Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 23, 2020
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, and then slowly twisting the knife of majority-dictated rules to turn search for what’s happened into ridicule and sneer.
If you were unsure before, there are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats and independents in the Senate, and 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 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.
Now, thankfully, we’re into the actual recitation of the case against and for the president’s bad behavior, with Democrats operating with the testimony of government ambassadors and Trump appointees that we’ve already heard, and the president’s team offering, well, just ridicule. Sometime next week, it is possible that the Senate will reconsider the witness question, but it will be a show for the reelection of moderate Republicans, not out of interest in investigating truth in this matter.
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.
It makes clear that the law is what a majority says it is. Ironically, 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. . .
As expected, Mitch McConnell used his all of his bureaucratic ruses to deny the prosecuting House managers the ability to call new — or, importantly, previously blocked — witnesses or even to subpoena the documents that had been obstructed by this White House.
Still, the House Democrats managed to use their arguments over procedural issues 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, nonsensical and often aimed as either general lambastes against the audacity of Democrats everywhere to even question the wisdom of Donald Trump or against the individuals arguing the case.
The Trump defense was all-but-nonexistent. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted, “They shouted. They spouted invective. They launched personal attacks against the impeachment managers. But they offered virtually nothing in defense of the president’s conduct, nor anything but a passing reference to Ukraine.”
Instead, we can expect that they will continue to hit as haste in the House to impeach, and defend the right of this president or any president to conduct foreign affairs as he or she sees fit, to have latitude not to have to answer to Congress for any behavior and to protect 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, and, in their fondest dreams, 20 senators to part with Trump; Trump defenders are speaking only to Trump himself.
But, to be honest, the first days’ arguments were infuriating.
The Washington Post editorialized that “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 his powers in an attempt to bully Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election on his behalf, it would not matter because the House never accused him of committing an ordinary crime. Hundreds of legal experts around the country have gone on public record to say that view is incorrect, including Johnathan Turley, the constitutional law professor who spoke on Trump’s behalf before House.
It is clear that Trump did abuse his office, and it is clear 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 for being the object of a hoax inquiry.
And it is clear to me, at least, that once this Senate majority decides against conviction, 53–47, that Trump will boast of conquering the Senate, the Democrats, and Americans in general, and demand re-election and the full pomp and powers of an authoritarian king.
At one point, White House counsel Pat Cippoline 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 . . .