Do “us” a favor

I didn’t actually watch much of the impeachment speeches yesterday because it was honestly too distressing to listen to all the bald-faced, bad-faith lies that Republicans were spouting.  Multi-volume books could be written on the preposterous defenses of the president.  But, one I noticed emphasized was the do “us” a favor, though.  My thought at the time… “are you serious, do you think we are this dumb.”  The answer, of course, is that they clearly think Republican voters are that dumb (or, to be fair, blinded by partisan motivated reasoning).  We’re honestly supposed to believe that since Trump used first person plural instead of first person singular he was not after personal gain.  So stupid.  And, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, completely undermined by the reality of how Trump (and many people) talks:

The part that struck me had to do with Trump’s defense against the allegations that led to his impeachment. Democrats have charged that Trump abused his power when he attempted to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden — Trump’s potential opponent in 2020 — in exchange for official favors. In a crucial phone call with Zelenskiy in July, Trump made a key statement: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

To House Democrats, this seemed to be the point at which the president was attempting to coerce a foreign leader into giving him political assistance. But Trump and his allies have insisted on another reading. They emphasize the “us” and claim that Trump was asking, as president, for something that the country as a whole wanted. On Dec. 4, Trump spelled it out on Twitter: “With the word `us’ I am referring to the United States, our Country.” In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week, he reiterated the point: “I said do us a favor, not me, and our country, not a campaign.”

This has been a critical part of Trump’s defense. His allies have made the same distinction over and over; Republicans made it a central plank of their case during impeachment hearings. Representative Steve Scalise made the point again in an interview just yesterday. And yet the whole thing rests on the premise that the president wouldn’t use the royal “we” — the first person plural — to refer to himself. And so what does Trump say in Michigan to kick off his rally, just as the House is voting on impeachment?

As CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported:

“It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” President Trump tells the Michigan crowd. “The country is doing better than ever before…We did nothing wrong. We have tremendous support in the Republican party.”

“We’re being impeached.” “We did nothing wrong.” “We have tremendous support.” No, this doesn’t prove Trump’s intent on the phone call. But it obliterates the idea that he wouldn’t say “us” to refer to himself personally. It certainly doesn’t help his case. Either he was unable to control himself for a few days after making this argument, or he was unable to realize the connection, or he just doesn’t care whether he’s consistent from one minute to the next. Most likely, it was some combination of all three.

And that, right there, is the president of the United States.

About the failed shared reality

Didn’t read the Frank Bruni newsletter till after my post.  Endorse this 100%

But I can tell you, as someone who remembers Clinton’s impeachment well, what was different: The two parties weren’t pressing two entirely separate and contradictory sets of facts, not nearly to the extent that they are now. They weren’t promoting two utterly different realities. Truth was twisted, sure. But it remained something of a tether.

For Republican lawmakers now, it isn’t.

This impeachment process has become the grandest test yet of how fully and successfully President Trump can corrupt our discourse with fiction and persuade a consequential share of Americans that no such corruption has taken place. He will almost certainly be acquitted in the Senate, because his approval rating among Republican voters is still well above 80 percent in many polls, and that’s a signal to the party’s leaders that they admonish him at their peril. So they validate his fantasies and his conspiracy theories. They sing the same loopy song.

Let me be clear: Entrenched political tribalism infects the Democratic Party, too. It’s the ruinous virus of this moment, spread with newly efficient ease by an information economy in which we can curate our news so that all we hear is an echo or amplification of what we already believe. It hardens those convictions. They become stone.

And Democrats routinely engage in hyperbole. They do their own selective edits of events.

But what we’ve seen from Republicans during the Trump era in general — and over the past few months in particular — goes well beyond that. There was nothing “perfect” about the president’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. The whistle-blower did not get everything wrong. (Quite the opposite.)

The notion that Trump is concerned about corruption anywhere is ludicrous. And the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, was the major actor in 2016 election interference has no factual backing and is a dangerous mockery of what the Trump administration’s own intelligence officials have determined.

