The Democratic-led House will likely impeach Donald Trump in their bid to save what remains of democracy from the corrupt, Russian-beholden grip of the GOP.
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In this day of GOP-subverted expectations, everyone has their preferences for what impeachment should be about. Democrats have centered it on Donald Trump’s conduct; Republicans would rather that it not exist, and an appallingly numerous amount of commentators and pundits seem to relish in the partisan conflict. But none of those options gets close to what impeachment actually is: the final battle for the future of the nation between the patriotic and the corrupt.
It may be obvious to say, but: The corrupt are winning. They have built a world in which the shakedown of Ukraine by Donald Trump was inevitable. As a man with four bankruptcies, dozens of assault and harassment accusers, and whose political career began with a racist conspiracy theory, Trump has continued to be exactly who he has always been. He is so unfit, so completely corrupt, and so utterly depraved that he publicly admitted to committing the very crimes that he is accused of, while furnishing material evidence, a wide array of witnesses, and a cadre of accomplices in the form of the White House senior staff. There is no question as to whether Donald Trump used his power over military aid as President of the United States to extract political favors from Ukraine that would benefit his reelection campaign: He did.
What we are in the midst of arguing in this impeachment process is neither guilt nor innocence, but the perception of guilt or innocence. The substance undeniably favors Democrats, but the Republicans are masters of perception. They have been so at least since we collectively perceived Saddam Hussein to be responsible for 9/11, since we perceived a “real” America and a fake one, since we perceived birtherism as a legitimate form of political grievance against the first Black man to be elected president. For Republicans, the impeachment of Donald Trump is just another tweak on reality, another set of optics to manage. But what separates this from the others is that the talking points aren’t being run by the party apparatus; they’re being written by Russian intelligence.
It is not a mistake that Donald Trump asked his favor of President Zelensky the day after GOP antics neutralized the live testimony of Robert Mueller on the damning substance of his report. It is not an accident that the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee has substantial personal and financial ties to multiple members of the conspiracy to extort Ukraine for Donald Trump’s personal enrichment. It is not a surprise that Donald Trump began courting Republican senators, and theories straight from the FSB (the Russian intelligence services) start rolling out on national television.
More telling than the actions taken in defense of Trump are the ones left undone in defense of the country and the sanctity of our elections. The Voting Rights Act, a law that protects the right to vote and has been renewed with overwhelming bipartisan support for over half a century, received only one Republican vote as it passed through the House this past week. The nation’s Attorney General has halted all publicly visible investigations into election interference, redacted the details of previous election interference even from Congress in the Mueller Report, and has suggested investigations of anyone who wanted answers on the relationship between Russia and Trump in the past or present Department of Justice. Across television interviews and social media, House and Senate, Republican officeholders have moved on from ignoring the ongoing threat and downplaying the significance of Russian interference, to insisting that the interference in 2016 never happened at all.
According to Republicans, Donald Trump did not have campaign subordinates connect with Russian intelligence assets, and he did not host them at Trump Tower in pursuit of damaging information on his political opponent. Donald Trump did not ask Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, and he did not ask for one, very specific change to the Republican Party platform on military aid to Ukraine. He never developed a communications strategy with Wikileaks, and he never implied that—should he lose—the election was rigged against him. With no crime, there is no impeachment. And with no impeachment, there is no threat to reelection. That this strategy aligns the GOP with the desires of Vladimir Putin is immaterial to them; that this aligns them with electoral victory is paramount.
Republican efforts to quash the impeachment and removal of Donald J. Trump are not acts of ignorance or neglect, but of permission. Trump does whatever he is allowed to do, and the Republican Party has granted him unfettered impunity. They indulge his demagoguery and invocations of violence; they oblige his empowerment of white supremacist policies that violate our sworn commitments to human rights; they run interference as he asks for and receives the assistance of a hostile foreign power, and when he tries to erase his crimes, they help.
With this Republican indulgence, a crisis of government becomes inevitable, and indeed, we are here. Impeachment is where the boundaries of accountability and the limitations of permission intersect. For Democrats to limit it to Trump alone is to miss the environment that fostered him; for Republicans to deny their reckoning is to embrace nihilism. Impeachment and removal will ultimately resolve whether this country is bound by law or blood. Because, ultimately, impeachment isn’t about Trump. It isn’t even about Russia’s incursion into our politics. It is about how the Republican Party let them.
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