By impeaching Donald Trump on December 18, 2019, the House of Representatives declared that the offenses contained in the articles were among the most grave ever committed by a US president. As every squawking TV and Twitter pundit now knows, this was only the third impeachment ever in US history. The House taking such a dramatic step was a clear signal that it believed Trump’s actions were so uniquely grievous that they warranted a measure as extreme as impeachment.
But I for one will never accept that in the grand scheme of US history, Trump’s so-called ‘abuse of power’ in temporarily withholding future dispersals of military aid to Ukraine and mentioning Joe Biden on a phone call, rises anywhere remotely close to the most egregious offense ever committed by a president. In fact, that suggestion is laughably offensive. Even if you accept Sen. Lamar Alexander’s assessment that Trump’s conduct was ‘inappropriate’, Trump has done about a thousand other things that are not just inappropriate but exponentially more ‘abusive of power’. I will name just a few instances here:
- Trump just assassinated the second-most powerful person in Iran, launching the US and Iran into a state of war that could still easily escalate into full-blown catastrophe. Then his administration preposterously cited the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq (voted for initially by Joe Biden, of course) as justification for this action. That’s an ‘abuse of power’.
- He twice illegally bombed Syrian government forces, in 2017 and 2018. The 2018 bombing in particular appears increasingly certain to have been carried out under false pretenses, as Peter Hitchens has ably described here at The Spectator. Kind of an abuse of power there, wouldn’t you say?
- He launched a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Venezuela, spearheaded in part by John Bolton, the cartoonishly hawkish former national security adviser whom Democrats are now begging for an 11th-hour divine intervention to save their doomed impeachment effort. Overthrowing the government of Venezuela would not be viewed well by Russia, considering Venezuela is their closest ally in the Western hemisphere — but whenever Trump takes a belligerent action that antagonizes Putin he gets away with it, because the myopic US media will never give up their conspiratorial obsession of depicting him as a Kremlin puppet.
These examples would never have even been entertained as impeachment-worthy by US political elites, whether Democrat or Republican. And I limited my very short list solely to the domain of foreign policy, because this is the first impeachment ever in US history that bears directly on the conduct of US foreign policy. If you really want to delve further into the absurdity, feel free to peruse some books about other ‘abusive’ foreign policy actions taken by past presidents that were also never even entertained as warranting impeachment. All the innumerable coups, bombings, sanctions, and invasions of yesteryear are in a way also retroactively vindicated by this nonsensical impeachment crusade, as again it signals that the only foreign policy ‘abuse’ ever determined by the House of Representatives to warrant the most dramatic Constitutional remedy available was the time Trump mentioned Joe Biden on a phone call.
In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi first seized the Speakership of the House, she declared that impeaching George W. Bush over the Iraq War would be ‘a waste of time’. Using her terms, I am perfectly comfortable describing the current impeachment efforts as a waste of time, given what this contrast (Iraq War vs. Joe Biden phone call) says about the warped priorities that animate both her and the broad swath of American elite opinion.
The selection of Adam Schiff as lead impeachment manager brought forth cries of gratitude and praise from Democratic-leaning journalists and pundits, but that’s mainly because they always wanted Trump punished for the Russiagate/Mueller fiasco that ended in such humiliation for those who spent several years propagating it. Schiff in his opening arguments during the trial essentially admitted that impeachment was about seeking revenge for Robert Mueller, because just one day after Mueller testified before Congress last July, Trump — as Schiff tells it — ‘believing he had escaped accountability for Russian meddling in the first election, and his welcoming of it, asked the Ukranian president to help him undermine the Special Counsel’s conclusion’. The House managers are pretty forthright in admitting that this saga is the logical culmination of all that preceded it by way of Russia/Mueller, which is why you heard the specter of Putin invoked over and over again throughout the trial.
Russiagate was always an obsession borne of the political and media elites, who wanted to make it the central story of Trump’s presidency, failed spectacularly, and then tried to impeach him over it anyway. Excuse me therefore if I decline to gravely intone about the horror of Trump’s phone call.
Just yesterday Elizabeth Warren and Amy Kloubuchar, holed up in the Senate chamber instead of in Iowa, submitted a question to Chief Justice John Roberts that nicely encapsulates the basic stupidity of this entire episode. ‘If acquitted in the Senate, what would stop the president from continuing to side with Putin?’, they jointly asked, presumably on the assumption that such an invidious question would create lots of ‘buzz’ and impress lots of caucus-goers. Rather, Warren and Klobuchar just continue to shower themselves with the taint that will inevitably flow from this doomed impeachment. Joe Biden and even Bernie Sanders are also implicated, having repeated variations of the faulty logic behind Russiagate/impeachment on countless occasions. The only 2020 candidate who emerges unscathed, and in fact appears singularly prescient, is once again Tulsi Gabbard: the sole political figure with any national prominence who has challenged outright the absurdity of this New Cold War hysteria from the outset. Her ‘present’ vote on the impeachment articles will be looked back upon as an act of courage. At least it should be.
Trump’s acquittal appears imminent but the damage is already done. Impeachment on these spurious grounds has permanently damaged the fabric of American governance. Now we have enshrined as precedent a host of premises that effectively compel the US government to engage in a perpetually hostile posture toward Russia — a posture that many of the hawks and neocons surrounding Trump will gladly embrace. Even Trump himself now brags about how ‘tough’ he is on Russia, despite having campaigned on détente in 2016. And the House decided to impeach for a foreign policy action that barely even registers on the spectrum of ‘abusive’ foreign policy actions taken throughout American history. It’s an unthinkable mess. The end might be in sight, but the destructive consequences will never go away.