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opinion GETTING AWAY WITH IT

Trump’s Firing Away on Fifth Avenue, and We Are Fucked

The president has all but ’fessed up to his latest impeachable offense, and Republicans are shrugging. That’s on them—not the Democrats.

Michael Tomasky9.22.19 8:31 PM ET

I spent some time Sunday morning going back and forth on whether I should even write these thoughts for public consumption, because they’re just too bleak, but they’ve crowded everything else out of my brain, so here goes:

Donald Trump is going to get away with it.

What’s “it”? “It” is everything. Anything and everything he does. No one will stop him. The Republicans are too morally corrupt. The Democrats are too divided and weak. The courts are probably in his pocket. One of these days, the four right-wingers on the Supreme Court will rule for Trump. Maybe John Roberts will join the liberals to hold Trump to account. If he does, the country may yet be saved. If he doesn’t, this country as we’ve known it is finished.

And if Trump wins re-election—and I’m increasingly depressed about that, too—one shudders to imagine what he’ll try then.

This Ukraine call is obviously an impeachable offense. Pressuring a head of state to find dirt on a domestic political opponent? It’s so out there that I don’t think any of us could have imagined a president doing this. If Trump threatened to suspend some aid unless the Ukrainians did his bidding, that would make it worse for sure; but it’s hardly a necessary element. Just the pressure itself is unspeakably corrupt.

And just think of this. He made that call, as The Washington Post noted Sunday, the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress. Now there’s a figure who, his track record of great honor notwithstanding, really failed this country at a pivotal moment with all that non-committal double-talk. Trump clearly watched Mueller, saw that he was a patsy, and decided he could do anything.

And now, he’s pretty much admitted everything! Here’s what he said to reporters Sunday morning: “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption—all of the corruption taking place—and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

That of course isn’t actually English, but if you stomp your way through the rhetorical feces, you can see that he’s saying, ‘Yes, I did discuss Biden on the call, and so what?’

How are Republicans reacting to all this, as the president all but stands in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoots the American way? Any anguished tweets out of Ben Sasse? Nope. He has totally surrendered. A complete coward. Trump tweeted on Sept. 10 that “Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” So he’s just another sycophant now, not that his earlier “opposition” amounted to much.

Oh, wait: Lindsey Graham did say something Sunday about Ukraine. He said an investigation should be launched—into Joe and Hunter Biden! Stop and think about that. A senator—the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, no less—is openly demanding that the Justice Department undertake what would obviously be a nakedly political investigation of the person who might well be the president's opponent in the next election.

(By the way, if you’re confused about the facts of the Biden situation, read this Washington Post fact-checker column, which utterly demolishes Trump’s claims. Yes, Hunter Biden should not have gone on that gas combine’s board in the first place, but there’s no evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong—and whatever else you want to say about the guy, I can’t think of a single scandal that attached itself to him in nearly five decades of public life, save that plagiarism thing in 1988, which was totally different and didn’t involve money or venality or public corruption.)

Liberal comrades, I know you’re furious at the Democrats for their fecklessness, and I can’t say I blame you. But, contrary to AOC’s tweet Sunday, this is on the Republicans. Trump is obviously, monstrously unfit to be president. But he will not be removed from office, and that’s not the fault of Democrats. It’s the fault of Republicans in the Senate, who we know would never vote to convict him even if the Democrats do impeach.

Republicans in the House shouldn’t be let off the hook either. Some of them know that Trump is taking a piss on the Constitution every day he’s in that office. Yet they cheer, apologize, and deflect.

And speaking of the Democrats, here’s what I think the real problem is: If you look at the list of 137 Democrats favoring impeachment, you see that they’re almost all from safe districts. The moderates from swing districts are against. When they’re asked about it, they tend to say things like my constituents sent me here to get things done for my district, not to launch an impeachment that will fail anyway.

But that’s not a very good excuse, because the Democrats have tried to get things done. They’ve passed more than 50 bills. Prescription drug prices, preexisting conditions, veterans, background checks, climate, consumer rights, civil rights, loads of things. Mitch McConnell won’t allow a vote on any of them. They need to do far more than they’re doing to make people know this.

They should keep passing more stuff. One area where they need to do more, and it’s pretty key, is the economy. This shouldn’t be hard. The bills have all been written and they’re sitting there waiting to get passed. So pass them. And if constituents complain about them wasting their time on impeachment and not doing meat-and-potatoes legislation, they could say we’ve passed dozens of bills—it’s Trump and McConnell who are failing to govern. Since impeachment is anything Congress wants it to be, and since it’ll fail in the Senate anyway, maybe they should make failure to govern one of the grounds of impeachment!

But the Democrats are so bad at messaging. They’re not venal like the Republicans, but they too are failing the country at a crucial moment. And it seems they’re going to nominate either a septuagenarian man whose sentences sometimes make only marginally more sense than Trump’s or a very liberal woman from a very liberal state, both of whom have electoral liabilities but in spite of that are still the best the party’s got.

And Trump will keep lying, keep bragging about destroying norms and even breaking the law, and the only people with the power to stop him will keep cheering. Democracy depends on the commitment of people in positions of power to respect some basic fundamental modes of behavior. The paradox of democracy is that it offers no real way to order people to behave democratically. The tragedy of democracy is that the people who behave undemocratically usually win. I hope we’re a better country than that. But I’m not betting on it.

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