The Scale of the Loss

Newspaper reporters know the rule. Don’t get fancy – put everything important in the first paragraph. And then put what’s next important in the next paragraph, and follow that rule as you go. Leave the supporting detail, and disputes about the matter, and telling anecdotes, for later down the column. Most readers won’t get that far. They want the general idea, up top. No one has time for details these days. Use those first few column-inches well.

That’s what the New York Times does with the biggest news story in many a year:

A fiercely divided House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump on Friday, setting up a historic vote before the full House that would make him only the third president to be impeached.

The impeachment articles, passed over fierce Republican protests, accused the president of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress. The votes and a fractious two-day debate preceding them reflected the realities of the hyperpartisan divisions in American politics that have grown wider during Mr. Trump’s three years in office.

With back-to-back votes shortly after 10 a.m., the Democratic-controlled committee recommended that the House ratify the articles of impeachment against the 45th president, over howls of Republican protest. Each passed, 23 to 17, along strictly partisan lines.

The full House is expected to vote on Wednesday to impeach Mr. Trump, and he would stand trial in the Senate in the new year.

That’s what happened, and why, and what comes next, in four short paragraphs. The rest is just detail. The rest is about how no one will change their mind on anything, illustrated by this:

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said after the votes. “For the third time in a little over a century and half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House will act expeditiously.”

At the White House, Mr. Trump was defiant, denouncing impeachment as a “witch hunt” and a “sham” that would come back to bite Democrats the next time their party held the presidency.

Expect more of that. There won’t be anything else, as Michael Shear notes here:

It was the rarest of moments in the nation’s capital, a seemingly sincere attempt at persuasion across the partisan breach by the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on the eve of the panel’s vote to impeach President Trump.

“I know this moment must be difficult, but you still have a choice,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York told his Republican colleagues at the start of more than 17 hours of debate on whether to remove Mr. Trump from office. “I hope that we are able to work together to hold this president – or any president – accountable for breaking his most basic obligations to the country and to its citizens.”

A short time later, the former Republican chairman of the committee responded with a plea to Democrats to abandon impeachment: “Put aside your partisan politics,” Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin implored, “because the future of our country and the viability of our Constitution as the framers decided it, are at stake.”

That might have been “a sincere attempt at persuasion across the partisan breach” but this was no more one side saying to the other that “you’re wrong so stop being a fool and come on over here” – which isn’t all that persuasive.

But this was inevitable:

In March, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her new Democratic majority that barring “something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should” try to impeach Mr. Trump. “It divides the country,” she said then. “And he’s just not worth it.”

But now, less than three months after the allegations in a whistle-blower complaint catapulted Democrats into an investigation of whether the president pressured Ukraine for political gain, the country is exactly where Ms. Pelosi worried it would be – on the brink of an intensely partisan impeachment with deep consequences for both parties and the country.

When she gave the green light for impeachment articles to be drafted this month, Ms. Pelosi said, “the president leaves us no choice but to act,” arguing that to do nothing in the face of Mr. Trump’s transgressions would invite lasting damage to the Constitution and the institutions of government.

But by Friday morning, as the committee formally paved the way for the House to impeach Mr. Trump next week, both sides seemed to sense that political vandalism had already taken place. Representative Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, predicted “irreparable damage to our country” and closed his final argument with a lament: “God help us.”

In short, this had to be done, with the other side saying that none of this should have been done at all, leaving no room for agreement on anything:

Throughout the committee’s debate, the lawmakers from the two parties couldn’t even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them.

They called each other liars and demagogues and accused each other of being desperate and unfair. At one point, Republicans all but abandoned their pursuit of trying to persuade their Democratic colleagues, instead making a motion to strike the most critical lines out of the articles – essentially taking the “impeach” out of impeachment.

“It is silly,” Mr. Nadler complained about the proposed amendment not long before his Democratic majority rejected it on a 23-17 vote, the same party-line margin that emerged throughout the day, time after time, no matter the argument or the issue.

Lawmakers in both parties appeared to feel the weight of history as they delivered impassioned arguments over and over again, in five-minute chunks, alternating between Democrats and Republicans well into the night on Wednesday, and again on Thursday.

