Donald Trump went too far Monday.
And I’m not just talking about the president’s frightening, arms-crossed and panicked-sounding rant on national TV late Monday, when news that FBI agents had raided the home, office, and hotel room of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, sent the commander-in-chief into a tizzy in which he called a legitimate probe (approved by a judge and federal prosecutors appointed by Trump) a break-in and a “witch hunt” that was “an attack on our country.”
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
That was pretty outrageous, and yet another case of the president confusing what’s good for the country with what’s good for him — which so often are polar opposites. But I was just as concerned — maybe more so — by a fresh report that got buried, perhaps understandably, in the blizzard of news about the President and the Porn Star Payoff.
The Washington Post reported that lawyers for the company still owned by and still profiting the sitting president, the Trump Organization, sent a letter to the leader of Panama warning that his Central American nation might face “repercussions” if his government didn’t intervene on the side of the U.S. president’s business in a dispute involving a Trump hotel in Panama City. (You may have forgotten — the president of Panama almost certainly hasn’t — that U.S. troops overran the tiny nation back in 1989, so “repercussions” is a pretty loaded term.)
We often say that the Founding Fathers who gathered here in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution in 1787 never could have anticipated our modern world of AR-15s and Cambridge Analytica. But they actually were spot on when it came to anticipating the sleazeball tactics of the Trump Organization and its owner, who currently sits in the Oval Office. The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution spelled out in plain old English that presidents are barred from profiting in their dealings with foreign powers. Trump’s refusal to divest his global business interests while making life-or-death foreign policy decisions is a clear-cut case of the short-fingered vulgarian in the White House once again flipping the bird to constitutional law and democratic principles.
And the legislative branch of government is either too cowardly or too bought off to do anything about this — which is probably exactly what President Trump expected would happen. The parameters of time and space don’t allow me to list all the various transgressions that have occurred since the 45th president took the oath on Jan. 20, 2017. To be sure, a lot of it — from the vulgarity of his Twitter feed, which has worn out even Trump’s die-hard supporters, to the policies that scar our environment just when climate change is becoming an existential threat — is simply very bad presidenting that’s not criminal, where the most effective punishment will come at the ballot box.
But other acts — most notably, the blatant conflict of interest between his presidency and his high-profile business empire, and the powerful case for a campaign of obstruction of justice and abuse of power aimed at shutting down the criminal probe into possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election — scream out for a serious House investigation into Trump’s “high crimes” or “misdemeanors.”
Pause for a moment and consider Trump in the context of what Congress has considered an impeachable offense during my lifetime. Richard Nixon faced certain impeachment, and thus resigned, for interfering with the FBI probe into the crimes of Watergate — which is exactly what Trump has done in the firing of former FBI chief James Comey and a host of related actions. Bill Clinton was impeached — fairly or not — for lying to the public (and in legal proceedings) about his extramarital affair, and the evidence that Trump also lied publicly in a nearly identical fashion is mounting.
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Yet in 2018, with the most dangerous U.S. president in our history with his stubby fingers on the nuclear football, impeachment has suddenly become the political act that dare not speak its name.
Just this week, the New York Times came down from the mountaintop bearing tablets that impeachment — an idea which so far has animated the so-called Trump resistance to become the nation’s most potent political force, defeating pro-Trump Republicans in special elections from Alabama to Oklahoma — is a suicide pact for the Democratic Party. Wrote the Paper of Record: “Many top [Democratic] officials in the capital fear it is a political trap that would distract from their core message and possibly even boomerang to harm them in November” — mainly by animating GOP voters to rise up and defend Trump from this supposed lynch mob. Democratic political guru David Axelrod — a really smart guy who helped Barack Obama become president in 2008 — buys into this.
Dems should NOT commit to impeachment unless & until there’s a demonstrable case for one.
It is not just a matter of politics. It’s a matter of principle.
If we “normaiize” impeachment as a political tool, it will be another hammer blow to our democracy.https://t.co/vTcaDfknlC
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) April 8, 2018
As much as I respect Axelrod, I have to respectfully disagree on this. The American people, and our elected representatives, are at a dangerous crossroads. We need to own up — and own up quickly — to the reality that Donald Trump isn’t just a normally bad president, but a clear and president danger to the experiment in republican democracy that was launched in Philadelphia nearly 242 years ago.
The risk we face is not in normalizing impeachment, which is the tool that the Founding Fathers created to deal with the threat posed by the kind of president that they feared — and that Donald Trump has become. The real hazard is normalizing Trump’s conduct over the last 15 months — profiting off the presidency, interfering with an independent system of criminal justice, governing in opposition to a free press and other constitutionally guaranteed liberties, and violating human rights through mass deportations engineered by an agency, ICE, that is becoming a secret police force.
Look around the world, and you’ll see that autocracy is rising all over the map — in Turkey, China, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and Poland, to name just a few. We’ve been here before — in the 1920s and ’30s, when a string of once-great nations succumbed to fascism, but America elected a small-d democrat in Franklin Roosevelt, who rebuilt a prosperous nation with strong but constitutional methods. Today, Trump is the anti-FDR — a beacon to the world’s new generation of dictators, not a foe. As citizens, we and our representatives can watch this nightmare unfold over the next 33 months with our thoughts and prayers that it will somehow end well. Or we can take affirmative action.
We don’t need to elect a Congress that will slam-dunk guarantee Trump’s impeachment. What we do desperately need, though, are House members who will vote next January to begin a bipartisan impeachment probe with public hearings — modeled after the way that Congress got it right with Nixon in 1973-74 — leading to a fair vote on the evidence.
The scary part is that this might come too late. The worst thing about Monday’s unhinged rant by Trump against special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia probe is that it happened right before a cabinet meeting where an angry, boxed-in, and probably scared president was going to be deciding on U.S. military action in the tinderbox of Syria that has all the elements — including the involvement of Russia, Iran, Israel, etc. — that could trigger a global war. The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, gave us a tool to ensure these decisions aren’t made by a morally compromised president.
What are we waiting for?