Peering down from the press rows in the House of Representatives as the results of the impeachment votes rolled in Wednesday night, I expected to see many despondent, if not angry, Republican faces – at least some show of sorrow, even if feigned.
Instead, despite the votes rendering Donald Trump only the third president in the history of the Republic to be impeached, there were smiles, good-natured banter, kibitzing. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy chatted amiably with colleagues. There was no sign of remorse.
It was as if the Republicans were okay with seeing their king humiliated. Given Mr. Trump’s hostile takeover of the party, the way he has subjugated fellow Republicans and the way he’s turned his White House into a palace of malice, it’s not so surprising.
The Grand Old Party’s members had other reasons not to be bitter. This was impeachment-lite – a strictly partisan affair with a rushed anticlimactic party-line vote. It lacked the gravitas, the drama, the national interest of other impeachments. Whether the charges against Mr. Trump were impeachment-worthy is debatable. And it was an impeachment that, judging by polls about the potential political damage for Republicans, augured well for the Republicans. Indeed, maybe the Democrats stood to suffer more damage for overreaching.
Rather than having a cathartic effect on the United States, as the Richard Nixon resignation did after the Watergate scandal, this trauma is likely to only deepen the country’s pathological political divide.
Unlike Mr. Nixon – and unlike Bill Clinton, who was impeached in 1998 – Mr. Trump faces re-election. The impeachment vote won’t temper his raging-bull instincts. Even greater fury can be anticipated.
At a rally in Battle Creek, Mich., while the votes were taking place, he tried to evince calm. “I’m not worried," he said. "You don’t do anything wrong, and you get impeached.”
But he had demonstrated in a cantankerous six-page letter the day before the vote how he really felt, saying he had endured worse treatment than people accused of 17th-century witchcraft.
He knows that although he will likely be acquitted of the impeachment charges in the Senate, his presidency is forever tainted. The first paragraph of every bio will contain that scarlet letter.
“He takes this very seriously,” his former adviser Steve Bannon said before the vote, “because he takes his place in history very seriously, and he knows this is going to matter today and 100 years from now.”
As a man of excess, a slayer of norms throughout his life and as President, he came to think he could get away with anything. But with one phone call to the President of Ukraine, he carried his recklessness too far. Other administrations have certainly engaged in unsavoury opposition research, as it is euphemistically called, but they’ve had the good sense to let underlings do it.
Had he apologized or taken responsibility for the act, the impeachment likely would not have happened. But his narcissism, the vastness of his ego, does not allow for contrition. Never. He claims he did nothing wrong. His moral values are so skewered, so debased, that he probably believes it.
The Democrats argue they had little choice but to launch an impeachment drive. To let a president get away with essentially bribing a foreign government to interfere in the U.S. electoral process would be to allow an unconscionable undermining of the democratic system.
They held to that line – that they undertook the impeachment not for political reasons but for the good of the country, its constitution, its values. Following Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s instruction, they tried not to gloat at the verdict. Young Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert who is seeking a Senate seat, showed no emotion at the result as he roamed the chamber solemnly shaking hands.
But up against the extraordinary propaganda power of Mr. Trump, the Democrats’ moral argument has found few takers outside their own flock. Going forward, it will likely be the same as voters focus on other things, such as the glowing economy.
That almost all the Democratic members voted in favour of both articles was noteworthy, given that many of them were facing re-election fights in districts where Mr. Trump is popular. They would have preferred the impeachment drive not to have happened.
Just as noteworthy was that not one Republican strayed from the party line. Mr. Trump noted this with particular pride in his rally at Battle Creek. Despite being impeached, despite having this black mark indelibly inked on his legacy, it is still, from top to bottom, his party.
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