August 29, 2018
Suddenly, President Trump’s impeachment no longer seems implausible.
The prospect for impeachment became more real this past week, after the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen revealed under oath that Trump, as a candidate, directed him to pay off a porn strumpet after she threatened to reveal a previous affair. Since the tryst money had the effect of protecting the candidate’s reputation, it’s seen as a campaign donation. And because our campaign finance laws are byzantine labyrinths of lawyerese that reflect an alternative reality, Trump broke a law by not recording the expenditure as a campaign expense.
Hence the I-word becoming the most spoken noun in Washington. The excitable Beltway reporter Mike Allen writes with palpable glee, “The writing is on the wall, top Republicans tell us: Democrats will likely win the House and undoubtedly move to impeach President Trump.” Adam Davidson of The New Yorker asserts the Cohen flip “helps build an increasingly compelling case for impeachment and removal from office.” Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican, says members will likely act if they see an opening to forced removal.
All at once, an existential crisis has beset the White House.
This was long coming. Deep Washington had its sights on the president from the beginning. From the fateful day he descended on his own escalator to declare his bid, Trump courted the disdain of the professional political class. He smashed their pieties and mocked their false propriety. It was only a matter of time before circumstances aligned to launch a White House coup.
The threat shouldn’t be taken lightly. Democrat voters want Trump’s coiffed head on a pike. “Talk of impeachment sprang readily and without apology to the lips of Democratic voters in interviews this week,” reported The New York Times. A handful of elected lawmakers are pushing the impeachment line. Should the opposition party retake the House of Representatives in November, odds are impeachment proceedings will begin, with upstart members, all of the socialist bent, demanding retribution. The less strident members of the Democratic caucus may privately demur at such a perilous maneuver, but they will most certainly go along in the end. Even they see the writing on the wall: Impeachment is a winning message with liberal voters. A career will have to be destroyed to save theirs. No Senator Ross exists among their ranks.
With such darkening clouds on the horizon, should Trump spare himself the ignominy and call it quits now? Fat chance. The president is a pugilist to the end. But to win, he may have to remove some padding from his gloves.
Indulge me, dear reader, for a teensy bit of conspiracy theorizing. I’m afraid it’s the only way to illustrate my grave but necessary point.
As president, Trump has enormous declassification power, power he can wield with devastating effect. With the stroke of pen, he can release everything: files on the death of John F. Kennedy, FBI surveillance notes on Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam War records, clandestine CIA activity, past subversion campaigns in South America, black-site prison operations. Trump could unveil every shred of paper created during the past six presidencies. The entirety of our secretive intelligence operations could be hit with a big burst of sunlight.
Just imagine the amount of disreputable behavior that could be uncovered. The Tuskegee experiment would look like a case of bad accounting by comparison. America’s prestige would be tarnished, our moral standing on the world stage diminished. The country would be left irreparably damaged.
To keep his political life, Trump will have to threaten his enemies with going full Samson, tearing the entire edifice of the U.S. government down. No other threat will ward off the forces that conspire against him. “When Trump is cornered, he is at his most dangerous,” observed Maggie Haberman, one of the reporters closest to the president. Just as Democrats won’t fight the temptation to begin impeachment proceedings once back in power, Trump will fight tooth and nail to save himself.
Of course, avoiding such a calamitous outcome is better than not. The preference applies for impeachment. Forcibly deposing Trump would send a rift through the country, rending us forever apart. Declassifying everything from the full cache of Hillary Clinton’s hidden emails to what the CIA pays for pencils would also be a fatal blow.
The contrarian columnist Matthew Walther believes the hand-wringing over impeachment is just that: unnecessary worry. The Senate will likely remain under Republican control after November. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “will not direct his caucus to vote for impeachment because he understands” Trump can still win in 2020, not Vice President Pence. Republicans will hold the line out of pure self-interest.
I’m less sanguine. The Republican establishment would love nothing more than a return to normalcy. That means ejecting Trump—whose populist predilections never meshed well with the powerful corporate wing of the party—from its head position. Trump shouldn’t rely on McConnell, Pence, et al. to be his protectors.
Our republic has lasted over two centuries because men and women put its continuity over the abstract notion of justice. Ford pardoned Nixon, the Senate didn’t impeach Clinton for lying under oath, Obama didn’t prosecute Bush administration officials for torture. Laws were broken, their violators went unpunished. Yet the country, as a place and an ideal, survives, imperfect but alive.
Democrats are on an ineluctable path to prematurely ending the Trump presidency and America with it. The impeachment cure is mutually assured destruction. Pray Trump doesn’t have to use it.