The Realities of Impeachment

I won’t say that impeachment is back in the news, because the removal of the President never left and has been a headline grabber since before Trump took the oath. Back then, desperate cable commentators tried in vain to convince Electoral College electors to throw the purple prize to, among others, a morose Paul Ryan.

#NeverTrump Republicans have mostly given up their quixotic quest to cashier Trump (with the exception of a red-faced Bill Weld floating the crackers idea of executing the President for treason). Hardline Democrats, however, aren’t deterred. The more progressive sort continue to call for impeachment, citing transgressions ranging from mean tweets to an abstruse constitutional clause that nobody heard of between the years of 1830 and 2016. “At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior -- it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” the young Stalinist star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, upping the pressure on Democrat leadership.

Now, something about Ukraine and Trump asking Volodymr Zelensky to look into Joe Biden’s sleazy son’s skullduggery in the former Soviet satellite has rekindled calls for impeachment. Never mind that the source of the allegation wasn’t present for the classified conversation. We’re also supposed to believe that, in the history of our republic, no other president quietly asked another world leader for dirt on their opponent. And you’ve already forgotten about that other business with a British foreign agent feeding factitious dirt to President Obama about Trump’s predilection for Muscovite strumpets, right?

If you listen to the media’s play-by-play of the Democratic dynamic, you’ll think Trump is in trouble as Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives into the progressive angst by promising a “formal inquiry” into impeachment. But, it’s hard to see how this piecemeal effort will ultimately satisfy the intransigents of her caucus who keep clamoring for more, baying for nacarat blood. Seven freshman Democrats just paid a bundle to a PR agency to run a Washington Post op-ed demanding impeachment.

Until now, Pelosi’s approach -- tugging the leash on her more salivating members, while allowing just a little give to keep them loyal -- was seen as wise, even canny, by political junkies who watch “Morning Joe” for fun. And in some ways, it was: playing footsie with impeachment while not actually going forward with the long, grueling process was expected to hold the Democrat base together, if only temporarily. At the same time, it was supposed to stave off the Trumpian core of the GOP, who, in the haughty minds of Beltway burghers, will lash out like starved curs should Democrats actually attempt to defenestrate Trump from the Oval Office.

For all of Pelosi’s supposed political acumen, her hand was forced by the progressive rabble-rousers. This makes for a dramatic coup de théâtre, but it’s still only that: theater. Pelosi lost face, yes. But the humiliation will be downplayed by her media backers, who treat statecraft like so many three-act plays. And we already know the coming ending.

The Washington wisdom behind Trump’s impeachment makes sense until you venture three feet outside I-495. Within the DC groupthink bubble, impeachment is treated as a galvanizing force among voters not plugged in, Matrix-like, to the political scene. Michael Oakeshott was right when he wrote that “[p]olitics is a suitable subject for conversation -- perhaps that is all it is suitable for.” Politics holds the general imagination insomuch as it provides practical benefit to people. Sometimes it’s chatted about over coffee or a cigarette. Otherwise, it’s a bore, or, worse, a duplicitous farce. Impeachment is no different–just useless footler to tear off a sliver of a margin of undecided voters.

But not to Potomac clerisy. The political class and their media retainers want the drama. The substance of impeachment, the letter of the Constitution, is secondary. They want the gladiatorial fight, the historic weight it brings to the everyday folderol of our shallow politics. The headlines, the MSNBC chyrons, the front page of the New York Times, the overpaid college historians nattering about the significance of C-SPAN -- these are the currencies that finance our political-industrial complex.

Under its current member makeup, impeachment has about as much of a chance of succeeding in Congress as mandatory veganism. There’s no way two-thirds of a Republican-majority Senate will vote to convict. Any articles of impeachment would be for show, which is why so many of the Democratic presidential candidates and backbenchers are demanding it, and why TV grandees devote airtime to the useless effort.

Even so, Trump should be chary about exploiting this dog-and-pony show for his own electoral purposes. Countless warnings about impending impeachment before the 2018 midterms didn’t stop the Democrats from wrangling back control of the House. 

Republican voters already know the other side doesn’t play fair. They also understand Trump isn’t about to be frog-marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, with Rep. Rashida Tlaib shoving a bayonet to his back.

The impeachment threat is for ripping off rubes with direct mail and occupying idle hours on CNN. Pelosi is playing Democrats for suckers. Meanwhile, the same liberal cable crooks and consultants laugh their way to the bank.

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