Sunday, February 14, 2021

BTRTN: The Long View on Acquittal... Bad for Republicans, Good for Democrats, and a New Meaning of "Common Ground"

Sure, it is infuriating that Trump was acquitted. But Steve thinks that when historians look back, they may well conclude that this acquittal was the moment the Republican Party hit the iceberg.


Many Democrats felt nausea, fever, exhaustion, and worry when Patrick Leahy, president pro tempore of the Senate, announced that Donald Trump had not been convicted of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Don’t worry – that’s the normal reaction after the first dose.

Lie down, rest, and take a measure of comfort in the knowledge that the Republican Party’s decision to not excise the stain of Donald Trump when it had the chance may have devastating implications for its candidates through the next Presidential election cycle and beyond.

The most important implication of the “not guilty” verdict is that Donald Trump is not only a viable candidate for the 2024 Presidential Republican nomination… he has to be considered the front runner. Had Republicans voted to convict Trump, and then allowed a strict party lines majority vote to forbid Trump from holding Federal office in the future, the process of defining the party’s post-cult identity could have begun in earnest.  

That process would have surely taken time, as the viability of right wing Trump-cult wanna-bees like Hawley and Cruz would be tested in battles with conservative traditional politicians like Nikki Haley and Mitt Romney. The Republican candidate who could actually forge a new bridge between the ascendant right wing extremists and the traditional conservatives would have a chance of leading a Republican victory in 2024.

But Donald Trump in 2024? Right now, the toxicity levels of such a candidacy could only be measured with Chernobyl-grade meters. The unreality star is no longer “The Apprentice,” he is now the tenured host of “The Biggest Loser,” a man who is wholly capable of destroying the Republican incumbents who voted against him in the impeachment, but is now also a far less effective launch pad for the Trump cult candidates, Q-apologists, and Cruz missiles who would hope to succeed them. 

The same Republicans who gleefully tried to damage the Democratic Party by associating it exclusively with is most extreme elements (Bernie, AOC) somehow fail to grasp that their unwillingness to convict Trump results in a Party defined by its own extremists … Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley.

Kudos to Jamie Raskin and the team of House Managers who demonstrated not simply a command of the legal issues and the facts of the case, but who were, to a person, powerful and compelling communicators, able to pitch their messages simultaneously to the many lawyers in the Senate Chamber as well as the audience of millions of ordinary Americans in front of television sets.

The best part of their devastating prosecution of the case against Trump? That was when they paused to showcase the bravery of Republicans who stood against Trump, committing real-time revisionist history in naming Mike Pence a profile in courage. Repeatedly pointing out that Donald Trump had essentially urged his bloodthirsty mob to assassinate the Vice President, the House Managers at once shamed and yet simultaneously terrified Republican Senators about the risk of fealty to Donald Trump.  So you think it’s a good idea to be loyal to Donald Trump, huh? Take a look at the reward Mike Pence gets for four years of total subservience: a hangman’s noose in front of the Capitol.

BTW: do we have a call for volunteers to be VP on Trump’s ticket in 2024? Better write into the pre-nup that Trump promises he will not have you killed.

However, a demerit on the overall House Managers’ scorecard was the questionable flip-flop on the issue of witnesses. It had appeared that the Democrats had suddenly gained traction as they shifted their focus to Trump’s failure to act as the riot raged out of control. Evidence of a phone call between Trump and McCarthy appeared to be a possible smoking gun that simultaneously proved that Trump did nothing to quell the riots after being told emphatically of the raging violence, and also demonstrated Trump’s greater sympathy for the insurrectionists than for the government employees who were being terrorized. It appeared that bringing witnesses into the Senate chamber could have introduced definitive proof of Trump's dereliction of duty and continued incitement.

But just as quickly as the Senate voted to approve the calling of witnesses, the Democrats withdrew the request, leading to speculation that the White House did not want the trial to drag on, given the virtually certain outcome. Additionally, it appeared to be just at this time that Mitch McConnell announced his intention to vote for acquittal. Perhaps McConnell was simply sending the definitive message to the Democrats: don’t bother to call witnesses, don’t overplay your hand… I just told my team to vote against conviction. Game over.

Look, Democrats, I get it: it seems to defy logic that there is anything good in this acquittal. We witnessed brilliant House Managers lay out an open-and-shut case while the hapless lawyers representing the former president toggled between ignorant incoherence and pompous irrelevant bloviation, all in a case focused on the most blatant example of a “high crime and misdemeanor” that we can imagine short of a President actually having his Vice President murdered. Which, we hasten to remind, Donald Trump also tried to do.

But we have to look at the long game. The Republican Party now sits in a position analogous to where the Democrats stood in 1980: its one-term incumbent President soundly beaten, its opposition party united, and its identity defined by those at its ideological edge.  In the decade that followed, progressive Democrats Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis would be crushed by Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. It was not until Bill Clinton redefined the party away from ideology and infused it with a more centrist notion of practical governance that the White House was recaptured. It is an under-appreciated fact that from the day Clinton set that course, Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in seven of the eight Presidential elections.

Democrats should go into 2022 and 2024 in a strong position.

The Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House. It is reasonable to believe that by 2022, America will largely have tamed the coronavirus, though memories of Trump’s failure to deal with it -- and the Democrats' aggressive actions to solve it -- will be fresh. Americans will likely be enjoying an economic resurgence as it emerges from the pandemic. As Republicans continue their internal blood-letting and gravitate toward more Trump-cult candidates, it is plausible that the Democrats could outperform norms for the incumbent party in the 2022 mid-terms, and be well positioned in 2024.

