Q: Add two books, some American history, a baseball reference and what do you get? A: A warning. Come along for a lesson.
By the current schedule Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial will begin Tuesday at 1pm EST. I expect many moments of supposed drama along the way but the outcome is all but assured to be a verdict of not guilty. That does not mean that Trump is innocent; it means that the jury is effectively rigged because as a whole the Republican Senate Caucus lacks courage. I expect at least one Republican – the most likely is Mitt Romney of Utah – to vote guilty but no way can I see 16 or more Republicans summoning the courage and patriotism to join him.
In the short run the result will be of little consequence. Trump has so much trouble on his personal horizon with his legal and financial issues that I cannot see him being much of a factor in American politics by 2024. However, I see this as strike two in the American challenge of dealing with rouge presidents.
In 1974 then President Gerald Ford pardoned disgraced and resigned President Richard Nixon for any and all crimes he may have committed in office. Effectively that let Nixon skate. With the benefit of hindsight Ford’s action proved detrimental to America. At the time I agreed with Ford’s reasoning that the nation had to move on from Watergate and that being forced to resign in disgrace was enough of a deterrent that no future president would abuse his office to the extent that Nixon had.
In a chapter of American history that hardly ever enters today’s discussion in the next decade Ronald Reagan defied American law in pursuit of his policies and was untouched in large parts because he (unlike Nixon or Trump) was a likable guy and the nation did not want to endure another Watergate.
Despite being the first American president to be impeached twice (and in a single term) Trump’s transgressions have largely remained unspecified in the Articles of Impeachment. He makes Nixon look like choirboy. Obviously the “Nixon deterrent” was insufficient to protect America.
With Trump’s acquittal the Senate is paving the way for an even worse future president. If you think I’m being extreme just look at the progression from Nixon to Trump. Nixon was involved in a break in of the DNC to gain an intelligence advantage in an election he was going to win anyway. More than anything else politically Nixon was a paranoid fool. In the current impeachment Trump incited the invasion of the Capital Building in an attempt to overthrow the Legislative Branch and steal an election that he already had lost. I’m not here to defend Nixon but the crimes (and they most certainly were crimes) are not at the same level.
Don’t just take my word. I suggest you read Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 book, It Can’t Happen Here. The title sums up American’s attitudes and we are wrong; it has and I predict will again. If you want a more modern version of “predictive history” I suggest Phillip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America.
It can’t happen here yet it did for two strikes. If history is a teacher, the “strike three” will be nastier. The question is can American democracy survive it. Remember history also teaches us that most democracies die from within.
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