Trump’s Fate Is in Democrats’ Hands

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

It may seem obvious that Trump is the most corrupt and dangerous president in our lifetimes and probably all of American history. But that does not mean he won’t get re-elected.

In that long period when we were waiting for Robert Mueller to produce his final report on the Russia scandal, many Democrats got caught up in their hopes for both what it would reveal and what the result would be. Once Mueller laid out all the facts about President Trump’s behavior both during and after the election, the truth would be impossible to deny, they believed. Impeachment would become almost an inevitability, and even many of Trump’s supporters would finally realize just how awful this president is. His support would nosedive.

Of course, that’s not what happened. The report did indeed lay out all manner of crimes and misdeeds, many of which were committed by the president himself. But Republicans whipped themselves into a frenzy of denial and disinformation, helped enormously by the attorney general Trump installed in his position precisely because he had made clear that he would work to protect the president from all political harm. And in the end, Trump’s approval ratings didn’t budge.

There is an important lesson there, as we slog our way through the final two years of Donald Trump’s first and hopefully only term in office. There is no single revelation that will break the spell he holds over most of his party. There is no one scandal, no one crime, no one statement so horrifying that it will make the country say together, “Now you have gone too far.”

But he’s certainly giving it his best shot. Let’s consider just the news we learned last week. A quick rundown:

  • Having declared that the administration will not comply with any subpoenas from Congress, President Trump has decided that for all intents and purposes the Constitution no longer applies and the legislative branch has no legitimate oversight function. The Washington Post counted 20 separate investigations the White House is attempting to scuttle: “The president is blocking aides from testifying, refusing entire document requests from some committees, filing lawsuits against corporations to bar them from responding to subpoenas and asserting executive privilege to keep information about the special counsel’s Russia investigation from public view.”

  • In perhaps the most high-profile of these attempts to obstruct congressional oversight, Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, refused to comply with a lawful demand for Trump’s tax returns.

  • A New York Times investigation revealed that in the course of a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, Trump lost over a billion dollars. “In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.”

  • In response to the article, Trump insisted that he was not a terrible businessman but instead was shrewdly cheating on his taxes.

  • The Trump administration asserted executive privilege to keep secret the unredacted portions of the Mueller report and all supporting documents.

  • An online letter posted by a group of former federal prosecutors declaring that based on the evidence in the Mueller report, they would indict Trump for obstruction of justice, grew to over 800 signatories.

  • We learned that on Trump’s orders, White House officials twice asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to publicly declare that the president never committed obstruction of justice. He declined to do so. Meanwhile, the White House has told McGahn to refuse to testify before Congress.

  • Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion of goods from China, while repeatedly lying to the public by saying the tariffs are paid not by American consumers but by the Chinese government.

  • The administration undertook a mass purge of press passes for White House reporters.

  • We learned that Trump’s personal lawyer and friend Rudy Giuliani has been pressuring the Ukrainian government to revive a dormant investigation into a company associated with Joe Biden’s son Hunter, for the explicit purpose of doing political damage to a potential opponent. Giuliani was remarkably frank about what he was up to: “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper,” Giuliani went on, but argued that the Ukrainian investigation should be restarted “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.”  

  • Asked whether he would actually order the attorney general to investigate a political opponent, Trump replied, “Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet.” We don’t know whether that’s actually true, but we do know that when Sen. Kamala Harris recently asked Attorney General Barr whether Trump or anyone else in the White House had asked him to open any new investigations, Barr dodged the question.

  • Trump called for former secretary of state John Kerry to be prosecuted.

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to return for more testimony about Russia amid strong evidence suggesting he committed perjury in his prior testimony; he is now reportedly considering invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refusing to testify.

  • Trump has taken over management of the traditional nonpartisan Fourth of July celebration in Washington, moving the location of the fireworks and planning to give a speech so that it turns into a celebration not of the country but of him.

That, to repeat, is what happened in a single week. Some of those stories are more shocking or more meaningful than others, but what has become clear is that Trump is abusing his office, subverting our constitutional system, and preparing once again to collude with a foreign government for the purpose of winning an election. No one can seriously doubt that as the election proceeds he will use the powers of his office to attempt to destroy his eventual opponent.

Yet we can be sure that what has happened to this point and what will happen in the future, no matter how horrifying, will have almost no effect on the loyalty Republican voters show him. Nor will it dent the support he has from the boundlessly cynical Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated time and again that there is quite literally nothing he could do that would make them turn away from him.

The lesson for Democrats is that the responsibility to fight and defeat him will always rest with them. It may seem obvious that Trump is the most corrupt and dangerous president in our lifetimes and probably all of American history, not to mention the most singularly loathsome human being to have ever sat in the Oval Office. But that does not mean he won’t get re-elected. The portions of the public that now support him will not simply “wake up” and see the evidence that has been before them for so long. The facts will not speak for themselves. That’s not how this is going to work.

That doesn’t mean that the steady accretion of revelations will have no effect. But it will have only the effect Democrats force it to have, whether that’s through impeachment or the way they wage the 2020 campaign. It’s in their hands. 

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