President Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, by the Democratic majority, and is now on trial, but it’s not quite a trial. It’s a trial in the Senate, where the majority in the Senate, the Republicans, gets to make up all the rules, so now it looks like they’ll have a trial where they will hear no witnesses and admit no evidence. This should be quick work. Each side will present opening statements, which will be, in effect, their closing arguments, because nothing else will be allowed. And that is quite clever. And that means that no one will care about such nonsense. The Republicans have always had the votes in “their” Senate to acquit this president or at least to keep him from being convicted – he might be guilty of everything the House said but two-thirds of the Senate has to agree on that. If only a simple majority agrees he’s guilty he walks. Either way, he walks. And that makes this whole thing a bit absurd. Everyone knows the outcome already. The arguments, now, are about process. And these processes seem not to matter a bit.
But someone has to make sense of this. The New York Times Nicholas Fandos gives it a go:
A divided Senate began the impeachment trial of President Trump on Tuesday in utter acrimony, as Republicans blocked Democrats’ efforts to subpoena documents related to Ukraine and moderate Republicans forced last-minute changes to rules that had been tailored to the president’s wishes.
What? That went like this:
In a series of party-line votes punctuating hours of debate, Senate Republicans turned back repeated attempts by Democrats to subpoena documents from the White House, the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget that could shed light on the core charges against Mr. Trump. More votes were to come throughout the evening on Democratic efforts to subpoena current and former White House officials, although the outcome was expected to be the same.
It’s as if nothing mattered, but it does:
On its face, Tuesday’s debate was a technical one about the rules and procedures to govern the trial. But it set the stage for a broader political fight over Mr. Trump’s likely acquittal that will persist long after the proceeding is over, helping shape the 2020 campaign.
Democrats were laying the groundwork to argue that the trial was a cover-up rigged on Mr. Trump’s behalf and to denounce Republicans – including the most vulnerable senators seeking re-election in politically competitive states – for acquiescing.
Republicans, for their part, insisted that the Senate must move decisively to remedy what they characterized as an illegitimate impeachment inquiry unjustly tarring the presidency.
He did so much that was wrong! He did nothing wrong! There will be weeks and weeks of that, resolving nothing, as with this:
Standing in the well of the Senate, the Democratic House impeachment managers urged senators to reject proposed rules from the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, that would delay a debate over witnesses and documents until the middle of the trial, with no guarantee that they would ever be called.
“If the Senate votes to deprive itself of witnesses and documents, the opening statements will be the end of the trial,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead manager.
Well, yes, but that’s the whole point, and there was this:
At the heart of the trial are charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress approved last month by the Democratic-led House. They assert that Mr. Trump used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals, withholding as leverage nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting. The president then sought to conceal his actions from Congress, the charges say, by blocking witness testimony and documents.
Mr. Trump’s legal team argues that the charges are baseless and amount to criminalizing a president’s prerogative to make foreign policy as he sees fit. In a break with most constitutional scholars, they also claim that the impeachment was unconstitutional because the articles of impeachment do not outline a specific violation of a law.
That matter was settled long ago. Trump’s people found one retired Harvard law professor who agrees with Trump on this, now. He used to agree with everyone else. But they found their one guy. He’d do, and the rest was what everyone expected, bluster and whining:
Half a world away, Mr. Trump, in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, sought to use the global stage to project confidence about his standing at home. He swatted away questions from reporters about the impeachment trial, instead bragging about the strength of the American economy under his leadership.
But in the Senate chamber, his lawyers replayed for senators many of his most frequent and personal grievances, accusing Democrats in only slightly more lawyerly terms of conducting a political search-and-destroy mission that Mr. Trump rails about daily on Twitter.
So it came down to the tweets, and Frank Bruni suggests what is really happening here:
Donald Trump obviously relishes the role of bully. But his greatest talent by far lies in playing the victim.
He’s a victim of Adam Schiff. A victim of Nancy Pelosi. A victim of all Democrats, really, and of his own seedy henchmen (Michael Cohen, Lev Parnas) and of the “deep state” and of the “fake news media” and of the entire establishment, whatever that is…
No president has ever been treated so badly. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m taking dictation: He has made this exact claim – repeatedly.
