A watershed moment in history is upon us. Later today – probably after the sun sets and all the House members have spoken their piece – Donald Trump will almost certainly join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton in the presidential impeachment club. Richard Nixon is an honorary member, though he slithered out of town like a septic snake before his impeachment ticket was officially punched.
Johnson, a vile racist, was impeached for having obstructed Reconstruction at every turn. Clinton was impeached for being a damn fool who cheated on his wife and then lied about it on television when he knew better than any living man that the Republican-controlled House was out to get him. Both survived their Senate trials. Nixon would have been impeached for breaking the law had he tried to gut it out, but his chances in the Senate were grim, which is why he put on his boogie shoes and fled back to San Clemente.
Donald Trump has also wantonly broken this country’s laws, and today, he faces impeachment for it. That is to say, he will almost certainly be impeached for some of it, anyway. The crimes of bribery, conspiracy, coercion, obstruction of justice and the kidnapping of children at the southern U.S. border do not appear on the articles drafted by the House Judiciary Committee and approved by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They should be there, but they are not. Instead, Trump stands accused only of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and unless the Potomac thwarts its banks and subsumes the District of Columbia, Pelosi has the votes to get it done.
According to Trump and his vulgar minions on television and in Congress, progressives like me are very happy about all this. Speaking personally, nothing could be further from the truth. The idea of finding joy, not just in this moment but the path taken to arrive here, is nearly as sickening as Trump’s presidency itself has been.
Is Trump a genuine menace to constitutional order and the rule of law? Demonstrably. Does he deserve to be removed from office? Unquestionably. Yet there is no pleasure to be found in the fact of his impeachment because of the flagrantly ruinous route we have journeyed to arrive here, and because the poisonous power of hate in politics all but guarantees his acquittal in the Senate.
Here is the truth of Trump: He has delivered everything that Republicans have historically expected from their presidents, deftly serving to distract the public with his deliberately inflicted mayhem while congressional Republicans rewrite the tax code and defenestrate environmental and financial regulations at the behest of their wealthy friends in the private sector. That is the point of Trump, the whole point, and the only point. Meanwhile, Republicans have used Trump’s frenzied debasement of the office to stack the courts with far-right anti-choice judges who will squat on the bench for a generation.
The white power structure in the United States, flush with money and the will to use it, was bound to produce a president like Donald Trump sooner or later. If you look at Trump through Republican eyes, you begin to see why they continue to stand with him: Under his churlish gaze, they have gotten more than they could have ever dreamed of.
After two terms of a Black president, the “whitelash” (as Van Jones put it) came in a single ugly election that saw half the country shun the ballot box. The frankly racist members of Trump’s base serve as foot soldiers in a culture war aimed at maintaining white power while looting the Treasury and despoiling the planet, again.
Conservative “Never-Trumpers” like former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum can shed ersatz tears over what Trump has done, but they are deeply complicit in this ongoing calamity. Men like Frum do not detest Trump because of the policies enacted under his administration, but because he is bad for the brand.
The United States is growing more racially and culturally diverse by the day, and the GOP has spent the last 55 years demagoguing on race and abortion to get their base to the polls. Thanks to Trump (and a Democratic Party power structure which has been in a fetal crouch since Ronald Reagan), that reactionary base is now in the political driver’s seat. This is precisely as surprising as Jack jumping out of the box on a coiled spring after you prime the handle.
Sooner or later, demographics will be the windshield to the GOP’s bug, and they know this, so they have chosen to ride the tiger of Trump-style racism and hate for as long as they can, plundering as they go while planting the seeds of far-right fascism within the federal courts. Republicans primed the handle for all those long years, Jack jumped out of the box, and the GOP intends to make hay while the sun still shines.
All signs forecast that Trump will be impeached today, but the Senate will almost certainly acquit him before the spring flowers nose their way through the peat, because this is what white power and money have wrought. A president as demonstrably crooked as Trump has no business continuing in office, and Article II of the Constitution was set out as a remedy for such a happenstance, but the Constitution is proving to be a gossamer safety web in the face of well-funded, well-trained, well-organized hate.
Even if some miracle of politics coalesces in the Senate and Trump is actually removed from office, the poison is already loose within the national bloodstream. It was David Frum himself who just this month wondered, “What if Trump-style politics were executed a little more deftly, by someone with a stronger work ethic?” Answer your own question, Mr. Frum, and find a mirror when you do it.
Some will say a seemingly inevitable Senate acquittal makes this whole endeavor a waste of time, even a dangerous one, as the process has invigorated an already hyped GOP base in an election year. Stuff and nonsense: The left is on fire, too, as protests in favor of impeachment are taking place today in all 50 states. More than that, the Constitution demands this impeachment, win or lose.
It is bad enough that this despicable, cruel and law-breaking president will almost certainly retain his office when all is said and done. Had impeachment not been undertaken, even in the face of possible political setbacks, the only thing left would be to turn out the lights on this thought experiment of a nation. It is dark enough already as it is.
This is an important day, a momentous day, a historic day, but not a happy day, even for those of us who have been calling for impeachment since Trump first began flouting the laws he swore to uphold. This is what we have become as a nation, and it will be a long, perilous road to recovery, if in fact we even recover at all.