You will ultimately be Trump's impeachment juror
The president of the United States has been impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress. The vote on Wednesday was 230-197 for abuse of power and 229-198 for obstruction. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doled out a vicious side-eye to members of her caucus who were gloating as she gaveled the results in. That this momentous event, just the third formal impeachment in American history, is generating so little hope for actually removing President Trump from office and feels so anticlimactic says much about the moment we are all collectively living through, and about us. Not much of it is good.
During the debate in the House, there was the usual spectacle of Republicans making arguments so absurd that viewers miss whatever is said next as they try to process the staggering foolishness they just heard. "Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats afforded this president in this process," ranted Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) in one prominent example. There were factual errors born of staggering ignorance, like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) claiming that Ukraine invaded Georgia in 2008 (it was Russia). And there were also smart, Ivy League-educated people who know better but who have decided that playing shouty pretend populists on television is how they will become the president's special little pets and earn themselves sinecures on Fox post-retirement. Tweet at me, they say. Tweet at me. They are blind loyalists willing to die for the mad tyrant no matter his crimes and abuses.
These antics served their purpose of making the proceedings about as pleasant to watch as a nasty divorce hearing. Americans hate Congress anyway, Republicans figured, so why not lean in. Make it a trainwreck. Trump lives on trainwrecks, drawing strength from the screech of metal-on-metal, the stench of chaos, the human suffering he can translate into some political grievance. And indeed, his overall approval numbers have held, if not ticked up a notch, even though supermajorities agree that he did something wrong. The troops have been kept in line, at an astronomical cost no one can currently project.
When Trump is inevitably acquitted in the Senate next month after a hasty "trial," all but certain to have been manipulated to within an inch of its sad life by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnnell (R-Ky.), it will be voters who are once again charged with the task they so spectacularly failed at in 2016: ensuring that this toxic megalomaniac and his coterie of shameless opportunists, corrupt wise guys, cruel nativists, and born-rich simpletons are not entrusted yet again with the awesome power of the federal government.
Some Democrats (including this one) held out some dim hope that the process of laying out the president's crimes for a national audience might shake loose some small but potentially decisive share of his support, that confronted with the gravity of extorting an ally in exchange for interference in the 2020 election, along with the utterly shameless attempt to block all avenues of congressional inquiry into the caper, a significant number of voters might finally conclude that the roaring economy is not worth Trump's incessant attacks on decency and the rule of law, or at least that the vice president could capably preside over what remains of the expansion without embroiling himself in a constitutional crisis every other month.
And tellingly, about half the country, sometimes more, depending on the poll, believes the president should be removed from office. That majority, unfortunately, is suboptimally distributed. The reason this astonishing fact does not dominate our discourse is because the president believes, not without reason, that he is insulated from popular accountability by the Electoral College. Contempt for majority opinion is so pervasive inside the GOP today, and it is in no small part the product of the country's antiquated system to elect the president. This system is easily the dumbest and least defensible electoral mechanism on the face of the Earth, a scheme so hilariously absurd that no one would dare operate it as the founders actually intended, instead choosing to erect retroactive and faux-serious philosophical justifications for why the only official elected by the whole country should sometimes take office without winning the most votes.
Does anyone doubt that anti-majoritarian arrogance is behind the GOP's smarmy impeachment defense? There have been over 60 polls taken since 2017 of a matchup between Trump and the person who is still, despite the many twists and turns of the primary, his most likely general election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has led in 57 of those polls, many by double digits. The president's numbers against the other contenders in the Democratic field aren't much better. If the office of the president were elected by popular vote, there would be an uncontrolled panic raging across all levels of the Republican Party about the coming catastrophe.
Yet despite the obstacles placed in front of them, and despite the possibility of another Electoral College disaster, Wednesday's impeachment will confront voters in November with a simple choice. They can take the measure of Trump's time in office — the animus-filled rallies featuring the president's alternately doddering and loathsome antics, the relentless lying about indisputable facts important and trivial, the erasure of boundaries between the White House and the Department of Justice, the daily self-enrichment of the Trump Organization by the president himself, the Cabinet stacked with almost nothing but zombie-faced old white men, the pointless cruelty at the border, the glorification of ignorance and selfishness, Robert Mueller's damning Russia Report, and now the Ukraine outrage — and they can either endorse it by granting him another four years in office, or they can reject it by cashiering him.
We shouldn't be sanguine about how that's going to go. Those of us who obsess over the daily drama in D.C. perpetually overestimate how much ordinary people care about any of it, and ignore the data suggesting economic conditions are the most important indicator of whether a president will be re-elected. Trump is a unique case: wildly unpopular from day one, saddled with a series of scandals of his own making, a man whose steady descent into disgrace and hourly mewling about the unfairness of it all often serve to blunt the impact of scandals whose gravity would obliterate the future of any other politician. For example: Just during the impeachment inquiry itself, the Trump Foundation was forced to pay a massive settlement for stealing and misappropriating funds and prohibited from ever again operating a charity in the state of New York; one of the president's many accusers produced evidence that her allegations of sexual assault were accurate; and journalists found 43 more women who accuse the president of sexual misconduct.
These horrors seem to have moved few if any Americans to change their appraisal of the president, because something in our society is deeply broken and getting worse by the day. Beltway journalists would have you believe that it is some kind of disease of hyper-partisanship, afflicting us all, but the truth is much more disturbing: The Republican Party, staring down demographic apocalypse and total irrelevance, is willing to dismantle democracy to hang onto power for a few more years. Elected Republicans, spanning the gamut between embarrassing toadies like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and supposedly serious people like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), see the shape of things to come and act accordingly, no matter their underlying principles. These are people who are all in for minority rule.
What they have wrought is nothing less than the sudden disintegration of the American democratic experiment, one that promises an even more dramatic descent into authoritarianism if we do not stop them. Despite law professor Pamela Karlan's impassioned claim during her impeachment testimony that the world looks to us for guidance, we actually have nothing more to teach the world about the concept of democracy today than the inventor of the transistor radio does about satellite radio. Our estimation of our own importance in the contemporary democratic universe long ago surpassed its actuality.
The United States has only been a legitimate democracy in the meaningful sense of the word during the 54 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and Republicans began aggressively chipping away at it more than a decade ago. All along they were wittingly or unwittingly preparing us for this day, when a dollar store demagogue could conquer the country's imagination, remake its political culture in his twisted image, and demonstrate his awful power by convincing millions of people whose party was only recently ostensibly committed to the hallowed principles of constitutional law to throw in their lot with a man who knows and cares nothing about any of it.
Democrats were right to use what power they have to put a stop to Trump's lawlessness, especially knowing that it will ultimately prove to be a futile gesture. But let's not kid ourselves: The real jurors in this case are not the Senate Republicans who have already made up their minds, but the voters, who have less than a year to decide how they wish to see the next several decades of American history unfold. We will either surrender to the president and the children he sees as his dynastic heirs, or we can begin the painful process of Detrumpification and renewal. That campaign begins in earnest now.
Editor's note: This article initially misstated the timing of the Voting Rights Act. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.
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