RICHARD BUTLER. Trump’s impeachment:By any decent standard?

Oct 3, 2019


The Republicans have ensured that there is no decent standard under Trump. They will need to think again or allow Trump to burn down their house as he seeks to save himself from impeachment.

It would be laborious and unnecessary to detail, here, Trump’s unfitness for office. The core of it is: his continual illegal conduct; personal corruption; chaos in his Administration; profound damage to the US’ standing in the world and, to the global economy.

Outstanding in these contexts, is his unending lying about virtually everything he is engaged in and, then lying about his lying.

A week ago, the Democrats in the House of Representatives, announced the opening of a formal impeachment enquiry. They can do this because they hold the majority in that House.

The power of impeachment is given in the Constitution, solely, to the House but if it recommends impeachment, a trial is then held in the Senate to decide upon it. That decision must be by two thirds of the Senators. The Republicans currently hold a majority in the Senate.

While impeachment is established in these procedural and legal terms, it is indelibly, a political process.

The signs are that the House will adopt articles of impeachment for transmission to the Senate, and fairly quickly; focused mainly on Trump’s request to the new Ukrainian Government to provide assistance to him in the forthcoming US presidential elections. Those same signs suggest, at present, that the Senate will not convict Trump. There will be no decent standard; no faithfulness to the US Constitution and relevant law, but instead, a preference for party political interest, in reaching a judgment on Trump.

US domestic politics has been sharply and increasingly polarized since the election of a black President, in 2008 and, the rise of the Republican Tea Party. Trump’s role in the elemental racism that Obama’s election authored should not be forgotten. Trump was the leading promoter of “birtherism”; the lie that Obama was not born the US and therefore not legitimately President and, the associated contention that he is a Muslim.

Since he announced his candidature and as President, Trump has sent out white, racist, xenophobic messages, endlessly. His actions and statements on migrants/asylum seekers have been the concrete extension of this politics. This is the meaning of his wall; to use his words, to keep the “insects”, the “infestation” out of the US.

He also promised to “drain the swamp”; that is, to the clean out special interests, self- dealing, corruption, in Washington; to make government more responsive to the needs of ordinary people to end the “carnage”, of which he spoke in his inaugural remarks.

Trump was hardly unique amongst political aspirants in making such promises. He has been singular, however in two respects: the extent to which he has done the opposite of what he pledged – the swamp has become fetid – and, his core support, his “base” sticking to him, no matter what he does or fails to deliver.

The latter phenomenon is crucial. While he has done little for his base, as his taxation reforms show, it seems that his core supporters continue to be satisfied, indeed stimulated and entertained by him, particularly his expressed hostility, to their perceived class and ethnic enemies. His rallies with “base” groups, of which he has now held some 70 since his election, are main occasions for his outbursts of such hostility.

The antecedents of Trump’s political methodology are well documented. For example, human rights lawyer Burt Neuborne provides 20 “serious points of comparison” between the methodology of early Hitler and Trump ( see for a review dated August 9th,2019 of Neuborne’s book “When at Times the Mob is swayed”).

Last week at the opening of the annual session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, in New York, Trump delivered a speech that in my experience of some 18 sessions of the Assembly, was unmatched – in it’s ugliness. For 37 minutes he abused other countries and, their leaders. His overarching contention was that “globalization” was a hoax; nationalism should be the guiding principle. He extolled the centrality of national selfishness, in an organization the purpose of which is to foster cooperation amongst nations.

I suggested earlier, that one of Trump’s main weapons of choice is animus (Pearls and Irritations, August 9th, 2019). It was on sinister display at the General Assembly, last week.

There is abundant material available relating to Trump and his Administration’s violation of the law and constitutional conventions. But, the focus of the impeachment enquiry will now be on the issues raised by a whistleblower’s report on Trump’s threat to the Government of Ukraine, that US assistance to it will be withheld unless it cooperate in seeking “dirt” on Joe Biden and his son. It must be noted here that earlier enquires on these matters, have revealed no improper behavior by Biden or his son, in Ukraine.

The Democrats are working fast now, under the umbrella of an impeachment hearing, which they hope will produce articles of impeachment to be adopted by the House by Thanksgiving; that is within two months. They are: calling witnesses, subpoenaring documents, scheduling hearings. There is recognition that as has been the case up till now, the administration may refuse to cooperate with this process and, that the Democrats will need to lift the quality of their performance in the conduct of the hearings. It has not been impressive since they assumed the majority in the House at the beginning of this year and, were thus able to manage and direct this process.

Foreign election interference is illegal in the US, as is soliciting it. There is incredulity, including among some Republicans, about the Ukraine facts, given that Trump and his family and staff, were implicated in Russian interference in the 2016 election and, following the laborious 2 years’ of investigation of it, by Robert Mueller.

During the past week, Trump’s interventions, mainly through innumerable tweets have been increasingly agitated, if not hysterical. The latest, have included him stating that: Adam Schiff the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee should be arrested for treason; he demands to meet the whistleblower because he is entitled to “meet his accuser”, face to face; and, that if he is impeached and removed from office, Civil War could ensue.

Extreme and misguided as this is, clearly we are at only an early stage of the formal impeachment enquiry. It is impossible to predict what will unfold, other than to speculate that the passage will be rough.

As has been the case for some three years now, the Trump phenomenon has never been entirely attributable to him, even though he has run his TV reality show presidency with extraordinary dexterity. It has always relied on: his enablers in the Republican Party; his ability to threaten them electorally; and the stream of incompetent but enthusiastic ideologues he has appointed to his staff and, as legal advisors. Amongst the latter is Rudi Giuliani, who has done a lot of the heavy lifting on Trump’s Ukraine project. He will be subpoenared later this week.

It is fair speculation that the Republican party must now begin to take seriously that Trump’s determination to save himself, essentially from himself, will include burning the whole Republican house down. At what stage will the Republican leadership recognize this prospect and take steps to deter it?

Initially they will twist and lie about what is at issue in the impeachment enquiry. They are already launched on that and, it is not traveling well; incredibly, including at Fox.

But, a breaking point for that strategy can, presumably, be discerned. When that will occur and what form it will take is not clear yet. Do they really want Pence as President, for example, or are they already talking about another approach. If Trump is impeached, would Pence reckon he’s clean enough to stay on, even if only until the next election.

On the latter, current polls show an overall split between those favouring and those against Trump winning a second term, but some 53% disapprove of Trump’s performance as President and, 55% support the impeachment enquiry. Even though Hillary Clinton ran a poor campaign in 2016, she obtained 3 million more votes than Trump but he won in the places which yielded the larger Electoral college margin. He is known to be working on the same strategy for 2020, his so called ‘base” election.

Perhaps the gravest aspect of the battle now heating-up, is the fact that virtually no one on the Republican side is speaking out about the trashing of the US system, the Constitution, the Republic, which Trump and his enablers have authored. The pocketing by Republican members of Congress of what they thought Trump and his show could give them has made them complicit in the grave challenge he has posed to the United States and its repute in the world. And they know it, just as they know very well his personal character. It’s often said, that, they are holding their noses.

But, now he’s speaking of Civil War.

Perhaps It’s time for them to recall that Lincoln was a Republican.

Richard Butler AC former Ambassador to the United Nations, New York.

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