So it was two days of each side making the exact same points with the exact same “proof” over and over again – “Those people are wrong and we’re right!” The whole thing was unwatchable. And then it finally ended:

As the skies darkened outside and the clock ticked toward midnight on Thursday, both sides appeared to grow weary of the verbal combat.

“Republican colleagues are working overtime to try to convince us that we didn’t see what we saw with our own eyes and we didn’t hear what we heard with our own ears,” complained Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas.

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, had a more colorful way of expressing his frustration after being accused of trying to “muddy the waters” with fuzzy facts and questionable interpretations.

“If this was a muddying the waters, y’all are an EPA hazardous waste site at this point,” Mr. Collins snapped back.

That was clever, but by then no one was listening to any of it:

After three-and-a-half hours of opening statements on Wednesday, a marathon session on Thursday seemed like it would never finish as both sides engaged in a kind of mutually assured destruction – refusing to be the ones to call it quits first… The night finally ended with predictable rancor when Mr. Nadler abruptly called a recess right before taking a final vote, saying he wanted “the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these last two days and to search their consciences.”

Instead, his decision – made without any warning and without the kind of bipartisan consultation that is common on the Judiciary Committee – added to the sense of mounting tension inside the grand room, where nerves were already frayed.

It was clear that despite Mr. Nadler’s advice, nothing had changed by 10 the next morning, when the weary committee members returned for a rare Friday session to take the party-line vote that had been a certainty all along.

And so it was. And the full House vote will be certain too. Donald Trump will be impeached. And it is certain that the Senate, controlled by Trump’s Republicans, will not convict him of these charges. And then he will sneer even more. His base will love that and liberals will get more and more depressed. If he wins the election he can do anything he wants. If he loses the election he can claim it was rigged and refuse to leave office. And this Senate would back him on that. And everyone knows all this by now. And that means there’s no more to say. There are no more surprises coming. The only thing that’s left to do is watch – just watch – no more than that.

Anyway, there were other things to consider. Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan report this:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. conjured the prospect of headlines like, “Look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left.” Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that “Jeremy Corbyn’s catastrophic showing in the U.K. is a clear warning.” And Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke of the need to “build a coalition and gather that majority.”

As Britain’s Labour Party grappled on Friday with its worst performance in more than 80 years, centrist Democrats across the Atlantic seized on those election results – with varying degrees of urgency – to argue that their own party risked losing in November by moving too far to the left. The day-after assessments threatened to deepen the tensions between moderates and progressives that have shaped the 2020 presidential campaign from the start.

The question is just how like us those people over there really are:

The comparisons between the Labour Party and the Democratic Party, and between the candidates representing them, are far from perfect, and make it difficult to draw precise parallels to American political dynamics. The British election was focused in significant part on the issue of leaving the European Union, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pressed to “get Brexit done” and convinced a solid majority of voters that he was on the right path. Mr. Corbyn faced controversies at home, including a crisis in his party over accusations of anti-Semitism.

But moderate presidential candidates, strategists and other party leaders in the United States said Friday that the results in Britain offered ominous signs about nominating a candidate perceived as out of the political mainstream.

“This is a warning shot that we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes made by Labour,” Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor, said in an interview.

James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist who supports Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado for the presidency, was more explicit: “You can go so far left that you can lose to an unacceptable incumbent,” he said. “That’s the lesson. The lesson is screaming right in your face.”

In short Jeremy Corbyn may be an asshole, but maybe that doesn’t really matter:

David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former chief strategist who also advised Britain’s Labour Party in 2015, called Brexit “a unique circumstance” and Mr. Corbyn “a uniquely weak candidate.”

“But there’s no doubt that he also was further to the left than Britain wanted to go,” Mr. Axelrod added. “This is an election, a campaign. People are going to make those comparisons that they think are helpful to them, and do think a lot of Democrats are going to look at what happened there with some concern.”

Well, maybe not:

Progressives took different lessons from the results, rejecting the idea that they were a harbinger of trouble for more liberal candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said it was “a completely made-up narrative that there’s any similarity between this very unique U.K. election and the dynamics in this country.”

Waleed Shahid, the spokesman for Justice Democrats, a progressive organization that backed Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York – she shared a video from Labour on Twitter on Thursday – and other liberal Democrats in 2018, argued that Mr. Corbyn’s defeat was a different kind of warning sign: that Democrats must focus more on working-class candidates in 2020.

