams and Senators. Then, slowly, the twisting knife of majority-dictated rules shreds the search for what’s happened into a pile of ridicule and sneer.

If you were unsure before, there are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats and independents in the Senate. By the end of a long, uncomfortable day of deciding on rules for a Senate trial of Donald Trump, the 53-47 outcome was heard 11 times.

Each result aimed at undercutting any sense of actually acknowledging that there was anything wrong with running a rogue shakedown campaign from the White House for personal political gain.

The outcome of the Senate proceedings never has been in doubt, but the elimination of any curiosity in learning whether there is evidence in the case is beyond the pale.

Now, thankfully, we’re into the actual recitation of the case against and for the president’s bad behavior. Democrats are operating with the testimony of government ambassadors. Trump appointees we’ve already heard and what the president’s team is offering: well, just ridicule. Sometime next week, it is possible that the Senate will reconsider allowing witnesses. But the exercise will be a show for the re-election of moderate Republicans, not for pursuit of truth.

The outcome of the Senate proceedings never has been in doubt. The numbers of Trump loyalists in the chamber alone has been a bulwark against conviction by two-thirds of senators. But the elimination of any curiosity in learning whether there is evidence in the case is beyond the pale.

Yes, Sir, the law is what a majority says it is. That is exactly the substance of the Republican arguments against Democrats in the House who voted for impeachment.

But this process also will ensure that we have vastly expanded powers for the presidency and has seeded Democracy a poison pill. Bring on King Trump.

See No Evil. . .  

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during the impeachment trial.

As expected, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his all of his bureaucratic ruses. He denied the prosecuting House managers the ability to call new – or, importantly, previously blocked — witnesses.  Subpoenas for the documents that had been obstructed by the White House were refused.

Still, the House Democrats managed to include a lot of the substantive material about what has already surfaced as evidence, or what should have surfaced. By contrast, most of the argument by Trump defending lawyers was shrill. The defenders lambasted the audacity of Democrats everywhere to even question the wisdom of Trump. They railed against the individuals arguing the case.

The Trump defense was all-but-nonexistent. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted, “They shouted. They spouted invective.

“They launched personal attacks against the impeachment managers.” Milbank added, “But they offered virtually nothing in defense of the president’s conduct, nor anything but a passing reference to Ukraine.”

We can expect Trump defenders will continue to hit at haste in the House to impeach. They will defend:

  • the decision of this president or any president to conduct foreign affairs as he or she sees fit;
  • the interpretation that Trump has the latitude not to answer to Congress for any behavior; and
  • protecting any conversations ever held by the White House.

Hear No Evil . . . 

I realize that I am not the primary audience for either side in this proceeding. House managers are trying to persuade one or two more senators to allow John Bolton and others as witnesses. In their fondest dreams, they see 20 senators parting with Trump. The defenders are speaking only to Trump himself.

But, to be honest, the first days’ arguments were infuriating.

The Washington Post editorialized, “The defense would also set the precedent that presidents may flatly refuse all cooperation with any congressional inquiry, even though the House’s impeachment power is spelled out in the Constitution.

“And it would establish that no president may be impeached unless he or she could be convicted of violating a federal statute — no matter the abuse of power.”

At the end of the day, the Trump defense is that even if he did abuse power it would not matter because the House never accused him of an ordinary crime. Hundreds of legal experts around the country have gone on public record to say that view is incorrect. Even Johnathan Turley, the constitutional law professor who spoke on Trump’s behalf before House, agrees with the scholars.

It is clear that Trump did abuse his office, and  that laws were broken along the way. It is also clear that the effort of proving so was obstructed by the very White House that now claims with self pity it is the object of a hoax inquiry.

Once this Senate majority decides against conviction, 53-47, Trump will boast of conquering the Senate, the Democrats and Americans in general. He will demand re-election and the full pomp and powers of an authoritarian king.

At one point, White House counsel Pat Cippolline claimed that Trump, author of 16,000 public lies in office, “is a man of his word.”

Perhaps he hasn’t heard about Speak No Evil . . .


January 23, 2020