This latest scandal – the combination of evidence and admissions concerning how the President sought to get the government of Ukraine to dig up (or more likely, manufacture) dirt on a major political opponent in order to help Trump win the 2020 presidential election – has finally broken the log jam that has tied up the Democrats regarding the question of Impeachment:
- The hitherto resistant Nancy Pelosi has now jumped to the head of the impeachment parade she had blocked;
- A majority of the House has now climbed onto the impeachment bandwagon, which appears to be full-speed ahead.
The question has been much asked: Why, with all the other profound Trump scandals, has this scandal been the game-changer? What’s different about this one from the significant scandals that surfaced before?
(Scandals like the “multiple felonies” that more than 1000 former Justice Department officials, both Republican and Democratic, have declared are clearly shown by the Mueller Report. Or like the obviously corrupt partnership between Donald Trump and the regime of our major adversary — Putin’s Russia — who helped him get elected.)
The answer seems to be that the Democrats feel that Ukrainegate finally gives them the means to expose to the American people Trump’s wrong-doing in a form the American people will “get.” (Or at least the roughly 2/3 of the American people who aren’t part of the “Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” crowd.) And that the people will “get” in a visceral way that moves their moral passions against this lawless and unpatriotic President so that Trump’s impeachment enjoys wide popular support.
One can get a visceral sense of the evil here, as a President of the United States, talking with the leader of a nation that’s under serious attack and threat from Putin’s Russia, and needs American military assistance, leans on him (“I want a favor from you though”) to get him something he can use to hurt a political rival who might stand in the way of Trump’s getting the second term he wants. (And there’s the clear attempt to cover up what the President had done.)
One could make a movie out of the Ukraine-gate drama, such is its vividness and simplicity. That differentiates the Ukraine scandal from what the Democratic leadership apparently felt about the equally significant “high crimes and misdemeanors” that were already well fleshed out in the public realm, if not the public mind.
In the minds of that Democratic leadership, it seems,
- the other scandals were too complicated (like all the pieces that, together, show clearly that something corrupt has been going on in the relationship between Trump and America’s major adversary, Putin’s Russia that worked to help Trump become President); and that
- things like “the rule of law,” and “oath of office,” and “no one is above the law” and “obstruction of justice” were too abstract to move the American people.
Maybe the Democratic leadership was right about that. But I imagine that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington endures as a popular classic because it reflects an important part of the American mind. That part of the American mind swells with patriotic pride in those American ideals expressed in words carved into marble on our national monuments.
And I, for one, believe there was plenty that could have been done – using the scandals that were already fleshed out pretty well in the public arena — to reach and move the American people with a picture of Trump’s criminality and corruption.
But admittedly, it was not yet getting accomplished. Up to this point, with his unprecedented complete refusal to allow Congress access to the witnesses and documents to which it was entitled, Trump had been successful in preventing the Democrats from dramatizing for the American people what they needed to see.
(The Democrats have seemed to have difficulty grasping that, when you’re up against something so far out of the usual bounds as Trump’s willingness to abuse his powers, maybe one has to think about new ways of showing the people what’s happening. Maybe the stonewalled Democrats should have been consulting Hollywood moviemakers as much as their legal counsels.)
But the Ukraine scandal liberates the Democrats from that challenge posed by Trump’s blockade. It is irrefutability of this new “smoking gun” – the already public combination of the transcript the President himself released and the text of the complaint from the Whistleblower – that cuts through those obstacles.
So the emergence of this Ukraine scandal has solved some problems that have made the Democrats hesitant, fearful.
Some astute legal minds and political strategists have proposed that the Democrats should focus solely on the Ukraine scandal, and ignore all the other impeachable offenses that the President has demonstrably committed. Keep it simple, is the idea. Don’t confuse the people.
Others propose that Ukraine-gate should be combined with the other offenses.
I propose a way of proceeding that combines the virtues of both.
- Develop the Ukraine piece of the picture first. Get that Article of Impeachment written.
- With that having prepared the way – increasing the readiness of the public mind to see Trump as lawless and corrupt – then place a couple of other salient pieces of the picture of why this President truly demands to be impeached and removed.
Here are two benefits to the nation of including some other major examples of Trump’s abuse of power and trampling on the rule of law.
First, an effective combination of scandals, packaged with a well-told narrative, would strengthen the overall presentation by adding dimensions to it. No one should be left thinking that if Trump had only not made that phone call, there’d have been no reason to impeach him. People should see Ukraine-gate as exemplifying a more general lawlessness and corruption that have pervaded Trump’s presidency.
And second, it is important that we give acknowledgement to other areas of value that have been under assault from Trump – things like “rule of law vs. obstruction of justice,” and “separation of powers vs. contempt of Congress” – so that the process of impeachment will give explicit reaffirmation of our commitment, as Americans, to those important values.