But the Republicans?

In America, all it takes is a few cycles out of the White House to make political parties refocus on winning coalitions rather than inflexible ideology… particularly losing ideology.

Sure, 2024 is a lifetime away, but if Trump does run, the odds have to be high that he will be beaten again. It defies logic to believe that a man whose approval rating never reached 50% as President, lost decisively in his bid for re-election, and then incited a murderous rampage on the Capital resulting in his second impeachment would enjoy the type of rehabilitation required to put forth a serious candidacy in 2024. But hey, go for it, Republicans. Be my guest. If at first, you don’t secede, try, try again.

But in order to secure that nomination, Trump would have to navigate an ever-growing cyclone of legal cases and the likelihood that ever more devastating evidence of his role in the January 6 insurrection will emerge. If he chooses to not run again, he will still be in a position of influence to anoint the 2024 candidate, denying the Republican Party its opportunity to forge a new identity. It did not go unnoticed that Nikki Haley broke sharply with Trump on Friday, saying of his prospects for 2024, "I don't think he's going to be in the picture. I don't think he can. He's fallen so far." Good luck in 2024, Nikki.

Perhaps by 2028 some Bill Clinton of the Right will talk sense into the Republicans by focusing on pragmatism and policy rather than cult worship.

The absolute worst thing that Republicans could have done is derail and postpone the process of finding a new winning formula. And that is exactly what they did by failing to convict Donald Trump.

Now that we close the chapter of Donald Trump’s second impeachment and his Presidency, we do need to look ourselves in the mirror as a nation.

We have many great challenges facing our nation today: the pandemic, the economy, endemic racism, income and wealth inequality, cyberwarfare, domestic and global terrorism are all simply among the most visible in a list that could go on for paragraphs.

And yet somehow it seems than we will forever be handicapped from actually triumphing in these battles as long as we fail to have a common understanding of reality itself.

The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump put the "Reality Gap" in stark relief. Cowardly Republican Senators leaned on an imaginary notion that the impeachment proceedings were unconstitutional to avoid confronting the reality of what actually happened in the two months leading up to and culminating in January 6.  

America, we get to vote on our leaders, and, in turn, our leaders get to vote on legislation and, yes, impeachments.

But we do not get to vote on reality.

No, Kellyanne Conway, there are no alternative facts.

No, Republican Senators, you don’t get to hide your moral cowardice behind the fantasy that the second impeachment of Donald Trump was “unconstitutional.” The Senate makes its own rules on impeachment trials, and it determined that it had the power to put Donald Trump on trial.  If you say that is why you voted to acquit, you are a coward. No one in Nuremberg said, “hey, what are we doing here? World War II is over!”

No, Mitch, you don’t fool anyone anymore. It used to be that your explosions of hypocrisy were muffled by time intervals… it was four years between your epic flip flop on the legitimacy of Supreme Court nominations in a President’s final year in office. But it was all of 45 minutes between your vote to acquit and your self-righteous condemnation of Trump at the after-party. We stopped listening to what you say a long time ago. We only watch what you do. We call it “reality.”

No, private citizen Trump, the pandemic did not magically disappear by April, Mexico did not pay for the wall you did not build, there are not good people on both sides, and there was no voter fraud. The only steal that needed to be stopped was your attempt to violently overthrow American democracy. Your verdict in the impeachment trial may have been “not guilty,” but history will hand you a different verdict: that you were the worst President America has ever had.

No, Fox News, Facebook, and all media outlets that profit from the dissemination of deceit, you do not get to hide behind some perverted pretzel of posturing about the First Amendment. You may think you are not responsible for the fact that a member of the U.S House of Representatives believes in “Jewish Space Lasers,” but the fact that she does, and the fact that she is now in Congress, is your unique contribution to American society. Own it. Do something about it.  

One week ago, many people found a soothing message in Bruce Springsteen’s television commercial for Jeep that appeared on the Superbowl. I love Bruce as much as anybody, but I found his message uncompelling, na├»ve, and, indeed, inaccurate. In the 21st Century, the definition of “common ground” is not the dirt beneath our feet.  It is not some photogenic farmland in Kansas.

Our new definition of common ground must be a common understanding of reality.

The Founding Fathers of our country did not think that they had to write a preface to our Constitution that said, “Hey, before we start, let’s make sure that we are all on the same page on one thing: we all hereby agree that there is such thing as objective reality, right? Because if we can’t agree on that, the rest of this document has no meaning.”

Global pandemics do not magically disappear.

There is generational, deeply etched racism that permeates every corner of life in the United States. 

Votes can be counted. 

There is such thing as a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

There is such a thing as a "fact."

This Senate impeachment trial was, in the end, nothing more nor less than the perfect metaphor for a polarized country in which one group of citizens is capable of seeing reality and dealing with it, while the other side refuses to see objective truth, pretends that it can deny reality, and spins ever greater fantasy rather than accept the responsibilities that objective reality places on human beings.

Trump should have been convicted. But Republican Senators once again voted against reality. They closed their eyes to the truth, and hid behind utterly disingenuous notions about the “constitutionality” of the proceedings so that did not have to face their responsibilities.

The fact that Trump was not convicted is a telling and grave comment about the current state of the United States of America.

Before we can reclaim democracy from those who would steal it, we must reclaim the notion of objective reality from those who obscure it, invert it, and pervert it.  

If you race against truth, you never win.

The long view on this acquittal is yet to be written, but this much seems certain: the lukewarm celebration Republicans may take in this failure to convict is certain to be short-lived.


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