It's about time for us to dispense with the notion that most or even many United States senators genuinely think Donald Trump is innocent of the charges against him. Everyone knows the president tried to force the government of Ukraine to ratfuck his domestic political rival. Everyone knows he withheld official acts—a summit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, then military aid appropriated by Congress to help in Ukraine's struggle against Russian aggression—in an attempt to extort them into smearing Joe Biden. In his quest for a 2020 sequel to The Emails (2016), Trump abused the powers of his office, subjugating the American national interest to his personal political interest and violating his oath of office.
Only folks with Fox News Brain are holding out now, and there are surely some of those in the Senate. But how many, really? The calculus for plenty of Republican senators is surely that The Base must be appeased, or maybe—and this is charitable—these offenses aren't severe enough to remove a president in an election year. (Or maybe they're considering the White House's reported threat to "put [their] head on a spike.") Adam Schiff zeroed-in on these folks in his closing remarks Thursday night, where he began by putting the question of Trump's guilt to bed. "He's done what he's charged with," Schiff said. "He withheld the money, he withheld the meeting, he used it coerce Ukraine to do these political investigations, he covered it up, he obstructed us, he's trying to obstruct you, and he's violated the Constitution."
But then Schiff got into the crucial point: this is not some one-off. It is part of a pattern of behavior in which the president believes no rules apply to him, that he is free to—and will do—whatever will benefit him, personally, at any time. "Does anybody really question whether the president is really capable of what he's charged with?" Schiff added. "No one is really making the argument, 'Donald Trump would never do such a thing.' Because of course we know that he would, and of course we know that he did."
If the president is allowed to get away with this, he will do it again. He might do worse. And that, Schiff argued, is why he must be removed.
Donald Trump must be convicted and removed from office.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 24, 2020
Because he will always choose his own personal interest over our national interest.
Because in America, right matters. Truth matters.
If not, no Constitution can protect us.
If not, we are lost. pic.twitter.com/USfx6v9KsT
Schiff hit on the president's total disregard for the truth, and folded it into his relentless self-interest: "Why would Donald Trump believe a man like Rudy Giuliani over a man like Christopher Wray?" he asked, referring to the FBI director who acknowledges the reality that Russia, not Ukraine, attacked us in 2016. There are many reasons not to believe an FBI director, but even more not to believe Rudy Giuliani. And besides, Trump had only one reason, as Schiff laid out:
Because he wanted to, and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally. And what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth. What Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the information he needed to protect this country and its elections. But that's not good enough—what's in it for him? What's in it for Donald Trump? This is why he must be removed.
Schiff discussed the damage Trump can still do between now and election day, having demonstrated a near-unlimited capacity for corruption and subterfuge. He cited the reports that Russia attempted to hack into the computer systems of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm at the center of the ratfucking, and drew a clear picture of the future.
Let's say they got in. And let's say they start dumping documents to interfere in the next election. Let's say they start dumping some real things they have from Burisma, let's say they start dumping some fake things they didn't hack from Burisma, but they want you to believe they did. Let's say they start blatantly interfering in our election again to help Donald Trump. Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them and protect our national interest over his own personal interest? You know you can't, which makes him dangerous to this country. You know you can't. You know you can't count on him. None of us can.
There are legitimate questions about why Hunter Biden was sitting on Burisma's board, but we have seen no evidence that Joe Biden did anything unethical or illegal. Trump is banking on that distinction making little difference, and he's probably right. The Russians will likely leak this stuff into our body politic, conservative media and Republican politicians will eat it up, and the mainstream media will Report on the Controversy to avoid accusations of liberal bias.
Soon after, Schiff hit on the essential corruption of Trump's famed "transactionalism," which some sectors of the punditocracy painted as a positive before his election because it would allow him to Get Things Done without ideology getting in the way. In reality, he just has no principles and believes in nothing except himself, which allows him to disregard, say, the Constitution, or the institutions of a democratic republic. Trump already asked China, in public, to interfere in the next election. As Schiff said, we can no longer pretend this is a joke.
So what if China does overtly or covertly start to help the Trump campaign? You think he's going to call them out on it? Or do you think he's going to give them a better trade deal on it?
You can see this dynamic in Trump's dealings with the Saudis, who are pouring money into his pockets through his hotels and God knows what other vehicles. The president has engineered the Great American Heist, using the presidency to fill his coffers after he refused to properly divest from his business holdings on taking office. The number of conflicts of interest that arise in Trumpland on a daily basis must be staggering, and many involve foreign governments or actors who are seeking changes to United States foreign policy that will benefit them. Trump, then, is tasked with prioritizing the national interest or trading policy favors for personal gain. Schiff's point is that we know which side he chooses always—his own.
That may be why the Saudis got off scot-free on the Jamal Khashoggi murder. It may be informing our dealings with Iran, Saudi Arabia's major regional rival, and our continued activities in Yemen despite congressional pushback. Previous administrations pursued policies friendly to Saudi, but now we must ask if Trump's extra coziness has different roots. Jared Kushner, the Son-in-Law-in-Chief, is buddies with Mohammed bin Salman on Whatsapp, and reports this week brought a new dimension to what that might entail. We couldn't call this a traditional diplomatic channel, and it's made worse by the fact that Kushner has no experience or expertise, and he—and his family's real-estate firm—are in complicated financial condition.
But then Schiff was on to far weightier things.
Colonel Vindman said, "Here, right matters." Here, right matters. Well let me tell you something. If right doesn't matter, it doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the Framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well-written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn't matter, we're lost. If the truth doesn't matter, we're lost. The Framers couldn't protect us from ourselves if right and truth don't matter.
And this is the nub of the thing. It is why autocrats the world over try to erode the concept of truth and destroy the institutions—like a free press, or other branches of government—that might defend it. If the truth is whatever The Leader says it is, and which he can get enough people to believe, then he can do anything. If everything is malleable, if you believe The Leader when he says everyone is as shady and self-interested as he is, if you reject the evidence of your eyes and ears, or if you lack the courage and fortitude to defend what you know to be true in the face of all his power and his relentless assault on the binding principles of our commonwealth, then you have given him everything.
That is the bet that Donald Trump and his allies are making: that we will give up. That we will wilt under the ceaseless barrage of lies and distortions, many of which contradict each other, but which in the aggregate feel overwhelming, and heavy enough to pull us down into the abyss. On Fox News, where the president and his supporters and far too many elected officials get their information, they counter-programmed Schiff's speech with more kaleidoscopic conspiracy talk. The Constitution will not enforce itself, and neither will the laws. The institutions of a democratic republic—of a free state—require constant maintenance. We are tasked with the exhausting duty of propping up the pillars of our national idea as they teeter, so that they do not fall and bring the whole house down with them.
Schiff's speech was brilliant because it didn't spend additional time on the established facts of the case, which no one seriously disputes, and got to the more essential issue: Donald Trump will never prioritize the interests of the United States—as he pledged to in his oath of office—over his personal interests. He is not capable of it. The evidence lies in his repeated calls for foreign countries to attack our democracy for his personal gain. The evidence lies in the bribe palaces he's running in hotels across the world, where some have started buying up huge blocs of rooms and not even bothering to stay in many of them. The Constitution is worth nothing to him because it does not benefit him personally. Neither is anything we might recognize as our national idea. Neither is the truth. He must be removed before his pathological self-interest can do any more damage than it already has.
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