The noose seems to be tightening and so it makes sense to review where we stand and how things might unfold. As MSNBC panelists would seem to imagine it, President Trump is so unhinged that he will be taken out of the White House under sedation and strapped onto a gurney when the Mueller Report makes clear the extent of his connections with the Russians. That would obviate the need for impeachment proceedings because grounds for invoking the Twenty Fifth Amendment on Presidential incapacity will be abundantly clear. The commentators base their views of Trump’s state of mind on what their White House sources tell them about how Trump blows up and that he changes his mind all the time and that there are fewer and fewer people around him who can tell him anything resembling the truth. The latest evidence of this is that he congratulated Putin on his phony electoral victory even though his national security staff had explicitly left a note for him all in caps not to do so. And only the high level national security staff would have been in a position to leak that story. So it seems reasonable to think that the White House is in chaos.
No one, except those on Fox News, can imagine how there is any way to avoid a calamity of one sort or another, the people on Fox News insisting that Trump will either be vindicated, cleared of all charges, or else that the Mueller probe will be unmasked as a giant left wing conspiracy. That seems wishful thinking in the light of the abundance of dots Mueller has available for him to connect, all the way back to the money laundering of the funds of Russian oligarchs through loans by Deutsche Bank and real estate transactions whereby Trump unloaded properties at far above market value prices, all the way up to that meeting in Trump Tower where an offer was made to trade information on Hillary for the future repeal of the Magnitsky Act, a bit of legislation that prevented Russian oligarchs from using American banks as a place to park their money. So we already know there was collusion; the question is whether it was serious enough to warrant impeachment. All that is aside from why he seems to cower before Putin. What does Putin have on him and why do so many people around Trump have Russian connections?
But even if that direful prediction that Trump is on the verge of what used to be called “a nervous breakdown” is true, it is not at all clear that he will go all that quietly, and to see that we need only turn to the story of the two Presidents in the last century who were on the brink of impeachment: Richard Nixon, who resigned rather than endure that ordeal, and Bill Clinton, who did endure it, and survived. Both of these very different men engaged in rigorous partitioning of their professional duties from their political travails. They both wanted to make clear that they were capable of governing rather than preoccupied with their political difficulties. Nixon, in fact, did spend a lot of time holed up in his study listening to his own tapes, but Nixon never did try to move American troops around so that he could remain in power, something Alexander Haig, his chief of staff, was concerned might happen. Nixon, however, was served by a character which from the beginning of his career had shown him afraid of being shown up, unmasked as a failure and a phoney, and this didn’t change into a sense of self-confidence even after he had been elected President. So Nixon half expected what was happening to him and surrendered to it. Clinton, for his part, was served by a character that allowed him to say “Never” to a question about whether or not he might resign as a result of the scandal concerning Monica Lewinsky. The scandal did, however, rob him of any ability to push through any new legislative initiatives. Trump, on the other hand, does not have those inner resources so as to greet his fate with something other than striking out against his enemies and try to bring down the temple around him. We should therefore be grateful for the fact that he has neither the intelligence nor the will power nor the mastery of government procedures that would allow him to try to control the situation in any other way than by issuing tweets.
People I know hope for anything that will bring Trump down and they are willing for the sex scandals that are now making their way to court to bring that about, though Trump supporters do not seem to hold his shenanigans against him but may well think highly of this throwback to Rat Pack behavior. But I hope otherwise, that Trump’s fate will be settled on constitutional grounds, such as treason, which would clearly be reason for impeachment, and was the real reason Andrew Johnson, totally sympathetic to the just defeated Confederacy, had been impeached. There is also the perfectly defensible but unprecedented ground that Trump has regularly broken trust with the American people with his lying, or even the equally unprecedented ground that he is manifestly unfit for office and everybody will have come to recognize that by the time the Mueller Report is released.
The issues with Stormy Daniels and her fellow accusers is that a sex scandal should not be used to bring down a President. It is just too tawdry and violates the right to privacy which even Trump deserves. It was disgraceful to almost bring down Bill Clinton for a sexual matter that got elevated to being a perjury inquiry, even though Bill Clinton had not lied under oath, just chosen not to treat oral sex as a sexual matter since it did not involve mutual satisfaction. We really shouldn’t be required to parse the meaning of such matters. It is demeaning to all concerned and makes a travesty of the seriousness of impeachment as that is imagined by the Constitution. Sleeze should not be the standard for changing administrations.
The trouble with the MSNBC scenario is that there seems to be no way out of it or something like it, no way of short circuiting a truly awful moment in American history. The nation can survive in that the Republicans will develop some instant amnesia about their prior support for Trump. There is no love lost between the Republican Party and Trump, the voters having forced him upon them as their nominee and they having gotten as much as they might expect out of him in the form of the tax bill, which is the only issue they cared about deeply in that they have few deep set convictions other than opposition to Democrats now that the social issues of abortion and gay rights no longer seem to get people all worked up and now that the demographics of the suburbs, especially their married college educated women, seem to be switching to the Democratic column and so Republicans have to find a way to recapture them if they hope to remain a major party, given the fact that they have alienated Hispanics and urban groups for a long time to come. Polluters may be more unregulated under Trump but that is hardly a crucial issue for the country and foreign policy is a bipartisan issue in that everybody but Trump regards the Russians as enemies and China as a rising power and everybody, again with the exception of Trump, wants to calm the waters with North Korea and supports the Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran. I don’t know what issues a post Trump Republican Party will take up. Maybe it will find something that is actually progressive, as it might have if it had pushed for Romneycare when that first came along. I don’t know why those political pros didn’t jump on the issue when they owned it. It may just be that they are ideologically opposed to do anything that will help the population as a whole.
When the Mueller report hits the fan, “respectable” Republicans will allow their distaste for Trump’s “uncool” manner to get the best of them and join in a bipartisan vote to be rid of him and so they will portray themselves as patriots, their hands clean, and go on to a Mike Pence administration which could do real damage to the country because Pence understands the way government works much better than Trump does. We can only hope that a then Democratic Congress will be able to stifle his efforts until the money people and the “middle of the road” Republicans resume their control of their party.
Where will the die-hard Trump voters go? They may go back into the woodwork, satisfied by their guns and their religion. Or they may become supporters of a new more middle class Republican Party. Or they may support third parties of the George Wallace ilk in that the Republican Party, reconstituted after Trump leaves, is unlikely to allow someone who appeals just to that group to very soon recapture the Republican nomination for President. The Republican Party will follow the Democratic lead in that the Republican National Committee will throw its weight behind a candidate acceptable to the party as a whole, just as the Democratic National Committee threw its weight behind Hillary. Whatever happens, the old verities of American political life will be reestablished. This is not 1912 or 1968, when real changes in party alignment ensued from an election. There is a course of history in that certain issues get resolved and others get finessed to be dealt with another day and new issues arise. Only sometimes is there a distinct disconnect whereby a regime has little to do with ongoing social forces. That, I think, is the case of Trump. He does not represent a new departure in politics. He is only a fluke very few people will remember with any fondness. I can speculate about the post-Trump world only because it is so clear that the noose is tightening. Trump people say nothing has been proven yet. That is true, but does anyone still think it is plausible that there is nothing there?