Smart, reasonable people who are not especially political tell me on occasion that it’s only a matter of time before President Donald Trump is impeached. The details differ, but the broad outlines are more or less the same when they say: “I mean, he can’t get away with this!”
This morning was no exception. A day after news broke of Trump’s firing the man investigating his campaign’s alleged connections to the Russian government, smart and reasonable people who are not especially political again tell me: “It’s going to happen!”
We have the rule of law. We have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We have the separation of powers. But the politics are different from the last time a president tried to cover up an alleged crime. Richard Nixon faced a Democratic Congress. Trump faces a Republican Congress that can and will shield the president as long as doing so keeps the base in line. With help from Fox News, it can.
From what I can tell, a handful of Republican senators have voiced discomfort with Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, but none of the righteous chest-thumping outrage necessary for demanding action. The Senate leadership has already said a special investigation is not required. Expect more noise from Republicans in both chambers, but don’t comfort yourself with the possibility of their doing something. They don’t need to, and may never need to.
As a Washington Monthly alum Ed Kilgore noted:
The bottom line is that Trump has a much better chance of getting through this “crisis” than Nixon did when he “massacred” a special counsel and the Justice Department officials defending him. The key thing to watch is whether congressional Republicans decide in large numbers that Trump’s stonewalling over Russia and his generally imperious habits are endangering their grip on the Legislative branch in 2018. If and when that wall breaks, and the GOP no longer feels a need for solidarity with its president, then depending on what is underneath all the furor, Trump and his associates could be in real trouble.
“If and when that wall breaks.” If the Access Hollywood video did not break that wall, I’m not sure Comey’s firing will. If an explicit admission to sexual assault did not offend utterly a “family values” party that impeached a president for sexual dalliances of his own, why would this? This isn’t the party of Reagan. This isn’t the party of either Bush. This is a party that can tolerance titanic hypocrisy as long as its needs are met. The difference between telling voters you’re concerned and doing nothing is a few days, a week at most.
This is why I tell friends that being right may not make a difference. Trump is not going to quit on his own, as many have said with confidence. He is not going to be impeached as long as the Republicans control Congress. The Democrats must win both chambers in 2018 to impeach. The House indicts. The Senate prosecutes. Two-thirds of the Senate must agree. And even if the Democrats did win both, mounting impeachment proceedings requires enormous risk that the Democrats, much as I prefer them, have not shown the institutional spine to take.
We must stop magically thinking. It’s possible, even likely, that Donald Trump will win reelection. If he does, he will reconfigure the federal judiciary by appointing pro-gun, pro-Christian and pro-corporate justices. He will reconfigure the federal bureaucracy, purging career professionals who show courage and replacing them with goons. He will reconfigure the Republican Party, inspiring a new generation of “nationalists” to unseat “moderates” like Lindsey Graham and kill off the incumbencies of so-called conservatives.
Many feared France was about to experience the same fate, but after it was clear centrist Emmanuel Macron would square off against far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, the French political establishment got behind Macron to fend off a Russia-backed insurgency.
That did not happen in the United States, proving that our political system is vulnerable to just about any kind of insanity as long as it has the blessing of the establishment. That establishment, of course, believes it can control the insanity, but in the end, I suspect, the insanity will prove to be parasite killing its host slowly, very slowly, and in doing so killing itself. But that, as I said, could take years.
We have not yet hit bottom and may not know where the bottom is for some time. As I noted yesterday, many Americans have incentive to shrug off evidence of collusion even if it were proven Trump worked with the Russians. These Americans “have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as an ally.” As they say in politics, as the base goes, so goes the leadership. The GOP may shrug it off as well.
I’m not trying to paint of picture of authoritarian doom. Life will go on for most people normally most of the time even if Trump and the Republican Party willingly forgets they are Americans first. I’m merely trying to see the challenges for what they really are. I can’t escape the conclusion that this will get worse before it gets better.
It’s time for the real patriots to come forward.
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