Bruni is referring to Trump tweets like this one but sees the larger picture:
His victimhood is front and center in his defense against the articles of impeachment and in the legal papers filed by his lawyers on Monday, as his trial in the Senate moved forward.
The lawyers write of a process “rigged” against Trump. They portray his Democratic accusers as unhinged tormentors, too consumed with his destruction to see how unimpeachably he has really behaved. The 171-page document is so soggy with Trumpian self-pity it weeps.
It’s so bloated with Trumpian hyperbole it waddles. On just one of those pages, his lawyers recount how Democrats exercised “shameful hypocrisy” as they “concocted an unheard-of procedure” and held those infamous “secret hearings in a basement bunker” while journalists “happily fed the public a false narrative” and the poor president was denied any rights whatsoever…
It expands on – and continues in the precise spirit of – a preliminary legal brief that his lawyers filed last weekend. “The scream of a wounded animal” was how two legal experts who contribute to The Atlantic assessed that argument. They could as easily have been describing the rest of Trump’s presidency, the whole of his political career and much of his life.
So, this is who the man has always been:
“This goes all the way back to his childhood,” Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth about Trump,” told me. D’Antonio said that at the military-themed boarding school that Trump attended, he was known for complaining to superiors about unfair treatment. “It’s a strategy for him. He believes and has said that whining is a way to get what you want.”
Timothy O’Brien, who wrote the Trump biography “TrumpNation,” recalled that in the 1980s, when Trump failed to get the support that he wanted from Mayor Ed Koch for an enormous development in Manhattan, he threw himself a pity party, railing that “the system and local government were conspiring against him.”
As the conservative columnist Rich Lowry noted in August 2015: “By Trump’s own account, he’s the baddest, smartest thing going, except if you ask him a challenging question, in which case he kicks and screams and demands to know how anyone could treat him so unfairly.” Lowry crowned Trump “the most fabulous whiner in all of American politics.”
The CNN anchor Chris Cuomo subsequently asked Trump about Lowry’s words.
“I am the most fabulous whiner,” Trump conceded. “I keep whining and whining until I win.”
He whined operatically as November 2016 approached and it seemed that he’d lose to Hillary Clinton. “The election is going to be rigged,” he pouted, ever the victim. Then he beat Clinton – and still whined, insisting without proof that she’d done better in the popular vote because of millions of illegal ballots.
That man can’t help himself, but Bruni must admit the whining does help Trump:
It’s disgusting. It’s also part of his political genius. He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.
He’s their proxy, suffering on their behalf, and in that way he collapses the distance between a billionaire with multiple golf resorts and displaced factory workers struggling to hold on to their one and only homes.
But while it’s a fact that they’ve been dealt a bad hand, it’s a farce that he has. His fortune began with money from Dad. He has stiffed creditors, evaded taxes, attached his name to a bogus diploma mill, skimmed money from a fraudulent philanthropy, run afoul of campaign finance laws, signaled receptiveness to Russian interference in the 2016 election and tried to obstruct the investigation of that – all without any commensurate punishment.
Thanks to Republicans in the Senate, he’s poised to evade punishment again. We should all be such victims.
But damn, it works! Or maybe not, as Jennifer Rubin notes this:
The Senate and Trump have been banking on a non-trial with no new witnesses or evidence. That is how they intend to spare Trump and the Senate from the humiliation of overwhelming, persuasive evidence of the president’s guilt. The problem is that Americans overwhelmingly think this is wrong.
As in prior surveys, CNN’s newest poll finds, “Nearly seven in 10 (69%) say that upcoming trial should feature testimony from new witnesses who did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry. And as Democrats in the Senate seek to persuade at least four Republican senators to join them on votes over allowing witnesses in the trial, the Republican rank and file are divided on the question: 48% say they want new witnesses, while 44% say they do not.”
To make matters worse, a significant majority of Americans already consider Trump guilty of the charges set forth in the articles. (“58% say Trump abused the power of the presidency to obtain an improper personal political benefit and 57% say it is true that he obstructed the House of Representatives in its impeachment inquiry,” the CNN poll finds.) In trying to whitewash his conduct by suppressing evidence, Trump, and by extension Republicans in the Senate, will look like they are engaged in a cover-up. Trump might “win” acquittal (because Senate Republicans are spineless) and utterly lose in the court of public opinion. The more obvious the cover-up, the more that 69 percent of Americans will come to see the trial as a fraud and Trump as guilty.