“The lesson for the entire Democratic Party coalition: Across the Western world, center-left parties are bleeding voters in postindustrial places to the right wing or to not voting at all,” Mr. Shahid said. “That’s a serious development that’s happening all over the Western world.”

So all it takes is a shift in emphasis? Max Boot says that’s a bit shortsighted:

The larger issue is that populist nationalism is on the march on both sides of the Atlantic, and no one seems to know how to stop it. The passage of the Brexit referendum presaged the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Will Johnson’s victory now do the same for Trump in 2020?

Maybe it won’t:

I can comfort myself by noting all the differences between British and American politics. Johnson is smarter than Trump, and he hasn’t displayed the same thuggish instincts despite his ill-fated attempt to temporarily suspend Parliament. He doesn’t go after the press or mock individual citizens – such as 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg – as his American counterpart does. While Johnson has his own history of bigoted remarks (e.g., referring to African kids as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”), he was also a popular mayor of London, one of the most multicultural metropolises on the planet.

Moreover, Johnson’s opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, was so extreme he makes Sen. Bernie Sanders look like Mike Bloomberg by comparison. Corbyn allowed the Labour Party to be defined by anti-Semitism and a socialist program of nationalizing energy, water, rail and broadband companies. Corbyn is also a terrible strategist: He let himself be baited into a general election that he was certain to lose instead of trying to force a Brexit referendum that Johnson might lose. And then Corbyn failed to take a clear position on Brexit, leaving “Remain” voters with no champion.

So this was a special circumstance, unless it wasn’t:

Despite all the differences between British and American politics, there are too many disturbing parallels to ignore. Like Trump, Johnson was born to privilege and lacks empathy for those who weren’t. Like Trump, Johnson is unprincipled and opportunistic. Like Trump, Johnson lies like crazy and never seems to pay a price for his dishonesty. Like Trump, Johnson harnesses fear and loathing of immigrants among aging, white voters. Like Trump, Johnson weaponizes social media and spreads disinformation. Like Trump, Johnson has received Russian support (the Tory Party has gotten at least $4.7 million from Russian donors in the past decade) and has tried to block the public from learning about Russian political interference. And, like Trump, Johnson was long judged too much of a lightweight and opportunist to lead his nation.

And there’s this:

Johnson won on a brilliantly simple slogan – “Get Brexit Done” – which is as vacuous and alluring as “Make America Great Again.” The reality is that even if Britain pulls out of the European Union next month, it will probably spend years negotiating its trade relationship with the EU. But Johnson, having done as much as any individual to create the Brexit crisis, cleverly took advantage of an electorate sick of the endless political squabbling to suggest that a vote for the Tories would allow everyone to “move on.” Yes, the man who started the fire campaigned as the only one who could put it out – and the voters bought it.

Trump has been similarly brazen and relentless in wearing down Americans’ resistance. He hammers us with unhinged tweets, engages in unethical and even illegal conduct, panders to racism and xenophobia — and somehow manages to survive. He has succeeded in making the unacceptable blase; stories that would be massive scandals in any other administration are barely noticed in this one. Trump is finally getting impeached, but he will never be removed by the Senate because he has managed to retain the loyalty of some 90 percent of Republicans.

So it comes down to this:

Right-wing populists like Trump and Johnson have figured out how to mesmerize voters with their simplistic slogans and spellbinding showmanship. They are political sorcerers – and no opponent has yet figured out how to consistently break their spell. Unless Democrats can crack the code in the next 10 months, the West might never recover.

That’s what worries Michelle Goldberg:

The despair felt by climate scientists and environmentalists watching helplessly as something precious and irreplaceable is destroyed is sometimes described as “climate grief.” Those who pay close attention to the ecological calamity that civilization is inflicting upon itself frequently describe feelings of rage, anxiety and bottomless loss, all of which are amplified by the right’s willful denial. The young activist Greta Thunberg, Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, has described falling into a deep depression after grasping the ramifications of climate change and the utter refusal of people in power to rise to the occasion: “If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before?”

