By now, anyone in America who has a pair of eyes can see where this is going. That is, if they want to see at all.
Through the incessant manipulation of American citizens with fear and race-based propaganda, through the willing embrace of outright lies, and through the ridicule of truth itself, one of our political parties is poised to drag this country, once a self-styled “beacon” of hope, justice and liberty, over the edge of a cliff, and toss it into an abyss. In a few short weeks, when the Republican-dominated Senate votes, likely along straight party lines, to acquit a criminal president for gross and far-reaching abuses of power, we all will get to experience what will stand as the most ignominious moment in our country’s history.
That it took the impeachment of Donald Trump to arrive at this place is really just a fickle twist of fate. The truth is that we have been gradually building up to this endgame since the election of Ronald Reagan and the advent of Newt Gingrich ushered in a “no-holds-barred” philosophy of Republican governance, one where all Democrats and liberal initiatives became the fodder for routine demonization and vicious political attacks. They culminated in the astroturfed creation of the so-called “Tea Party” as a channel for the GOP’s virulent racist impulses, disguised in the phony garb of “fiscal conservatism.”
But it was the Trump impeachment that brought the collective swirling maelstrom of rotten moral flotsam and detritus to the surface, where it could be witnessed by all for the sake of whatever crumbs of human decency we leave to posterity. And specifically, the rot that now coats, infects, and permeates every institution we had constructed, hoping to protect ourselves from this day, came directly from one of our two political parties, in their defense of the indefensible criminal acts of a glorified con man named Donald Trump.
The G.O.P. defense, in essence, is that facts are irrelevant, no matter how damning or inconvenient, and that Trump has the power to do whatever he wants, even if it seems inappropriate, improper, or simply wrong.
That, of course, is the clearest license for an incipient autocracy that can be devised by the human mind. Historians who study this time, assuming history itself is still regarded for something, will be quick to observe that it’s not as if we had no choice in the matter.
As Susan B. Glasser, writing for The New Yorker, points out, there were two possible narratives—two paths that the country could have followed. The first, the one soon to be lost to us, is that narrative which valued and counted on the integrity of those upon whom we placed the awesome responsibility of our governance, trusting them not to cynically ignore or distort obvious truth for personal gain or the maintenance of their power, but to do what was objectively right and worthy of justice to our time.
There is, of course, another narrative of the hearings, a nobler one, a patriotic and inspiring and surprisingly feminist one. This is the version of impeachment in which, whatever the result, America and the body politic are better off for the process and the chance it afforded to observe the personal courage of [Ambassador Marie]Yovanovitch, who was smeared by the President but not intimidated by him, and the unyielding conviction of [Fiona] Hill, as she dismantled the conspiracy theorists arrayed before her and did not back down when they hectored her. Hill and Yovanovitch were fierce, smart, and uncompromising in their insistence on facts. They came to the center of political attention as genuinely apolitical experts who have remained nonpartisan over their long careers, which was almost inconceivable to the partisan warriors who dismissed their sworn testimonies because accepting their nonpartisanship would mean having to accept that there is a world beyond the you’re-with-me-or-against-me one that Trump has imposed upon the Republican Party.
But that is not the path the Republican Party chose to follow. Instead, like a pre-historic population wholly subjected to a sudden, overwhelming fatal illness, they opted—collectively, in one voice—to discard truth in favor of magical incantations, spinning conspiracy theories out of whole cloth until they succeeded in convincing themselves that by shutting their eyes and ears and repeating their lies over and over they were actually succeeding in demolishing truth, drowning it out through their noisy barrage of fanciful propaganda.
Meanwhile, truth proceeded, undeterred. In fact, as Glasser recounts, examining the testimony of witness after witness, the truth became downright embarrassing: an inconvenient truth, so to speak. But still, they reasoned, if there were enough votes in the Senate to deny the truth, then truth really didn’t matter, did it?
That was the moment when the Republican Party resolved to push what we knew as America over that cliff.
What it all means is that the impeachment investigation is a movie that seems to cut short in the middle of the story. That’s because we know the ending. This is not Watergate, and the movie we are watching is not “All the President’s Men.” The other narrative of impeachment, the political one, is what will shape the conclusion, no matter that there are important plotlines still unresolved.
As the impeachment inquiry slowly winds down there will be new witnesses, new instances of perjury and perfidy from the people responsible for enabling this foulest of administrations. There will be videotapes and emails, taxpayer funds and ledgers to be pored over. But it’s all a foregone conclusion now. Trump will not be convicted—no matter what he has done, and no matter what the truth shows. In fact, the Republican Senate Majority leader has said as much.
This nation endured the trauma of the Watergate era because, for all the pain and harm that Nixon caused, the fact that our system had worked well enough to force an obviously corrupt president to either resign or be impeached and convicted gave the country enough confidence to reconcile and move on.
But that America doesn’t exist anymore. There will be no “reconciliation” if Trump is acquitted by a political party that doesn’t consider itself obligated to abide by truth and facts. One person who appears to understand what that means for the future of this country is Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, charged with shepherding the Impeachment inquiry. As Glasser notes, Schiff spoke quite eloquently about this subject in his closing statement last Thursday.
[The real difference between now and the Nixon era, [Schiff] said, is that Republican leaders eventually went to Nixon and persuaded him to resign for the good of the country, whereas the Republicans on Schiff’s panel showed definitively over these past few weeks that they will protect Trump no matter what he does. “The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It’s the difference between that Congress and this one. And so, we are asking, where is Howard Baker? Where are the people who are willing to go beyond their party to look to their duty?”
The short answer is that there appears to be no one on the Republican side “willing to go beyond their party” to look to their duty. They appear quite content to allow Trump to proceed as an autocrat—even as a dictator—without regard for any law, as long as their corporate benefactors are satisfied with that arrangement, and as long as their voting base continues to support them. Because the impeachment inquiry is being conducted by the Democratic side, their thinking goes, it must be inherently illegitimate and no violation of laws, ethics, or norms by Trump, no matter how egregious or anti-democratic, will change that. There is simply no other conclusion that can be drawn from their behavior.
This is what Republicans believe. And that abyss they are dragging the country has a name. It’s called “fascism.”