As more damning information trickles out about Donald Trump, the president’s apologists must constantly manufacture alternate excuses for defending the indefensible. Lately, I’ve started hearing one that goes something like this: Sure, what Trump did was “inappropriate” and wrong—but it isn’t impeachable.
At first blush, the sounds both plausible and nuanced. One could surely imagine a scenario where a president does something that is bad but not bad enough to warrant removal from office. In fact, it happens all the time. It was often said—by Democrats, and even by a number of Republicans—of Bill Clinton. What is more, one might even be tempted to congratulate these honest Republicans for making this brave concession. Of course, it’s not bravery, but desperation, which leads one to grasp for what is the last possible argument to settle on after all the better ones have been tried and abandoned.
The only problem is that this is an intellectually dishonest and untenable position.
Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, admitted to urging Ukraine to launch an investigation into Joe Biden. A partial “transcript” released by the White House confirmed this. This favor just so happened to be requested at the same time the U.S. was postponing the transfer of vital aid to Ukraine. Text messages given to Congress by a former U.S. diplomat also confirm this.
What is more, there are reports that Trump told China he would look the other way on Hong Kong in return for cooperation in the trade war. Trump also suggested they should investigate Joe Biden. Trump confirmed this when he publicly asked China to investigate the Bidens, and a Trump adviser later told the Financial Times that he got “quite a bit of background on Hunter Biden from the Chinese.”
But if that isn’t enough for you, throw in the Russia stuff (Trump was clearly willing to collude, even if didn’t happen), the fact that Trump paid off a porn star, has consistently violated the emoluments clause, and the fact that he has abandoned the Kurds to their slaughter—each of which alone would be worthy, in my estimation, of impeachment.
So based on all of this established evidence, and the notion that what Trump did was bad but not bad enough to impeach him, I’m left wondering: If Trump’s behavior isn’t worthy of impeachment and removal, then what behavior would constitute removal?
It’s hard to imagine a president doing anything more egregious or impeachment-worthy than using the power and prestige of his office to coerce a foreign government into digging up dirt on the president’s domestic political rival and try to influence the outcome of a presidential election.
Luckily, many of us remember the last time a president was impeached—back when some of Trump’s current defenders (including Senator Lindsey Graham) were involved in pushing or prosecuting the Clinton impeachment trial.
Can anyone honestly suggest that what Trump has done is less impeachable than what Clinton did? Forget the sex and the lying about sex. At the time, Graham said that a failure to comply with subpoenas was, itself, an impeachable act.
Today, Trump’s White House is instructing people who aren’t even inside his administration not to comply with a congressional investigation.
Ultimately, the idea that Trump is guilty of doing the aforementioned bad things, yet these bad things aren’t worthy of removing him from office, leaves us to conclude that literally nothing is bad enough to remove him from office.
That’s why this line is yet another of the plausible-sounding, but perniciously misleading lines that Republicans are throwing out as they try to come to terms with the fact that there is no intellectually honest way to confront the obvious reality that Trump is guilty, and yet oppose impeachment and removal from office.
To help conservatives understand the logical fallacy they are now invested in, I’m reminded of a famous dilemma that some of Trump’s supporters might be familiar with.
Having grown tired of hearing that Jesus was a good moral teacher but not the savior, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis postulated the idea that these two things were mutually exclusive. Jesus, Lewis pointed out, went around telling people he was the savior. As such, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” Lewis concluded, “There is no nice middle ground that we can settle on.”
The same logical rule applies to Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors. He is either innocent, or he’s a madman or something worse. There is no middle ground to settle on.
The fact that nobody can honestly dispute Trump’s culpability is, hence, a tacit admission that he should be removed from office. But the fact that so many Republicans still see Trump as their earthly savior—a man who is being crucified, unfairly—explains why the rules of logic continue to elude them.
But the fact that no one can honestly defend Trump doesn’t mean that he has no defenders. His many apologists include names like Jim Jordan, Laura Ingraham, and Kevin McCarthy—all of them insisting that the readout of the Ukraine call doesn’t say what it says, that we should believe them and not our lying eyes.
It’s mind-boggling until you realize that they are in “circle the wagons” mode. The truth doesn’t matter. They’re casting about desperately for arguments.
And they’re running out of excuses.