“What was said consistently undermined Mr. Trump’s case, but more deadly was what has never been said.”
–Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2019
What caused the extraordinary torpor of yesterday’s impeachment hearing was the deafening sound of what wasn’t being said. In the strange world of Washington, what made the historic impeachment hearings surprisingly unexciting, was, as Republican columnist Peggy Noonan had noted on November 14, that “no one, even in the White House, has said anything like, ‘He wouldn’t do that!’ or ‘That would be so unlike him.’ His best friends know he would do it and it’s exactly like him.”
Thus, no Republican dared say yesterday that Donald Trump is a good man with a strong moral fiber, who would never say or do something like what he was charged with. After all, he did it with Russia on July 27, 2016: “Russia, if you’re listening….” He had told George Stephanopoulos on June 13, 2019, that he would listen if foreigners offered dirt on opponents. We know from the partial transcript that he did it in the phone call with the President of Ukraine of July 25. He did it again on July 26 in his phone call with Ambassador Gordon Sondland when he sought confirmation that Ukraine would do the investigations into the Bidens. He did it when he stood on the White House lawn on October 3 and repeated for national television the same request to both Ukraine and China.
Thus the boredom wasn’t simply due to the repetitiveness of what was said, with Democrats endlessly reciting what had been exhaustively covered in hearings and in their 300-page impeachment report. More significantly, the Republicans were tirelessly intoning Trump’s own talking points, all seemingly addressed to their attentive “audience of one”. We, the viewers, along with the Democrats in the hearing room, were all in effect interlopers on a conversation addressed to someone else. The supplications being made to Trump were only occasionally enlivened by unexpected variations, such as Rep. Barry Loudermilk comparing Trump’s impeachment to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, or Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio calling for the congress to stand in a moment of silence to remember the voices of the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump.
A further factor was that the eventual outcome was supposedly known in advance. The voting tallies were clear for both parties. The Republican leader in the Senate had declared even before the House session that he was already coordinating the Senate trial with the president’s counsel—a move akin to the foreman of a jury colluding with the defendant. Senator McConnell has even indicated that he has the votes to ensure a quick trial and an acquittal, seemingly oblivious of the oath he will have to swear as a Senate juror to base his decision on the evidence at the trial. What then was the point of listening to an elaborate impeachment process in the House, when everyone knew it would end in futility in the Senate?
It didn’t help that everyone attempted to project an air of sadness. The women dressed in funereal black to portray an appropriate aura of gloom. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi adopted her somber tone of a disappointed parent that so gets under Donald Trump’s skin, while gravely telling her colleagues that they were “gathered under the dome of this temple of democracy to exercise one of the most solemn powers this body can take: the impeachment of the President of the United States.”
No Republican dared say other things that the occasion called for, for instance, that although Trump might once have done that kind of thing, he had learned his lesson and he is unlikely to do it again. That might have been worth discussing, except that the avenue was blocked because even today, Trump is still doing it. Even as the hearings were being held, his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is openly trying to gather more dirt on the Bidens on behalf of Trump for the 2020 election. So, will Trump do it again? Of course, he will, in a flash, and he will go on doing it.
Similarly, no Republican dared say explicitly what they were saying implicitly, that it’s acceptable for a president to use the power of his office to bribe and extort other countries for his personal and political benefit. That could have led to an interesting debate about the true meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution, and whether “bribery” in the Constitution requires the bribe to have been accepted. Alas, that interesting discussion will have to take place in another forum on another day.
Nor was any Republican willing to say explicitly what they were saying implicitly, namely, that they appear to want, or at least tolerate, President Trump to go on using his power, if necessary, to bribe and extort other countries, so that he wins the election for the Republican Party by any means, whether legal or illegal.
Moreover, no Republican would say explicitly what they seemed to be implying, namely, that the impeachment provisions of the constitution should be repealed because any impeachment necessarily disenfranchises the millions of people who voted for that person as president. That would have required making a case that there is in future to be no remedy for dealing with a criminal president except after the first four years at the ballot box, and thereafter, not at all. Explicitly proposing to turn the president into a monarch was apparently a bridge too far.
Furthermore, no Republican dared say what is obvious from the obsequious tone and content of their offerings to the president, namely, that Republicans were voting against impeachment because they were afraid of being attacked by Trump himself and being primaried in the upcoming 2020 election and voted out by the members of Trump’s base who would be angered at any apparent failure to support their hero.
Most important, anything the Republicans said was drowned out by the universal awareness of the threat that Trump poses to virtually everything that the Republican Party once stood for. An unwillingness to admit the existence of this litany of issues meant that any attempt at a defense of the president was silenced by the deafening noise of what wasn’t being said.
And read also:
Impeachment Hearings And The Concept Of America
Senate’s Rejection Of Impeachment Isn’t Inevitable