When Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote in March that President Trump should be impeached, perhaps, for the writer, some doubt remained even then as to the president’s ultimate guilt or innocence.
“Impeachment is a process, not an outcome,” he wrote. “A rule-bound procedure for investigating a president, considering evidence, formulating charges, and deciding whether to continue on to trial.”
That was two months ago, eons in the Trump universe, a parallel dimension in which the orange debaser in office can stack exponential transgressions upon transgressions, seemingly impervious to time or space. That includes his latest embarrassment, a shallow and, ultimately failed, effort to shape the coverage of the Mueller Report.
Not that you could tell from the prosaic summary offered by Attorney General William Barr to Mueller’s caustic, cautious report. Sometimes the report, in its exhaustive detailing of the president’s misdeeds, is like a sober, nonfiction adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s picaresque novel “A Confederacy of Dunces,” like a listing of grievances against a self-righteous, aggrieved buffoon, rendered – comedically in Toole’s book – seemingly without judgment.
What Appelbaum wondered about in March is less of a mystery today, as Americans digest Mueller’s gloomy tome. A week ago, just three percent of Americans told CNN they had read the entire compendium, but that number is sure to rise in the coming days, weeks and years. Prosecutors, however, took notice.
As of this morning, more than 800 former federal prosecutors had signed onto a letter that argues Mueller’s report maps out multiple felony counts of obstruction of justice, charges that surely would have been leveled against Trump by now were it not for an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) policy proscribing the indictment of a sitting president. Indeed, that’s precisely the policy cited by Mueller when he deferred any recommendation on Trump’s guilt or innocence.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” wrote Mueller. “… Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Of course, there’s ample reason to believe Trump may face a criminal indictment for the same campaign finance violations – alleged hush money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels – that landed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, in a federal prison just this week. As The New Yorker’s John Cassidy wrote, Cohen reported to his cell around the time Trump was affixing a Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfer Tiger Woods’ neck.
“The contrast between the fates of the fixer and his former boss could hardly have been more stark,” Cassidy wrote.
Trump might have committed crimes in the apparent cover-up of an alleged affair with Daniels, in the reported claims of tax fraud documented last October by the New York Times, and, of course, in the ten instances that Mueller highlighted as potential obstructions of justice.
If you’re still searching for Richard Nixon, we passed him several felonies ago.
Despite this – or because of this, if you’re the sort who fancies political strategy – Democrats in Washington, D.C., are a scatterbrained bunch when it comes to impeachment. A handful of presidential hopefuls – Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke – talk openly of initiating impeachment in the Democratically-controlled U.S. House, but party leadership fears that the trial in the GOP-held Senate will only rally Trump’s besotted base.
In this, the Democrats are like the myotonic goats of YouTube lore, doomed to seize and collapse when startled. Democrats must put away their trepidation. Just as Republicans have a moral and constitutional obligation to hinder or jettison Trump, so too do Democrats.
Conventional wisdom says Democrats fear the type of backlash that allowed their own damaged hero, Bill Clinton, to cement his power when Republicans impeached Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998. But there’s little comparison to Clinton’s alleged misdeeds, even if there was clear evidence that Clinton committed perjury when he lied about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky in a sworn deposition.
Fittingly, former FBI Director James Comey told CBS Wednesday that, contrary to the attorney general’s assurances, Mueller’s report is far less dissembling on Trump than we once believed.
Barr “certainly gave the impression that Bob Mueller had decided that he was not going to rule on this question of obstruction of justice when that’s not what Mueller did,” Comey opined. “Mueller laid it out and signaled to a future prosecutor after this individual is out of office, you ought to take a serious look at charging him.”
Among the claims against Trump, Mueller wrote that Trump tampered with witnesses like Cohen and Paul Manafort, sought to curb the Mueller investigation through a former campaign manager, and perhaps most grievously, told ex-White House counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller in June 2017. McGahn refused, Mueller wrote, “deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential ‘Saturday Night Massacre,’” the name given to Nixon’s own ill-fated attempt to jettison the investigation against him.
