Profiles in Shame

No witnesses, no documents. No surprise. The first impeachment trial in the history of the United States to forbid the presence of factual evidence and witnesses is now drawing to a close.

The things we–well, some of us–do in service of fairness: because I had watched virtually every moment of last week’s prosecutorial presentation, I also watched virtually every minute of the Trump defense team presentation. I clung to the glad news that Elizabeth McDonough, Senate parliamentarian, also made history as the first woman to hold the post—until I remembered that Mitch McConnell was changing all the rules anyway, so somebody probably thought since it’s a powerless job now might as well throw it to a woman.

For the rest, I discovered a new capacity for enduring hours of lies, bluster, personal nastiness, coded words of racism and sexism, oxymoronic self contradictions within the same sentence, and swoops of hypocritical rhetoric as graceful as a flightless dodo bird, all before news broke that the head of the Trump team had actually been in the room when Trump was pressuring John Bolton to join “the drug deal” plan to force Ukraine into smearing Joe Biden. That’s grounds for disbarment and worse in a normal world, where you are not considered qualified to represent a conspiracy in which you participated.

The Trump defense was a triumph of the shill, not the will. Don’t forget that the first, second, and third tiers of reputable law firms in the country had already refused to represent Trump. This team, doubtless instructed by their client, kept trying to sell us something. But the product was faulty and the sales presentation lowered standards for mediocrity so, together with 75 percent of the American public who still wanted witnesses and documents, we weren’t buying. Because they kept changing terms, rules, and grounds, plus re-interpreting an occurrence or motivation three different ways in succession, they lacked even the dignity of malevolence, but came across as militantly stupid. Their client gets away with this because his followers regard it as “authentic”–that is, genuinely stupid. But not everyone on his team of lawyers is, so it was gross to watch them display such a dutiful lack of coherence—yet another example of the banality of evil (plus the banality of repetition).

Cognitive dissonance afflicted the defense. Ken Starr complained that like war, impeachment was hell because it was so divisive. Mischievous news programs aired this clip cheek by jowl with clips of Starr in Javert-like pursuit of his prey during the Clinton impeachment, when Starr gleefully fueled national divisiveness and rained down hellfire on Bill Clinton for his sexual misdeeds (this was well before Starr was forced to resign as president of Baylor University for mishandling sexual assaults at the school). The other celebrity lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, also reversed himself from his position during the Clinton trial, because he now realizes that abuse of power doesn’t really exist as a concept or a charge. Good to know! I couldn’t help visualizing him at that Senate podium clad not in a suit but, as he described himself in a recent Vanity Fair interview, dressed as he’d been when receiving “only” massages from sexually enslaved little girls at Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion: he was quoted as saying that he never took off his underwear, and is currently being sued for defamation by one of Epstein’s survivor/victims. Then there was Pam Bondi, Trump team token, former Florida DA who left office under a cloud for having accepted $25,000.00 for dropping a case against the fraud perpetrated by Trump University. Her presentation was a debasement embarrassing to watch.

All the defense lawyers ignored the headlines about John Bolton’s revelations and willingness to testify, except for one brief mention toward the end: the Ostrich Defense, but this time burying their heads in quicksand.

The House Managers responded to questions in a focused, professional, and (gasp!) factual manner, clearly getting as weary of having to repeat themselves as I was of hearing them have to. Meanwhile, back at what used to be the presidency, Trump was receiving his bro Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently under indictment for corruption, who had recently failed to get the Knesset to declare him immune from prosecution. How coincidentally consistent! After all, as Emerson wrote, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman . . .”

You know the rest. When it came to a vote on admitting fact witnesses and documents, only two Republicans–Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah–voted to allow evidence. The rest still didn’t dare locate a shred of courage, some of them hand-wringing and waffling: Certainly-he-did-it-and-that’s-terrible-but-I-like-his–tax-policy–and-conservative-judge-appointments-and-erasure-of-regulations-so-I-refuse-to-hear-more-facts-since-I’ll-vote-to-acquit-anyway. McConnell set Monday and Tuesday for senators to explain their votes publicly to their constituents, to squirm aloud why they have become forever profiles in shame. Then the vote on Wednesday, from which McConnell expects Trump to emerge absolved of guilt (though impeached for history), and ready for a second term.

But wait.

A lot can happen over these intervening days, especially in the eruptive state this live volcano called news is spewing. The truth rumbles, tectonic plates grinding, gathering momentum toward inevitable bursts. Like Trump having to deliver the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, to both houses of Congress, in the House of Representatives, while still formally standing trial for high crimes and misdemeanors (there’s a first). Like further revelations from John Bolton, now pissed off that he wasn’t called to testify. Like more General Kelly validations. Like more Lev Parnas interviews. Like more from players we haven’t even heard from yet.

The current of truth pulses at its own speed, coursing through whatever arteries, employing whatever carriers, adopting whatever motives it can use. There will be additional principled whistleblowers. There will be officials and staffers high and low, eager for book contracts, or greedy for money, fame, or revenge. There will be miscreants indicted or about to be, desperate to Tell All in exchange for milder charges or sentences. There will be fathers who simply can’t bear the looks their children give them anymore, who finally step forward.

And all the while, Senate Republicans will have to face their constituents, the nation, and history for having voted as they did while aware that these lava flows of evidence were coming, this pyroclastic cloud of truth was unstoppable.

Their vote will be in their obituaries and they know it.

The rest of us need to refuse despair. Despair really is so lazy, so boring. We need to remember that the dynamism of democracy is what has saved us so far, and will again. Think about it. We know what facts we already know despite Congressional subpoenas being ignored, contested, or defied. The whole world has those facts and that evidence for three reasons.

Because ordinary individuals and groups like American Oversight are ingeniously operating in ways the regime never sees coming, as when they got hold of evidence under the Freedom of Information Act, evidence that had been denied to Congressional committees.

Because our courts keep ruling that this knowledge is our right.

Because our magnificent free press is doing its job.

Our job, yours and mine, is November. Vengeance is a dish best served on the ballot. We must ensure that the numbers of Americans showing up to vote are so massive that our tide will engulf all efforts to sabotage it—and “sabotage” and “attack” are the words to employ, not that ridiculous euphemism “meddled.”

Meantime, if you find yourself getting depressed, consider if you’d rather be a Republican senator at this moment in American history. You’ll instantly feel cheered at the realistic acknowledgment that your future is a hell of a lot brighter than theirs.