A congressional impeachment inquiry into President Trump has been underway in earnest for a month now. We still have no way of knowing for certain what the outcome of the process will be — if the House will vote to impeach (likely), and if so, whether enough Republicans in the Senate can be persuaded to join with Democrats in removing him from office at the conclusion of a trial (unlikely). But after Tuesday's testimony of career diplomat William Taylor, we can at least know what the outcome should be: Trump clearly deserves to be removed from office for violations of campaign finance law, abuse of office, and obstruction of justice.
On November 8, 2016, the United States elevated a demagogue-charlatan with the personal ethics of a two-bit mob boss to the most powerful job on the planet. For the first two years or so of his presidency, members of the career civil service and intelligence community, political appointees with long track records in Republican politics, and a range of retired military officers in top positions in the White House and Cabinet hemmed Trump in, limiting his actions, in most cases forcing him to conform to the law and accepted administrative norms. When that failed, judges pushed back on executive branch overreaching and incompetence. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Sort of.
But over the past several months, the wheels have come off the Trump administration. Whether that's because responsible grown-ups resigned and were replaced by partisan hacks or because staffers have been ground down by struggling to contain an ignorant and angry president for months and years at a time is something that presidential historians will try to answer once all of this is behind us. What's clear in the present is that by this past summer, Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani set out to warp and subvert American foreign policy, turning it into an arm of the president's conspiracy-addled re-election campaign. The plan was to force a vastly weaker foreign government into colluding with the campaign for the purpose of digging up dirt on the president's political rival.
This was obvious from the readout of Trump's July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which the White House itself, for some inexplicable reason, made public in late September. But because Trump is a con man who lies as often and automatically as the rest of us breathe, we've been dragged through a mountain of obstructive BS for a month, with numerous prominent Republicans getting in on the gaslighting game. Was there a quid pro quo? What even is a quid pro quo? How dare anyone second-guess the actions of the president! How could members of the Trump administration be expected to remember events that took place a couple of months ago? Why won't these viciously partisan Democrats stop their witch hunt of an innocent man? It's a coup! Treason! An act of civil war! A lynching!
Trump and leading members of his party are starting to sound scared. They should be. There's been a lot of testimony to Congress behind closed doors over the past month. Much of it will be repeated during the impeachment hearings Democrats are planning for a month or so from now. Taylor's opening statement on Tuesday gives us a taste of just how damning it's going to be. Trump did exactly what that White House readout showed him to be doing: blocking aid to Ukraine and demanding that its government publicly proclaim the opening of a criminal investigation of the Bidens in return for having that aid reinstated.
If that isn't a quid pro quo, nothing is. And if such behavior doesn't demonstrate that Trump is a crook who deserves to be removed from office, then principle truly has been banished from our public life.
It's important for political analysis to focus on the way the world is. Will 20 or more Senate Republicans act to remove a Republican president from office less than a year away from an election? The smart money says no. That's probably right, especially if Republican voters continue to stand behind him.
But politics is also about what should happen, not just about what likely will. Trump's entire style of politics denies the reality of such normative considerations, of higher principles and ideals, including the rule of law. It's all tribalism, all the way down. Trump is the Republican Party, the Republican Party is America, and America is the only thing that matters — just as the nation's enemies, and the Republican Party's enemies, and Trump's enemies, are identical, and need to be defeated. It's this kind of thinking that convinces some that it's perfectly okay for the president to collapse the country's foreign policy into his political campaign and then fight like hell against those who dare to suggest that this is flagrantly corrupt and criminal. How could our guy have done something wrong? He's ours, after all, and right and wrong are purely and entirely a function of whatever advances or hinders our good.
Such thinking may yet triumph in the United States, leaving the country with a thoroughly debased political system. But we would be fools to give up without a fight. Taking a stand against the criminal in the White House, saying without a hint of ambivalence, even in the face of its likely futility, that this behavior on the part of a president is and must remain unacceptable, is one immensely important way to do that.
That's why the Democrats need to press onward in the effort to impeach the president, even if it's likely to fail. The man deserves to be evicted from the people's house. Stating that clearly and forthrightly on the record has value. Even if circumstances render it impossible for justice to be done.
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