Whatever shape Trump’s trial in the Senate ends up taking, he’ll survive it. We’ve been marching furiously toward a foregone conclusion. But the larger journey doesn’t end there. We’re crossing into a No Man’s Land where reality belongs to the most practiced liar with the most shameless enablers. It’s a place inhospitable to competent governance. To accountability. To democracy, too.

Impeachment losers: shared reality and the rule of law

Yes, it sure is good that in some way Trump has been held to account (damn is it good the Democrats took the House in 2018).  But, I’m mostly left with frustration about what this has revealed about our current politics (i.e., what has become of the Republican Party).

From Aaron Blake’s take-aways:

Republicans have long held their nose with Trump. They’ve looked past the tweets. They’ve given him the benefit of the doubt on things like Charlottesville. They’ve dealt with his unorthodox and unwieldy style and the headaches that come with it. And they’ve gotten their rewards: oodles of judges, two Supreme Court justices and tax cuts.

But the defenses they’ve mounted of him over the past three months — and particularly Wednesday — really solidify the bond. Trump asked a foreign country to investigate his political rival based upon spurious evidence, and he did the same with a conspiracy theory that Ukraine might have interfered in the 2016 election rather than Russia. Numerous members of his own administration have said a White House meeting and military aid were withheld in connection with the push for those probes.

And through it all, the GOP has largely shrugged. It initially defended Trump almost purely on process grounds, but its defenses of him Wednesday were more about how there just isn’t much substance to the allegations against him. They effectively endorsed his actions. They pretended he didn’t actually do the things he indisputably did. They pretended he was actually interested in corruption in Ukraine, against all evidence. They made arguments that strained the bounds of logic to dismiss his actions. They even compared his persecution to Jesus on Wednesday — twice. [emphasis mine]

It’s perhaps no surprise that no Republicans voted to impeach and no GOP senators will likely vote to remove him from office; those are very serious punishments even if they think Trump did something wrong. What’s remarkable about what we’ve just seen, though, is how thoroughly Republicans bear-hugged him.

And Dana Milbank, “The House has impeached Trump. But in a sense, he won.”

But in one sense, Trump won.

Wednesday’s 10-hour impeachment debate on the House floor and the party-line vote that followed proved that Trump’s multiyear campaign against the truth — 15,000 lies and counting — has succeeded. Republicans, united, didn’t spend much time defending Trump on the (unfavorable) merits. Instead, in an appalling spectacle of mass projection, they took turns accusing Democrats of the very offenses Trump committed — with Trumpian language and disregard for reality.

Democrats are the ones, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said, who committed a “stunning abuse of power.” Democrats are the ones, Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) said, who “colluded with Russia and Ukraine.” Democrats are the ones, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said, who engaged in “the largest and most massive coverup of such a list of crimes against our country.” Democrats are the ones, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said, who committed an “assault on the Constitution.” Democrats are the ones, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said, who are “interfering in America’s election.” Democrats are the ones, Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said, who “have dangerously shattered precedents.”

It was as though Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson had taken over the House floor. [emphasis mine] Even during the most solemn constitutional ritual, Republicans were auditioning for an audience of one — and outbidding each other with conspiracy theories in hopes of scoring a favorable tweet from the boss.

It goes without saying, I think, that a democracy is trouble when we cannot even agree on the most basic political reality.  And, of course, in a narrow political sense, when that’s the case, the liars win.  When I talk about “American Political Culture” I don’t even talk about “belief in an actual reality” as a shared value as it would seemingly go without saying, not anymore.

And, as for the rule of law, I do talk about that.  But this year’s developments are so depressing.  The rule of law cannot really exist as a partisan issue.  It cannot exist if only one political party is willing to defend it.  It cannot exist if the President can do literally anything and be defended by his co-partisans.  It cannot exist if one party thinks the Attorney General should use the power of law enforcement to pursue the president’s enemies.  And, yet, here we are.  Its hard not to be sad and very concerned about the state of American democracy.

%d bloggers like this: