The revelations by prosecutors in New York and the District of Columbia over the past few weeks have presented or hinted at evidence sufficient to stir anew talk of impeaching President Donald Trump.
How would the incoming Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives develop such a charge? Let’s imagine one possible approach.
It would begin by tracing Russia’s long-standing attempt to cultivate and compromise Trump. The Russians clearly viewed Trump as a narcissist with an insatiable itch for the ultimate attention that the presidency brings.
He also had such arrogant confidence of being beyond the law’s reach that he could be induced, either willingly or not, to conspire with them to secure the presidency by whatever means necessary in return for policies favorable to Russia.
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With the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs and the crony capitalism that rose out of the ideological rubble, opportunities to compromise Trump rose exponentially as the Russian mafia used his businesses as major conduits for money laundering, perhaps none more so than the exceedingly large sums Trump obtained from Deutsche Bank when the house of cards that was his business empire was on the brink of collapse.
Meanwhile Trump greatly heightened his celebrity through his long-running reality show, “The Apprentice.” The Republican Party gave him the veneer of political gravitas by its presidential candidates making pilgrimages to Trump Tower to secure his blessing, if not his money.
The party itself, was moving increasingly rightward, becoming ever more anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-minorities, anti-labor, anti-regulation, anti-science/climate change, anti-democratic. Government was depicted as wasteful, overreaching and corrupt.
Anti-democratic devices — gerrymandering, voter suppression, filibusters, flouting of constitutional norms (like the Senate’s obligation to provide advice and consent to presidential court nominees) — all were deemed necessary to protect the racial, homophobic, misogynist, corporate and planet-ravaging interests of Republican power brokers as well as the party’s base.
Campaign financing needed to be totally unrestricted, its sources undisclosed, so that dark money under the guise of speech became the controlling power that decided elections by flooding the media with distortions, misrepresentations, and unchallengeable libel.
This on the heels of the emergence of a radical right media sphere that isolated its audience in an ideological cocoon that became virtually impenetrable to opposing viewpoints.
At the same time, the Republican Party took on an absolute status that many, if not most, Republicans equated with the nation itself. What was not of the party was a mortal threat that needed to be put down, by whatever means possible. Winning-at-all costs became standard operating procedure.
Trump’s celebrity and utter lack of a moral core simply magnified and accelerated the malignant forces consuming the GOP. With Trump’s suspicious array of campaign aides with backgrounds within the Russian orbit, with Russian espionage hacking Democratic sources and with Russian bots and other surrogates spreading fake news and conspiracies on gatekeeper-less social media, the Russian involvement became the critical component for Trump’s election.
Even when the Russian saboteurs were detected by government agencies, the Republicans exposed their complicity when Mitch McConnell refused to join President Barack Obama’s call for a bipartisan alert to the nation about Russian interference. That assured that this sabotage would substantially affect the election, decisively as it turned out.
For nigh on two years, it has become increasingly apparent that Trump has more than justified the faith that the Soviets/Russians put in him to be their man in Washington.
If they have not quite gotten all the sanctions lifted that they had attempted to negotiate with Trump associates, Putin and his delegates have gotten quite gargantuan returns for their investment.
In so many ways the Trump administration has weakened America’s democracy, not only by undermining our domestic and foreign interests, but even more so by his debasing of the truth and of any epistemic authority.
Above all, there have been his clumsy, on-going attempts to obstruct justice in the Department of Justice’s investigation of criminal activity in the 2016 election and thereafter.
In the face of this assault, what has the Republican congress done to provide the oversight to check the transgressions of the administration? The sad truth is that America finds itself facing a triple threat to its survival as a republic: from the Russians, Trump and his abettors in the Congress.
So here we are. Caught in this seemingly never-ending nightmare, clinging to the hope that enough integrity and courage survive in the Congress to do the right thing, when the moment of reckoning finally arrives.
Robert Emmett Curran of Richmond is professor of history emeritus at Georgetown University.