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The Swamp In The White House

On trying to keep a clear eyes and a clear head as the bog fog engulfs us

I don’t know if impeachment is the answer. I’m disinclined to think so, but I certainly don’t rule it out. There’s more than enough to justify an investigation. I am at a conference in Massachusetts today, and last night after dinner, I spent an hour or two reading the day’s impeachment news. It’s exhausting, and I am extremely discouraged that this is what we’re going to have to deal with every day for the next year, until the election.

Here’s the thing: the main reason we are having to do this is because Donald Trump is reckless to a shocking degree. One day after the Mueller Report failed to take him down, he gets on the phone with the Ukraine president and pops off like this. How hard is it to restrain yourself? I resent the hell out of Donald Trump for putting so many conservatives, especially Republican lawmakers, in the position of having to defend him over stupid, easily preventable missteps.

I genuinely don’t know what to think about him, and what should be done about all this. I guess that makes me a very small sliver of the American electorate, most of whom have made their minds up. Some of you readers chastise me because I’m too forgiving on Trump. Others chastise me because I’m not as supportive of him as you think I should be. I’m on record here as saying that despite his rottenness, I might vote for him anyway in 2020, on the principle of “Vote For The Crook, It’s Important”. I believe, however, that there has to be a bright red line. Would you vote for a confessed murderer for president? If not, then that’s one line. What would Trump have to do that would cause me to support his impeachment, or at least to vote against him for re-election — this, in spite of the very real and significant damage a Democratic president would do to causes (abortion, religious liberty) that mean a lot to me?

At this point, I don’t know. But I am sure I’m going to find out as the investigation goes forward.

The howls and cries of liberals who see no reason at all why anybody should support Trump in spite of himself fall on deaf ears. They don’t feel as strongly about religious liberty and the pro-life cause as I do, and therefore they don’t have an intuitive grasp of how disastrous a Democratic president would be, given how radical the party has become on those issues. If the situation were reversed, and a corrupt Democratic president was the only thing standing between a champion of the Religious Right taking office, and putting abortion and LGBT rights in jeopardy, they would know exactly how I feel.

The howls and cries of conservatives who see no reason at all why any conservative should abandon Trump fall … well, they don’t fall on deaf ears, because conservatives are my people. But I do have little patience for those who are willing to accept anything this White House says in defense of itself. This country has gone way too far in empowering the Executive — and this is something many conservatives were saying under George W. Bush. If Trump really has done what he is being accused of here, and he gets away with it, then we conservatives will have been responsible for a shocking de facto expansion of presidential powers. To say nothing about what we will have done to the integrity of our political movement.

Hear me: I’m not saying that we should climb aboard the impeachment train. It’s way too early for that. I am saying that it’s way too early to say that we will never climb aboard it. This morning I met a man about my age, a former Catholic who recognized me at the hotel breakfast, and who told me a very grim story about his own childhood molestation at the hands of a priest, and the molestation of his young son. It ended up destroying his family. He told me about a new scandal that will soon be uncovered; he was interviewed by police investigators over it. It involves a molestation cover-up, and a victim’s suicide. The man told me that after 40 years of being a Catholic, and working for the Church that whole time, he came to believe that the clergy and the hierarchy believe that protecting the institution is more important than truth, and the suffering of victims. He left the Catholic Church.

Coming back up to the room, I was thinking about the principle here of defending “our guys” at all costs. Donald Trump’s sins, offenses, and possibly crimes, are not as bad as molesting a child, heaven knows. But the principle is the same: if we throw all morality out for the sake of protecting our own, we will stand naked and condemned.

One more time: I am willing to put up with a degree of corruption by Trump to protect more important principles. But that cannot be an open-ended commitment. And if we conservatives are going to stand by the guy, we should at least be honest about who and what we are defending, and why. To that end, here’s a good Ramesh Ponnuru column about the lies many conservatives are telling ourselves to protect Trump. Excerpt:

The “whistleblower complaint” contains a lot of hearsay. That’s true, but the allegations are of sufficiently troubling acts as to be worth investigating.

Russiagate was a hoax, and the same people who spread it are yelling about this. Russia interfered in the 2016 election; the president has repeatedly denied that point; and top aides expressed their willingness to get election help from the Russian government. The idea that there was something worth looking into was no hoax, even if Robert Mueller was unable to show that Trump was involved in a criminal conspiracy.

The multiplicity of grounds Trump’s enemies have cited to call for impeachment shows they are just after him for partisan reasons. Partisanship is definitely playing a large role, just as Hamilton predicted. Note, though, that this defense of Trump is similar to one Hillary Clinton’s fans made over her emails: They’ve alleged one thing after another about her for decades, so why take this one seriously? It wasn’t wrong for Clinton’s defenders to point to Republican partisanship. But Clinton also had a history of ethical corner-cutting that kept leading to accusations, some of them justified and some of them unjustified. Trump seems to have a habit of confusing his interests with the country’s, and it too is leading to scandal after scandal.

Trump’s enemies are trying to annul an election; they can’t accept his legitimacy. Trump is the legitimate president, and some of his opponents have foolishly denied it. He was elected fair and square under the process our Constitution lays out. If he’s removed from office after an impeachment trial, he’ll have exited the presidency under another process the Constitution lays out. And Hillary Clinton won’t become president.

Removing a president for high crimes and misdemeanors is not something to be done lightly. There is plenty of room for debate over what counts as an impeachment-worthy offense. It may be wiser to leave a judgment of Trump’s conduct to the next election. But if Congress chooses to leave him in office, it shouldn’t be based on the weak arguments his defenders are currently making.