When Donald Trump was elected President (a phrase that still has the capacity to shock), the coping mechanism resorted to by many who regarded this outcome as an unmitigated disaster for the republic consisted of a form of protracted denial, the belief that all could somehow still be made right, the earth returned to its proper axis, and responsible adults restored to positions of respect and authority.
The desperate reasoning went that though the constituency that elected him could countenance his fundamental amorality and his organizational incompetence in order to achieve certain policy ends, most of these supporters expected him to grow in the office, to learn, to change, to become presidential; and when, of course, he didn’t, surely even they would turn on him and the jig would be up.
Or, that this consummate narcissist, having proved himself a “winner” at the biggest game there is, would quickly tire of the endless personal demands and mental challenges of actual public service and find an excuse to resign and go back to exploiting his brand full-time.
Or, that some past or novel impropriety would spill into public view and finally overwhelm the capacity of even his base to suspend its disbelief.
But it hasn’t happened. Improprieties have indeed emerged in droves, but have been assimilated into the overarching Trumpian narrative of barely-functional chaos. His boundless vulgarity is interpreted, by its sheer consistency, as the new normal of presidential behavior. His policy reversals, denigrations of career public servants, neglect of departmental staffing, and cabinet-shufflings are forgiven as perhaps clumsy but sincere efforts to upend the “deep state.” He has outstripped even our bleakest imaginings about how a President Trump would inhabit the office, his ego remains indefatigable, and his base is still with him. It appears, despite the fondest hopes of those still in mourning over the last presidential election, that we’re stuck with him until the next one.
And yet and yet, say some: he could still be impeached. As recently as this week, Adam Davidson of the New Yorker proclaimed that the raid on Michael Cohen’s offices marked the beginning of the “end stage of the Trump presidency.”
Liberals and moderates of both parties need to dispense with this wishful thinking, for two important reasons: impeachment (or riding Trump out of office by less formal means) is highly unlikely, and it distracts us from the hard work of galvanizing the electorate both for the mid-term elections and in 2020.
To be sure, the seemingly endless Mueller probe, the payoffs to porn stars and Playboy models, the grudge match with James Comey, the hints of extortion, the multiple conflicts of interest, the shameful excuse for a lawyer that is Michael Cohen, all this and so much more makes for endless, tawdry entertainment, on which the media rely for eyeballs and we rely for our daily dose of schadenfreude. But none of it is likely to result in Trump’s being removed from office.
Mueller’s probe bears all the earmarks of a very thorough, disciplined process that will reveal much of little moment, and little of real political significance. Did some of Trump’s underlings and relatives conspire with Russians to attempt to influence the 2016 election? Who can doubt it? Did Trump himself commit “high crimes and misdemeanors” in these regards? It’s highly unlikely that he had either the wit or the attention span for such intricacies.
And even if the House Judiciary Committee, in a spasm of procedural rectitude, were to draft articles of impeachment based on Mueller’s findings or other scandals, the odds of the full House passing them and two-thirds the Senate ratifying them are somewhere near zero. As Clinton skated, so would Trump. We should recognize this, thank Mueller for his service, and move on.
Might Trump resign if he were sufficiently embarrassed? To ask the question is to answer it. His life, and his presidency, is a diagram of how far beyond shame and personal accountability he’s moved. But even if he did, we’d be left with Mike Pence as president, and one has to prefer an unprincipled incompetent to a marginally competent ideologue.
Trump himself wants to be, and daily succeeds in being, a distraction from our most important duty as citizens, and that is to prepare to vote, and to encourage our fellow citizens to do the same. Voter suppression and gerrymandering have been a barely-concealed agenda for the Republican Party, and it’s not hard to understand why: an actual majority of the American people is unlikely to support its national agenda or its current leader. Blame Hillary Clinton all you want (and she deserves it), but the fact is that Democratic voter turnout in the six Midwestern states that handed the presidency to Donald Trump was down almost 2% in 2016 vs. 2012, and all it took was about 100,000 votes across three of those states to skew our outmoded Electoral College in his favor.
It’s time for the actual majority to rule once again. That majority lives in or near cities, and on the coasts; it works in offices and factories and online, not on ranches or in mines; it is urban and wildly multicultural, not small-town white Protestant, despite what Rebecca Solnit calls the “misdistribution of sympathy” that now treats that latter faction as oracles who, had they only been listened to, could have told the rest of us what the “real” America was all about.
The real America, composed of voters who worked hard to become well-educated, got good jobs in or near cities that could support a family, perhaps immigrated here so that they could do these things, got married and had kids and taught them to be loving, responsible, tolerant people, got exposed, by urban living and by traveling when they could, to the wider world and the people, not so different from them, who inhabit it – that America will get another shot this November, and then again in 2020.
Their civic goal, simply put, should be – and I believe will be – to first elect a Congress that will isolate Trump within the fortress of his ego and minimize his further damage, and then to vote him out of office at their very next opportunity, in the hope of restoring competence and dignity to the presidency. The rest – the collusion, the women, the dream of impeachment — is just noise that Trump and his supporters can only hope will continue to distract us.