Lately, I think I’m experiencing democracy grief. For anyone who was, like me, born after the civil rights movement finally made democracy in America real, liberal democracy has always been part of the climate, as easy to take for granted as clean air or the changing of the seasons. When I contemplate the sort of illiberal oligarchy that would await my children should Donald Trump win another term, the scale of the loss feels so vast that I can barely process it.

But then many feel just the same way:

The entire Trump presidency has been marked, for many of us who are part of the plurality that despises it, by anxiety and anger. But lately I’ve noticed, and not just in myself, a demoralizing degree of fear, even depression. You can see it online, in the self-protective cynicism of liberals announcing on Twitter that Trump is going to win re-election. In the Washington Post, Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a Never Trump conservative, described his spiritual struggle against feelings of political desperation: “Sustaining this type of distressed uncertainty for long periods, I can attest, is like putting arsenic in your saltshaker.”

I reached out to a number of therapists, who said they’re seeing this politically induced misery in their patients. Three years ago, said Karen Starr, a psychologist who practices in Manhattan and on Long Island, some of her patients were “in a state of alarm,” but that’s changed into “more of a chronic feeling that’s bordering on despair.”

Among those most affected, she said, are the Holocaust survivors she sees. “It’s about this general feeling that the institutions that we rely on to protect us from a dangerous individual might fail,” she said.

And those institutions are the issue now:

The nemeses of the Trumpist movement are liberals – in both the classical and American sense of the world – not America’s traditional geopolitical foes. This is something new in our lifetime. Despite right-wing persecution fantasies about Obama, we’ve never before had a president that treats half the country like enemies, subjecting it to an unending barrage of dehumanization and hostile propaganda. Opponents in a liberal political system share at least some overlapping language. They have some shared values to orient debates. With those things gone, words lose their meaning and political exchange becomes impossible and irrelevant.

Thus we have a total breakdown in epistemological solidarity. In the impeachment committee hearings, Republicans insist with a straight face that Trump was deeply concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Republican Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas, who is smart enough to know better, repeat Russian propaganda accusing Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 election. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General report refutes years of Republican deep state conspiracy theories about an FBI plot to subvert Trump’s campaign, and it makes no difference whatsoever to the promoters of those theories, who pronounce themselves totally vindicated.

To those who recognize the Trump administration’s official lies as such, the scale of dishonesty can be destabilizing. It’s a psychic tax on the population, who must parse an avalanche of untruths to understand current events.

And there’s another way to describe that:

This kind of political suffering is uncomfortable to write about, because liberal misery is the raison d’être of the MAGA movement. When Trumpists mock their enemies for being “triggered,” it’s just a quasi-adult version of the playground bully’s jeer: “What are you going to do, cry?” Anyone who has ever been bullied knows how important it is, at that moment, to choke back tears…

But despair is worth discussing, because it’s something that organizers and Democratic candidates should be addressing head on. Left to fester, it can lead to apathy and withdrawal. Channeled properly, it can fuel an uprising.

That could happen. It’s just that it feels like it’s already too late for that. That may mean that the only thing that’s left to do is watch – just watch – no more than that.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to The Scale of the Loss

  1. Bill Nichols says:

    We’ve been thinking a lot about hope, partly because we have friends who are fighting despair. A few weeks ago, when granddaughter Ana was visiting us, we talked at breakfast about hope and despair, and Ana pulled out her phone, as young people will do, to read to us these two sentences from Rebecca Solnit: “Optimism assumes that all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it’s all irredeemable; both let us stay home and do nothing. Hope for me has meant a sense that the future is unpredictable, and that we don’t actually know what will happen, but know we may be able to write it ourselves.”

    In July of 2016 Solnit wrote in The Guardian about the connection between history and hope: “’Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair,’ the theologian Walter Brueggemann noted. It is an extraordinary statement, one that reminds us that though hope is about the future, grounds for hope lie in the records and recollections of the past.”

  2. c u n d gulag says:

    Sitting is easy.

    WE need to help GOTV!
    The only chance we have, is show-up in such huge numbers, that not even RepunliKKKLAN voter suppression will work.

    Unfortunately, at 62, with heart, leg, and lung problems, I can no longer help GOTV.
    I hope that some other folks will take my place.

    Your life and all our lives depend on it…

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