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The Impeachment ‘Trial’ Is The End Of Democracy As We Know It

In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Regardless of whether you’re watching every minute of coverage, or just the highlights, the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump is coming across as two different events.

The House managers prosecuting the articles of impeachment against Trump — charging that he abused the power of the presidency to cheat in the 2020 election, then obstructed Congress’s investigation of the same — are engaged in, or are attempting to engage in, an actual trial.

You know: evidence, witnesses, facts.

The president’s defense team is performing for Fox News and other conservative media outlets. There is no discussion of evidence, witnesses or facts, just a recitation of blustery talking points, grade-school deflections, legalistic doublespeak and Trumpian conspiracies. It’s all recycled material.

The House managers’ “evidence” is recycled, too — it’s a summary of the case they built during the impeachment inquiry.

This is a show trial, pure and simple, in which Republicans’ stated goal is to exonerate the defendant.

The House managers very much want to provide senators with new information, by putting witnesses with first-hand knowledge on the stand, people such as John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence and Trump himself.

It stands to reason that a man as confident of his innocence as Trump would be eager to get all the evidence out there and clear his name, right? It stands to reason that the senators sworn to judge the president’s guilt would want the same thing, right?

Wrong.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and his merry band of quislings, know that Trump is guilty. That’s why they want this proceeding over as quickly as possible. To call it a “trial,” as I’ve argued, is disinformation. This is a show trial, pure and simple, in which Republicans’ stated goal is to exonerate the defendant.

The moment he’s acquitted, we know Trump will immediately crow about his glorious exoneration, because his entire brand is based on impunity — the idea that he is powerful enough to say and do whatever he wants without consequence.

This exoneration, in turn, will establish a new precedent: for Trump himself, and all future presidents. They'll forevermore be able to pressure a foreign government to dig up dirt on opponents, freely subvert our elections and block Congress from investigating them.

This behavior will no longer be abuse of power. It will become standard operating procedure.

In a sense, the GOP senators will be ratifying the lesson of the 2000 election (which George W. Bush won only because the Supreme Court’s conservative majority voted to halt the recount in Florida), of the weapons of mass destruction hoax that lead to the war in Iraq, and of the Sandy Hook slaughter of 26 people, including 20 first graders. In each of these situations, Republicans faced a choice. They could either cling to power or face accountability. In each case, they chose power.

The only way to repudiate this culture of sociopathic nihilism and lawlessness is for citizens of good faith to become more politically active.

The transformation of Trump from party pariah — a man Lindsay Graham called “a kook” a “loser” and “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”-- to a de facto monarch is the inevitable culmination of this moral rot. “Any time you ignore what could become an evil force,” Graham observed four short years ago, “you wind up regretting it.” These days, Graham isn’t ignoring that force. He’s become its loudest defender.

Now Trump’s Republicans will be on the record for all of eternity.

And for what? To prop up a corrupt and cruel grifter whom most of them despise and mistrust. The only thing greater than their shame, apparently, is their shamelessness. They needed Trump to find that shamelessness. That’s what he’s given them — and all it cost them was our constitutional democracy.

The only remaining remedy is the 2020 election, an election already besieged by voter suppression, gerrymandering and the perverse math of the Electoral College and, thanks to Mitch McConnell, foreign subversion, too.

The only way to repudiate this culture of sociopathic nihilism and lawlessness is for citizens of good faith to become more politically active. We can, and should, watch what's happening on the floor of the Senate in despair and outrage.

But each of us who feels that distress has a duty to act.

If you care about our democracy, make your plan.

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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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