ed note–again, not that it should need any discussion whatsoever amongst those who have made as part of their philosophical foundation the incontestable fact concerning just who controls both the mainstream media and Congress, none of this ‘get Trump’ business to which the world has been subjected on a daily basis now for 4 years would be taking place without the permission–tacit, explicit or otherwise–on the part of Netanyahu & co.
By John Cassidy for The New Yorker
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, was as good as his word. “I’m not an impartial juror,” he said in December, weeks before the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump was under way. “This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it.” At about the same time, McConnell explained his preparations for the trial to Fox News: “Everything I do during this I’m coördinating with the White House counsel,” he said. “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.”
On Friday evening, after the Senate had ruled out calling witnesses by a vote of 51–49, McConnell could rest assured that the “political process” had played out as he planned. Despite the brouhaha over the Times’s scoop about John Bolton’s new book, only two Republicans—Susan Collins and Mitt Romney—had defected. So McConnell called Trump to finalize his plan for bringing the trial to an end on Wednesday, with a vote on acquittal. “They discussed the details and POTUS signed off, per source,” Phil Mattingly, of CNN, reported.
Think about that for a moment. The Republican Party is now so utterly cowed by Trump that it wasn’t enough for its representatives in the Senate—who swore an oath to administer “impartial justice”—to overlook the mountain of evidence against the President and to refuse to hear from witnesses who could offer firsthand testimony. The Senate Majority Leader also felt obliged to call the President and seek his approval for extending the trial, the outcome of which is now absolutely certain, for a paltry few days.
The pusillanimity of elected Republicans is terrible to behold. And with the trial now ending, it is important to be clear about where it leaves American democracy. When Trump was elected, some observers compared him to Mussolini or even Hitler, but he doesn’t represent a putschist threat so much as the threat of creeping authoritarianism. Discovering to his delight that federal ethics laws didn’t apply to him, Trump refused to divest his business holdings and invited his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom had extensive business interests of their own, to join him in the White House. Furious about the negative press coverage he was receiving, Trump dubbed the media “the enemy of the people.” Determined to outflank Congress, where his Republican allies didn’t quite have sixty votes in the Senate, Trump issued an executive order that targeted Muslims, banning many from entering the country.
Since those early days, Trump has won some battles and lost others. As the courts, the media, and—most important of all—the American voters in 2018 stood up to him, some of his worst instincts were frustrated. This time last year, after he agreed to end a government shutdown that he instigated in frustration over Congress’s refusal to fund his border wall, it looked like he might end his first term as a lame duck. During the past twelve months, however, there have been a number of alarming developments.
Having fired or prompted the resignations of the few independent voices he had around him, Trump now stands unchallenged within his own Administration. His Vice-President, Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary, and acting chief of staff are all toadies. His Attorney General seems to be an authoritarian fellow-traveller, who, in the words of Donald Ayer, a former deputy Attorney General, is “using the office he holds to advance his extraordinary lifetime project of assigning unchecked power to the President.”
With the Justice Department acting as Trump’s protector, which is what he wanted all along, it is more important than ever that the external checks operate effectively. First, the special counsel Robert Mueller and now the U.S. Senate have let the country down. In both cases, the investigation was carried out professionally, but then things went badly astray. Even though Mueller’s team accumulated evidence that clearly indicated that Trump tried to obstruct justice, the special counsel refused to say that the President had committed a crime. Now Senate Republicans have given Trump a pass on another wanton abuse of power. What message does this send to a President who has always pushed things as far as he can?
On Thursday night, Adam Schiff, the leader of the House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial, reminded the assembled senators that Trump’s famous statement to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky—“I would like you to do us a favor”—came just twenty-four hours after Mueller appeared before Congress and refused to point an accusatory finger at the U.S. President. “He got on the phone with Zelensky asking for this favor the day after Bob Mueller testifies,” Schiff said. “What do you think he will be capable of doing the day after he is acquitted here, the day after he feels: I have dodged another bullet. I really am beyond the reach of the law?”
Trump is capable of almost anything, and many Republican senators are well aware of this. In the past forty-eight hours, two of them—Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, and Rob Portman, of Ohio—have described Trump’s actions toward Ukraine as “inappropriate,” and a third, Marco Rubio, has suggested that they may have met the standards for impeachment. But it is actions, not words, that count. All three of these senators voted against witnesses, and they will all vote to acquit Trump. A toy poodle may issue the odd spirited yelp. It is still a toy poodle.
The House managers did all that could have been expected, and more, to make their case. Sadly, it was never going to be enough. The only thing that will get Trump out of the Oval Office, and perhaps alter the trajectory of the Republican Party, is a comprehensive defeat in November. The Presidential campaign starts for real on Monday, in Iowa. In the two hundred and thirty-two years since the Founders ratified the Constitution of a new republic, there has seldom, if ever, been a more consequential election. The conduct of the impeachment trial has demonstrated what is at stake.