Two months ago, Appelbaum explained in The Atlantic why impeachment – in its rigorous, public examination of the claims – is so crucial in this context.
“The fight over whether Trump should be removed from office is already raging, and distorting everything it touches,” Appelbaum wrote. “Activists are radicalizing in opposition to a president they regard as dangerous. Within the government, unelected bureaucrats who believe the president is acting unlawfully are disregarding his orders, or working to subvert his agenda. By denying the debate its proper outlet, Congress has succeeded only in intensifying its pressures. And by declining to tackle the question head-on, it has deprived itself of its primary means of reining in the chief executive.”
To all but Trump’s most ardent supporters, the debate over Trump’s politics and policies is all but concluded. His regressive tax policies are textbook conservative, but in his dogged pursuit of a Muslim travel ban, in his unceasing attempts to stigmatize immigrants, and, of course, in his demands that a brown-skinned president produce his birth certificate, Trump goes a step farther.
Even if the president himself doesn’t believe it, he’s a ritualistic paean to America’s most racist instincts, a grotesque totem of the past and, appallingly, the present.
As the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates observed, Trump’s 2016 election and his uncanny dominance across nearly every white demographic – “from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker” – represented a predictable, if not inescapable, pendulum swing following eight years of a Black president. Barack Obama, an unfailingly moderate pragmatist, cast crudely in a caricature of a Black revolutionary to inflame the right.
“Trump truly is something new – the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a Black president,” Coates wrote. “And so it will not suffice to say Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his correct name and rightful honorific – America’s first white president.”
Some have suggested Trump is a white supremacist, or at best, a standard-bearer for alt-right, white supremacists, although sometimes it’s difficult to conceive of Trump prizing any skin other than his own.
Yet questioning whether Trump’s inscrutable supporters are racist is a moot point, if they would – either ignorantly or knowingly – endorse Trump’s most unapologetically racist policies. We have countless years to dissect why his backers support the man, but for now, the point is to determine if they can grow, if they can accept a conclusion wrought by Mueller’s non-partisan hands, if they can agree that immolating American law and democracy to preserve Trump’s all-consuming ego would be a tragedy.
And as a businessman, his failings are legion. As The New York Times reported this week, he’s a billion-dollar buffoon, a wealthy inheritor who squandered millions year after year but won big by selling the wing-tipped myth of his business conquests.
“The ‘art of the deal’ apparently involves losing hundreds of millions of dollars year after year,” Rolling Stone scoffed Wednesday.
His personal failings go beyond that. There’s an argument to be made that it would be journalistically appropriate to write it out, at least once in every Trump story, that the president of the United States has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by at least 23 women. Write it out.
Only in Trump time, wherein calamity speeds by like a caffeinated Twitter feed run amok, would the general public be so distracted.
All of this to say that, in both the narrow and the broad view of impeachment proceedings – the debate over whether a president committed crimes or injured the public trust – we’re like to say that Trump may be guilty of both.
“The brightest dividing line between democratic republics and authoritarian regimes is the rule of law,” Brian Klaas, co-author of “How to Rig an Election,” wrote in the Washington Post this week, in a scathing rebuttal to those who suggest Trump’s detractors should simply wait for the next election cycle.
“These days, just about every tinpot despot holds sham elections, so what separates dictatorship from democracy isn’t just voting. It’s the rule of law that gives meaning to democratic institutions. Without it, democracy is a mirage. And in functioning democracies, the idea that ‘nobody is above the law’ isn’t just a slogan. And yet, Trump has almost certainly committed serious crimes without any consequences.”
All of that must change. He’s a liar and a cheat, and we all bear his crimes if we allow our leaders to condone them without consequences, if we can’t see our way clear to being clear of him.
Until we can put Trump behind us, we cannot eschew the daily news reports of his basest corruptions and misdeeds, we cannot endure his – and our – humiliation on a global stage, we cannot abjure his rank deification of white supremacist totems, we cannot expect that the president will put the country above his own well-being, and we cannot restore faith in our poisoned institutions without removing the obscenity in the White House by institutional hands.
Donald Trump should be impeached today, now.