Dozens of counter-narratives have emerged in recent months to defend Donald Trump against impeachment charges. A few of them deserve special attention, because unlike the counter-narrative that Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine was “perfect,” or that Trump withheld aid because he sincerely cares about corruption in Ukraine, or that this impeachment process is a “coup,” the most dangerous ones have an element of truth to them. Here are the five most pernicious.
1. Let’s take, for example, the idea that you can’t impeach a president if the economy is good. Here’s how Trumponomics author Stephen Moore put it on Fox Business: “Nancy Pelosi, I hope you're watching. You’re going to impeach a president that’s created the best economy in 35 years? Are you insane?”
This is a half-truth. The economy is good. What is unclear, however, is what that has to do with the constitutional responsibility of holding a president accountable for attempting to coerce a foreign leader into announcing an investigation into Joe Biden.
This narrative skirts the merits of impeachment, and instead attempts to change the subject to something more favorable. There’s also the implicitly cynical assertion here as well that suggests that voters, given superficial appeasement, don’t really care about being governed by a corrupt leader (and, in fact, will punish someone for holding him accountable).
2. Another counter-impeachment narrative that I’m hearing a lot lately is this: “It’ll tear the nation apart!” This one also has the benefit of skipping over the merits of impeachment, while imploring us to put the country first.
Again, though, it’s BS.
For one thing, it is brought to you by the same people who were happy to “burn it all down” and vote for Trump, because, after all, America was doomed, and this was the “Flight 93 election.” Today, for some reason, these same radicals are super-worried about preserving comity and stability. I don’t buy it.
Conservative writer Katie Pavlich even has the temerity to suggest that, by pursuing impeachment, Democrats are helping Russia sow discord.
Put aside the irony of blaming everyone but Trump for helping the Russians. The “It’ll tear this nation apart!” argument, which was even advanced by Tulsi Gabbard, fails to grapple with the fact that our political world is already crazy, and that impeachment hasn’t been much more exciting (or dangerous) than a normal day in Trump’s America.
There’s also this question: Did impeaching Bill Clinton in the late '90s—something that many of the same Republicans now begging us not to put the country through this stressful event supported at the time—wreak havoc on our nation? If so, I don’t remember it.
In the highly unlikely event that enough Republicans are persuaded to support removing Trump from office, threats of violence or a second “civil war” should not deter them from their duty. The truth is this: Impeachment would only truly rip America apart if Donald Trump were to decide to burn it all down on his way out the door. I don’t think we can allow his threat to do such a thing prevent us from holding him accountable.
3. Here’s another one that popped up about a week ago: Sen. Ted Cruz is suggesting, parroting a line that came from the Trump White House and Rudy Giuliani, that publishing a few op-ed columns is the equivalent of foreign election “interference.”
If that’s the case, then Giuliani and others working with Ukrainian fringe characters are soliciting such interference in 2020—by their own standards.
4. Unlike Cruz’s narrative, the next one is at least based on a provable fact: “There’s an election coming soon.” OK, it’s an irrelevant fact, but a fact nonetheless.
In America, there is (thankfully) always an election coming soon. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says you can’t impeach during an election year (just as there’s nothing saying you can’t nominate or confirm a Supreme Court justice in an election year).
To be sure, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both faced impeachment in their second term. Donald Trump is exceptional in that he has been quicker to commit obviously impeachable offenses. I’m just not sure that he should be rewarded with a “get out of jail free” card for that.
5. Lastly, and my personal favorite, is the notion that Trump is too inept or incompetent to shake down Ukraine. This one has the benefit of allowing the person advocating the theory to ding Trump, while still making an exculpatory case. One purveyor of this theory is Ben Shapiro, who argued that Trump was incapable of forming and sticking to a sinister plan, referring to his alternate view of the president as “Thought Vomit Trump.”
“I don’t actually see objectively that Trump has ever had the level of intent necessary to do anything,” Shapiro said. “I don’t think that he’s ever had the level of intent to put a—to eat a hamburger. I think that it’s half-accident when he eats a hamburger.”
Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Why so many counter-narratives? Republicans can’t really defend Donald Trump on the merits, but they can engage in distractions and sophistry.
It matters little if their arguments are mutually exclusive (it was a “perfect call!” hardly jibes with “It was bad, but not impeachable”); what matters is that cult members have options from which to choose.
If you find yourself running out of lame excuses for defending Donald Trump, one of these five counter-narratives is sure to come in handy. Feel free to mix and match.