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Playing The Witch Hunt Card

President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, before his departure to nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, before his departure to nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

One of the central myths that helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency was the idea that he was ungoverned by the normal rules of politics, which is to say unpredictable.

In fact, Trump has emerged as the most predictable president in U.S. history. Regardless of the context, he will always act in his own interest. When caught doing so in ways that are illegal, or unconstitutional, or just scummy, he will always play the victim.

There is no scenario — short of being caught on tape bragging about sexual assault — in which Trump will ever apologize or express remorse.

To his super fans, this kind of nihilistic intransigence registers as powerful. To the rest of us, it’s become monotonous. Over and over again, when he can’t defend his actions, the president plays the witch hunt card.

And so it has come to pass again. Caught red-handed extorting a foreign power to investigate a political rival, Trump has quickly cycled through his pro forma defenses.

He initially denied the claim. Then he made notes from the call public, apparently expecting that his talking point (“no quid pro quo!”) would fool those citizens who are not nightly brainwashed by Fox News. When this flopped, he decided to go public with his criminal conduct, shouting his pleas to foreign governments for all to hear.

This, too, failed. Support for the impeachment inquiry is skyrocketing, as is support for actually removing Trump from office.

The president’s only option is to try to turn a very simple story of presidential extortion into a big, ugly partisan fight ...

What’s more, evidence has emerged — in the form of explicit text messages -- that Trump’s “perfect call” to the Ukrainian president was part of a concerted plan he hatched to withhold U.S. military aid (appropriated by Congress) until the Ukrainians agreed to investigate the Bidens.

There is also clear evidence that White House officials — as well loyalists at the State and Justice Departments — recognized immediately that the president’s clumsy efforts at extortion were impeachable and set about trying to cover them up.

Trump knows he’s caught dead to rights, and that allowing his underlings to produce documents and testify under oath will affirm his crimes, live and on camera. So he’s issued a blanket refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, one that places America on the brink of a constitutional crisis.

Rather than defend the indefensible, in other words, our sitting president is refusing to show up for court, and forbidding any of his accomplices and witnesses from doing the same.

It’s all utterly predictable.

The president’s only option is to try to turn a very simple story of presidential extortion into a big, ugly partisan fight so that Americans get confused and exhausted and write the whole mess off as “just another Trump scandal.”

In a mature democracy, members of Congress—the co-equal branch of government charged with removing a president who violates his oath of office—would at this point impeach and convict Trump. Or force him to resign, as they did with Richard Nixon.

But Trump enjoys two advantages Nixon did not.

First, a powerful propaganda apparatus that has effectively brainwashed a quarter of our electorate.

Most Republicans in Congress know that Trump is unfit for office, and privately support impeachment, but they are afraid of his base.

Second, Trump’s handpicked Attorney General, William Barr, has transformed the Justice Department from an independent agency devoted to upholding the Constitution to an adjunct branch of the president’s defense team.

The Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry must act quickly.

How?

By following the advice offered by Lindsey Graham back in 1998: “The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury."

Democrats must be prepared to punish those who refuse to testify, and should treat any defiance of this legal duty as evidence of guilt. It’s that simple.

Trump can whine all he wants about being a victim. He and his henchmen can attempt to muddy the waters with conspiracy theories and rage-tweets. But the vast majority of Americans understand that innocent men don’t behave like our president. Only guilty ones do.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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