Impeachment Makes Kardashians of Us All
Trump and his persecutors aren't statesmen; they're entertainers, because that's exactly how we want them.
Every time a Republican lawmaker warns about the “dangerous precedent” Democrats will set by impeaching President Trump, my heart gets all a-flutter. How great would it be if no president ever served a full term in office? What if every successive commander-in-chief was impeached? I can see it now.
First Trump goes, having been found guilty of shady dealings with Ukraine. The GOP is then thrown into chaos. In an effort to marshal the base, Mitch McConnell outs Mike “Lodestar” Pence as the anonymous leaker in the executive branch, and he’s impeached for treason or espionage or something. Then it’s Nancy Pelosi’s turn. She’s declared ineligible for office because 70 percent of her body is made in China and is promptly ousted. Chuck Grassley, having been a staunch defender of the Ukraine whistleblower, has long since been removed by McConnell. The Senate majority leader declares himself president pro tem, leapfrogging into the White House. Then the Washington Post publishes its 10-year-long investigation into McConnell, revealing that “Cocaine Mitch” (or La Tortuga, as mamacitas down in Sinaloa call him) is in fact the mastermind behind MS-13. He, too, is impeached…and on it goes, ad infinitum.
“There are only two ways out of the Oval Office,” we’d say, “in a body bag, or riding the rail.” And that’s the way it should be.
Of course, I don’t mean to belittle the impeachment process itself. Replacing a president because he’s ugly, for instance, or has an unpleasant voice—that’s perfectly sensible. In fact, it’s a patriotic duty: if we must have a figurehead, it should be a figure like Caesar, not Stonehenge. But going through all the trouble of removing him because you think the country is moving in the wrong direction? Why, that’s just naïve. It’s like beating up the meteorologist because you don’t like the weather.
Strangely, that point is completely lost on our lawmakers. Senator Lindsey Graham recently suggested that President Trump’s phone call was “too incoherent” to contain any quid pro quo. That’s a very serious charge. The revelation here is not that Mr. Trump is immoral (we’ve always known that), but that he’s ineffectual—the only unforgivable sin in politics. There’s nothing wrong with a commander-in-chief who strongarms world leaders. What we must not and cannot abide is a commander-in-chief who weakarms them.
So far, the case for impeachment is sound. Yet that’s not the case Democrats are making. They simply think he’s unfit for office. As a matter of fact, that’s the last complaint we can bring against Mr. Trump. There’s no more suitable representative of the American people. If anything, they should accuse him of being too fit for office. It’s as though Elvis entered an Elvis look-alike competition: it would be strange if he lost, yet it wouldn’t seem fair if he won either.
This is all perfectly obvious to the unbiased observer. Why, then, are the Democrats’ pseudo-semi-impeachment efforts dominating the papers, television, and social media? PBS has even published a guide for parents on “How to talk to your kids about impeachment.” The answer, of course, is: “don’t.” In fact, don’t talk to anyone about impeachment. It’s boring and irrelevant.
So why are we pretending otherwise?
Just as journalists are no longer employed in journalism, politicians are no longer employed in politics. Both now work in the entertainment industry, which lessens their workload and increases their fame. Their success used to be measured by how much legislation they could pass, or how many deals they could broker; now it’s measured by how many swear words they can sneak into a cable news interview. Politics rewards bipartisanship, which is difficult and boring; entertainment rewards infighting and melodrama, which is easy enough.
What’s more, politicians can now achieve a celebrity status once reserved for the few really great statesmen of their age. Take the two so-called rising stars of the Republican and Democratic parties: Matt Gaetz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, respectively. One would be hard-pressed to find two more mediocre individuals in the country. Yet they possess the twin virtues of modern statecraft: ideological purity and a propensity for shameless grandstanding. They’ll go far.
Take another example. I was surprised to learn last week that Roger Stone is going to jail—though, admittedly, I was more surprised to learn he wasn’t there already. Mr. Stone could’ve made his name doing one of two things: counseling Donald J. Trump, or judging a season of America’s Next Top Ice Road Pawn Shop Survivor. He has the exact kind of macho-man swagger that’s perfectly non-threatening, even comical. We enjoy the sight of Roger Stone in seersucker for the same reason we enjoy the sight of Barry Humphries in sequin. We say that “real men wear pink” only because we know they don’t.
Politics is now a kind of reality TV soap opera. There are no more Kennedys or Cabot Lodges in our government—only Kardashians.
The same, alas, is true in the United Kingdom. Tories, Brexiteers, and the entire Bojoist host would have us believe we’re witnessing “the end of British democracy as we know it.” True, but then they’ve only known this kind of democracy for a couple of years. The Brexit referendum of 2016 was an historic instance of Parliament deciding it would rather not fulfill its sole function in this blessed world—i.e., to govern the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and the other bits. Neither David Cameron nor anyone else in Westminster wanted to make the difficult decision about Britain’s membership in the European Union, so they washed their hands of the entire issue and told the British people to sort it out themselves.
What the British people should have done was to throw the proposal back in Westminster’s face and tell them to do their bloody jobs. That’s how representative democracy works. It’s why the whole House of Commons exists. But a referendum meant ordinary Brits would have more to argue about. It was a good enough reason to spend a few extra hours each day complaining about Eurocrats or Little-Englander bumpkins, depending on which side you stand (or, if you’re Michael Gove, both).
When the referendum came, it was treated as one of the greatest moments in British history, despite the fact that it had no legal standing whatsoever. It was completely inconsequential, which is why so many people got excited about it. The Brexit vote was nearly as frivolous as the poll during the final round of Britain’s Got Talent, that most sacred of the United Kingdom’s democratic institutions.
Of course, the result has left exactly zero people happy and served precisely zero of the United Kingdom’s interests, foreign or domestic. Rather than deciding that “democracy as we know it” is actually a colossal scam (which is why Britain used to have a proper monarchy and unelected lords), the British insist on settling their differences through the political equivalent of two women in thongs and white T-shirts wrestling in a pit of chocolate pudding. That metaphor is probably rather appealing to most voters—which, I suppose, is my point.
Michael Warren Davis is editor of Crisis Magazine. Read more at www.michaelwarrendavis.com.