Most Americans, exhausted by Trump’s demagogic lying and relentless pillaging of the values we hold dear, are understandably skeptical that impeachment will cleanse the stench and quash the nightmare. Indeed, that day of reckoning won’t come any time soon. His fact-averse authoritarian enablers in the Republican Senate will likely rig his escape from accountability, and he’ll spend 2020 playing the victim and stoking his cult.
But there can be a happy ending, if people have the will to make it so.
The turnout backlash against Trump that powered the 2018 blue wave - the midterm election that gave us the Democratic House, without which there would be no Articles of Impeachment - may prove to be the harbinger of a far more massive backlash that could oust Trump next November.
Yes, Trump still reigns supreme within his credulous cocoon. Despite the mountain of factual evidence unearthed in the Ukraine scandal - detailed in documents, confirmed by nonpartisan witnesses, rebutted by nobody - his support within that minority cadre (roughly 42 percent of the electorate) has not eroded a whit. At a rally Tuesday night, he assailed “the lightest impeachment in the history of our country,” and the cultists twitched with Pavlovian glee. If Trump ever murders someone on Fifth Avenue, they’d proclaim him innocent just to own the libs.
But there’s another way to read those polls. Roughly half of all Americans - the Fox News survey currently puts the share at 49 percent - now support Trump’s impeachment and removal. Support for Richard Nixon’s ouster didn’t go that high until the eve of his resignation, more than two years after the start of the Watergate scandal.
When Bill Clinton was targeted for impeachment by the GOP (for the dire offense of lying about extramarital sex), public support for his impeachment and removal never exceeded 29 percent. Indeed, when the House GOP (led by Newt Gingrich and Robert Livingston, both of whom were having extramarital affairs) formally impeached Clinton in late 1998, his public approval rating was 73 percent. Care to bet whether Trump will even hit 45 percent?
My point is that Trump’s impeachment can further fuel the ire of the majority of Americans who want him gone. That’s especially so after the Senate Republicans presumably let him off the hook. In fact, a backlash against those enablers could imperil a number of Senate Republicans up for re-election, most notably in Colorado (a blue state in the last three presidential elections), Maine (reliably blue), Iowa (a blue state in 2000, 2008 and 2012), and Arizona (a red state on the cusp of going blue).
Yes, Trump’s base is hard-wired for tribal worship, and yes, many other Americans lack the energy to pierce Trump’s disinformation fog and process the actual facts. But, as the 2018 midterms demonstrated, there’s tremendous potential for an historic blue turnout with an impeached president on the ballot - because there are far more non-cultists than cultists in the electorate.
If we can assume that Democrats will unite behind a nominee (despite all their current predictable bickering and identity politicking), there’s reason to believe that Trump’s impeachment will be a powerful turnout motivator. Granted, the shelf life for issues is short in our ADD culture. But no president has ever run for re-election with impeachment arrows stuck to his backside. And the fundamental facts lay bare Trump’s betrayal of America.
Consider this irrefutable assessment from conservative commentator Daniel Larison:
“The president abused his power, violated the public’s trust, and broke his oath of office...The central question at the heart of this matter has always been whether we will tolerate the president corruptly using the powers of his office for personal benefit. The president’s defenders have answered loudly that they will tolerate corruption of the presidency. If we have any respect left for the Constitution and the rule of law, it is imperative that the president is not allowed to escape without facing serious consequences for his abuses. This is important not only to hold the current president in check, but it is also necessary to warn future presidents that such corruption will not be permitted to flourish.”
If a scribe on the right can make this argument for truth, justice, and the American way, there’s no reason why Democrats can’t do the same on a daily basis - targeting not just low-motivated progressives, but moderates and persuadable conservatives as well - and put impeachment on the ballot. Indeed, 2020 will be a referendum on whether facts and truth still power this imperiled democracy.
If we can’t stoke an historic backlash against authoritarian disinformation, it is truly game over.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.