As the Trump administration descends further into paroxysms of corruption, obstruction of justice, shady ties to Moscow and authoritarian tendencies, it still has one major strategic advantage. Too much of the punditry, Congress, the media and even people in the resistance continue to underestimate the extent to which the old rules of politics, constitutionality and even rule of law no longer apply. This has made it possible for the Trump administration despite its many ethical, legal, strategic and tactical missteps to stay at least one step ahead of its many critics.
This gap in awareness of how much our politics have changed is most apparent in the frequent headlines we see stating, in one form or another, that some new piece of information or scandal is the final straw that will lead to impeachment of the President or widespread indictments of the people around him. These headlines largely represent a triumph of the old way of thinking over the new reality, or less charitably of hope over analysis. It is very unlikely that any new piece of information is going to lead to Trump’s impeachment, and largely true that if Trump were going to get impeached, the process would have started months ago, possibly even during the transition.
The primary reason for this is that, investigations notwithstanding, there is little about Donald Trump’s conduct, relationships and corruption that was not already known before the election. It is not news to any sentient person, for example, that Trump has deep and disturbing ties to Moscow or that he intends to use the presidency to make himself richer. One of the most significant pieces of information that was made public in recent weeks was the former CIA director John Brennan had briefed Congress before the election about Trump’s ties to Russia. At that time, Congress did nothing. If the GOP leaders in Congress knew this nine months ago and did nothing, why, barring a dramatic and unlikely shift in public opinion, would they do anything about it now? Their silence then, makes them co-conspirators now. That fact, you can be sure, is not lost on the Trump and those around him.
Several pundits, most notably Ross Douthat, in a recent New York Times opinion piece, have warned that the precedent set by seeking to impeach Trump would be damaging to the future of the republic. Douthat also argued that the frequent judicial decisions stopping, for example, the Muslim travel ban, set a precedent that could make it very difficult for future presidents to govern. There is some logic behind these arguments, but they are also grounded in the old America. Worrying about how a decision or action will effect the next president is a wise approach in general, but makes much less sense when our democracy is imperiled by a president in a manner that is without precedent. In short, if we do not limit Trump and the Bannonites now, there very well may not be a next democratically elected president.
It is not hard to see why these views persist. If we believe that Trump will be impeached because another example of his malfeasance bordering on treason has come to light, we are implicitly placing our faith in the endurance and power of American democracy. Unfortunately, it is increasingly apparent that faith is misplaced. However, recognizing the reality of how badly our political system is broken, a process that in fairness began when Trump was still busy running his companies into the ground and trying to reinvent himself as a reality television star, is to confront an uncertain and often frightening reality.
In Trump’s America, partisanship is everything. The checks and balances that were supposed to be ensured by our seperation of powers have been irreparably weakened by radical partisanship. In Paul Ryan’s House of Representatives, Mitch McConnell’s Senate and countless right wing media outlets, truth, patriotism and lawfulness no longer matter. All that matters is what team you are on; and if you are on Trump’s team, you are required to rationalize away any behavior no matter how dangerous, unpatriotic, criminal or downright disgusting. This is why no revelation about Jared Kushner setting up direct communications with Moscow during the transition period, Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice by firing James Comey or of attempts by the Kushner and Trump families to all but sell off the presidency will bring about impeachment or some other deus ex machina salvation of American democracy.
it is axiomatic that the Donald Trump represents a threat to American democracy and easy enough for the political class to discuss that, but it is much more difficult to accept and understand the damage that has already been done to our democracy. However, until we recognize that, we will continue to be fooled into just grabbing on to the next revelation of misdoings in the administration and hoping for the best.