I wish I had more cheerful news for you before the Christmas holiday, but you might as well internalize the grim news that Donald Trump will not be convicted in his Senate impeachment trial, that the full truth of his corruption will remain hidden until after the 2020 election, and that the gamble of gambles on impeachment and removal will fail.
There is no Hallmark movie ending in this story, where the low-stakes Holiday Bakeoff in Mistletoe Falls leads to a chaste kiss between star-crossed lovers on Christmas Eve. Instead, Washington is teetering over an abyss from which it will likely never emerge. The Republican Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, is now flagrantly, overtly telling America to fuck itself, hard. Oh well. It was a nice republic while we had it.
This isn’t merely some partisan skirmish where either the guys with the red flags or the guys with the blue flags win a round and everyone has a beer after. This is the real, raw test of a corrupt and lawless executive our Founders feared, and we are as a country failing that test. Impeachment, the most consequential and serious check on executive power in our constitutional system, has been reduced to a partisan joke by the Senate Republicans.
There will be no impeachment trial to speak of in the U.S. Senate. There will be no accountability for Trump’s abuse of power and his extortion of a foreign leader to benefit his re-election campaign.
There will be no blockbuster parade of witnesses like Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Pompeo. No documents will be produced. The people who could answer the real questions that speak to Trump’s intent and the reality of the Ukraine bribery scheme will never take the stand.
Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham will stop it all, dead in its tracks, and as quickly as they can. Chuck Schumer lacks the numbers and the respect to force McConnell’s hand even an inch.
When McConnell said in a Fox News interview, “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can,” it was a clear signal that the fix was fully in.
Lindsey Graham (R-Bootlick), said the quiet part loud: “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.” If Graham had even a fraction of self-awareness, to say nothing of honor, he wouldn’t contemplate taking such a profoundly corrupt and disgraceful action, and certainly wouldn’t admit it. In today’s Washington, he’s feted by the Trump media as a conquering hero.
Why can’t Schumer get a real trial? Why will his attempts to negotiate with McConnell fail? Let me count the ways:
First, and most importantly, there are no heroes in the Senate GOP. Don’t wait for anyone to ride in on a white horse (or Rafalca) to save the day. Although it would take only four members to force McConnell to do the right thing, they live in abject terror of Trump’s rage and McConnell’s money and power. They could force a real trial, and bring Trump to heel, but they won’t. They could demand witness testimony and document production, but they won’t.
Yes, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Martha McSally, Susan Collins, Corey Gardner, and others could easily change the game. Even two of them working in concert could force the question.
But they won’t. It’s not happening.
Whether it’s simple fear or an inability to exercise their leverage and power, there are no signs that anyone in the Senate GOP gives a damn about anything other than ignoring the inconvenient truths about Donald Trump’s criminality and corruption. They’ll put their heads down, furrow their brows, mutter anodyne phrases about ensuring a fair process, and pray they’ll escape until the storm blows over.
Second, the Democrats have pulled their punches on trying to require the Trump administration to produce documents and witnesses. This should be an issue that races through the courts for expedited consideration because it’s, you know, just a matter of the most fundamental tests of the balance of powers. No big deal. The sweeping privilege claims of the Trump cabal to block testimony of Executive Branch witnesses have been met mostly with a snippy shrug by the Democrats.
Why, oh, why the fuck aren’t they litigating this matter to the hilt? I understand it takes time, but that’s no excuse for not getting the maximum impact and preserving congressional prerogatives.
Finally, the lack of an outside effort to bring political pressure on the GOP comes at a cost. If the Democrats were serious about winning the impeachment fight—as I wrote about here a few weeks ago—they’d be doing something radically different right now.
If the Democrats were serious, they’d bring the only kind of pressure Mitch McConnell gives a single fuck about: political. They’d be on the air with TV and digital ad campaigns in key Senate seats, spending the kind of money Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are incinerating in their bonfire of the vanities ad campaigns.
Democrats would have their billionaires pushing a super PAC ad campaign with real tonnage behind it. They’d be hitting states like Maine, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, and especially Colorado. They’d be hanging Trump’s obvious corruption out there for all to see. They would be extracting a political price for senators who defend Trump. Spoiler: It’s not too late, but the clock is running.
Why do Democrats keep blowing the block-and-tackle political stuff? Because they’re still locked in the old model. Presuming good faith from a Trump side that operates in a world free of responsibility and consequence, the Democrats are unable to call a bluff even when their opponent is holding a pair of twos. They still fight spectacle with process, a fight spectacle always wins.
Nothing I have seen in the four years in which Trump has darkened our skies has left me more disheartened than the failures of both parties in Congress to address impeachment as it should be addressed. The triumph of Trumpism over the facts, the law, the Constitution, and moral leadership is complete. The moment McConnell and Graham engineer Trump’s acquittal in the Senate will be marked in history, a milestone where the Executive Branch became permanently superior to the Legislative and Judicial Branches. American can’t unring that funeral bell.
It isn’t simply that Trump’s actions in Ukraine are impeachable and justify removal from office.
Oh, no. It’s so much worse than that. It’s that the impeachment articles omit a broader constellation of other illegalities that richly deserve the ultimate political sanction. It’s that the GOP has developed an immune system that renders it impervious to the shame of defending the indefensible.
The Republicans lack the moral center to do the right thing, and the Democrats seemingly lack the political will and the skills to hold them to account.
Sadly, there was no other scenario here, ever. The inevitable, malignant progress of Trumpism is to consume everything: its host party, the balance of powers, the law, the Constitution, and the truth.
There is no bottom, there is no limit, and there are no rules in the new game of Trump partisanship. Republicans know the truth, and choose the lie. They know the right course, and choose lawlessness. They know they are in service to a man with no moral center, no love of anything beyond his own ego, and no regard for the law, but pretend their defense of him is just ordinary partisanship.
Democrats know what they should be doing, but just can’t seem to get there. At a moment when we need the disciplined party to have a conscience and the conscientious party to have discipline—we have neither.