The headline, of course, is that Donald Trump is the third president to ever be impeached, and that whatever happens in the Senate — where we can expect a sure acquittal — won’t erase the historic stain on his legacy, as if legacy would ever be the right word to describe the damage Trump will inevitably leave behind him.
But to think the stain will stick solely to Trump misses the point. If you watched the eight hours of non-debate in the House and the impeachment votes that followed — wherein the lone Republican voting in favor of impeachment was ex-Republican Justin Amash, who left the GOP because he could no longer tolerate being in the Party of Trump — the mark is also forever stamped on the Trump enablers, the Vichyites, those who have helped to make the cult of Trump possible and, I shudder to think, possibly enduring.
On the cable shows, they were quick to point to the stark partisanship of our times as a culprit here — and, yes, one of three Democrats to defect on impeachment is apparently switching parties — but what happened on the House floor went far beyond partisanship, far beyond the outdated red vs. blue dynamic, and leads directly into what makes the Trump presidency so dangerous.
It wasn’t just that the Republicans — many of them rightly fearful of Trump’s power with the GOP base — defended Trump so completely. Or that so many were intent on showing off their fluency in Trump-talk — Stalinist, socialist, delusional, total Schiff show — as well as in applying the Trump standard to, uh, truth-telling. I mean, Trump as corruption fighter?
The real issue — even more obvious than the facts in the case, that Trump tried to browbeat Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing he would open a phony investigation against the Bidens — is that no Republican stood up to concede Trump had done anything wrong. One or two were brave enough not to nominate Trump for a Nobel on the spot, but that’s as far as the dissent got.
Since Trump described the infamous July 25 call as “perfect,” it seems Republicans have been competing to see who could best make the case. The clear winner Wednesday was Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who said Jesus had gotten a fairer shot from Pontius Pilate than Trump did from Democrats.
Others didn’t go all New Testament on us. They just went medieval. What we heard was that it was all a Democratic sham, a plot to undermine the 2016 election, a slap at the 63 million who voted for Trump. Didn’t Zelensky say he felt no pressure? Didn’t Ukraine eventually get the money without making any announcement? Wasn’t it only unelected bureaucrats who ever said anything about quid pro quo?
It was all easy enough to counter, if anyone was listening (and no one was). And Democrats tried. John Bolton’s mention of the Giuliani-Mulvaney “drug deal.” The testimony that Ukraine did know of the $390 million of military aid being held up and that it didn’t get the money until the whistleblower complaint landed. Mick Mulvaney’s very public “quid pro quo” admission. Trump’s very public admission that, yes, he wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
I mean, it was as if everyone had blocked out that part of the Zelensky call when Trump said, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it…”
In one of the few bright moments of the day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, in the speech of his life, laid out the case against Trump with unexpected eloquence. But eloquence was wasted on this day. Trump deserved to be impeached. More than that, he dared Democrats to impeach him. But as much as Trump, it was the enablers — he did nothing wrong, nothing — who forced Nancy Pelosi’s hand. It was the enablers who failed to object when Trump said that Article II of the Constitution meant he could do whatever he wanted, including sandbagging Congress at will.
When Bill Clinton was impeached, he was, of course, contrite about lying. That’s Bill Clinton all over. Few people can do contrition as well as he can. But many Democrats noted their disappointment in his behavior even if a strong majority said they didn’t believe that lying about sex, even perjured lying about sex, rose to the level of removing a president.
There was no contrition here. No one said, yeah, Trump may have crossed a few lines, but you don’t overturn an election for that. When Trump was asked if he felt any responsibility for the impeachment proceedings, he said no. Of course he said no. He was too busy, I guess, tweeting about Pelosi’s teeth falling out of her mouth. You really can’t make this stuff up.
On the night of impeachment, Trump was at a rally in Michigan complaining about Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell’s vote for impeachment. She had succeeded her late husband — the long-serving Michigan Rep. John Dingell — in office. And during a condolence call from Trump after Dingell’s funeral, she had told the president she thought her husband was “looking down” on the proceedings. Which prompted to Trump to, uh, joke at the rally that maybe Dingell was actually “looking up” instead of down. What do you do when impeachment just isn’t enough?
Democrats said they were forced to impeach Trump now, 11 months before the 2020 election, because he’s on a “crime spree” and might cross even more uncrossable lines if not stopped. That’s not a stretch, particularly knowing the Senate won’t convict him. The truth is, he’ll cross whatever line you draw in front of him because that’s who Trump is. And the sound you’ll hear will be the dependably craven congressional Republicans cheering him on. Because that’s who they are.