But really, this is quite simple:
Trump and his cronies seem so certain of acquittal that they are oblivious to the consequences of their tactics: In conducting a cover-up in plain sight, they convince a substantial majority of Americans that Trump is guilty as sin, and his Senate accomplices are doing his dirty work.
That may be so, but the real action was in Switzerland:
President Trump trumpeted what he called “America’s extraordinary prosperity” on his watch, taking credit for a soaring stock market, a low unemployment rate, and a “blue-collar boom” in jobs and income, in a presidential turn on the world stage that was also meant to make impeachment proceedings against him in Washington look small.
Trump ran through economic statistics with a salesman’s delivery, crowing about growth during his three years in office that he said bested his predecessors and defied his skeptics.
“America is thriving, America is flourishing, and, yes, America is winning again like never before,” he told an audience of billionaires, world leaders, and figures from academia, media and the kind of international organizations and think tanks for which his “America First” nationalism is anathema.
In short, as he had been saying all along, he’s the best president of all time, and all those Euro-weenies and academics and economists are fools, and yes, he’s angry:
As the impeachment trial began in the Senate during Trump’s long day of activity here, the president repeatedly pivoted away from his broader economic message to lash out against his domestic political foes and the effort to remove him from office.
“READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!” Trump tweeted shortly after meeting with a group of global business leaders representing industries including energy, telecommunications and finance. Before the meeting, he decried the impeachment process in remarks to reporters – repeatedly calling it a “hoax.”
But of course he was in the wrong place for all of this:
Trump is making his second visit to the World Economic Forum, which for its 50th anniversary this year is focusing on climate change and sustainability. A sign at the entrance to the news center notes that paint for this year’s installation was made from seaweed and carpets from recycled fishing nets.
And that sort of thing only makes him angrier:
In an apparent back of the hand to critics who say he is allowing massive backsliding on U.S. environmental progress, Trump said the United States has its cleanest air and water in 40 years. And in remarks outside the hall, Trump said he is “a very big believer in the environment.”
In his speech, Trump made no mention of impeachment or U.S. politics, although he took a swipe at “radical socialists,” his term for Democrats and ideas about expansion of the government’s role in health care, education and other issues.
That applies to the environment too:
Trump was billed as the keynote speaker for the annual business-themed confab in this Alpine ski town, but the main attraction was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 17, who has sparred with Trump on Twitter.
“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour,” she told conference attendees Tuesday. “And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.”
In December, Trump insulted the teenager and Time magazine “Person of the Year” as “so ridiculous” and suggested that she “work on her anger management problem.”
Thunberg was quick to respond, updating her Twitter biography to describe herself as “a teenager working on her anger management problem.”
Trump had not yet arrived in Davos when Thunberg gave her first address Tuesday morning, saying that “without treating this as a real crisis, then we cannot solve it.” He did not attend her main speech later in the day, although she was in the audience for his.
He may have to destroy that little girl, because she’s the enemy, and so are the rest of those people, and he’d get them good:
President Trump renewed his threat to put hefty tariffs on European cars Tuesday at the World Economic Forum, promising hardball tactics if trade negotiations do not go his way.
Just days after Trump scored wins with China, Mexico and Canada, the move highlighted how Trump is quickly pivoting to make Europe the next front in his protectionist trade war.
As part of this push Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Italy and Britain could face U.S. tariffs if they pursue taxes on large technology companies such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google. French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in recent days to delay a similar tax to avoid Trump’s tariffs.
The threatened tariffs were evidence of the growing rift between the United States and Europe, on clear display as leaders from the two continents appeared to be talking from different scripts. Trump insisted on discussing a new trade deal, while European leaders kept emphasizing action on climate change and cooperation.
He wanted to punish them for anything and everything that they had ever done to irritate him, and he has his one favorite tool for that, those tariffs:
In Europe, world financial leaders expressed hope that Trump had come to Davos to announce a reduction in trade tensions not just with China but with Europe as well. Macron tweeted Tuesday morning that he and Trump had a “great discussion” in which they agreed to work together “to avoid tariff escalation.”
But Trump made it clear his new focus is a wide-ranging trade deal with Europe and that he had not taken tariffs entirely off the table.
“They know that I’m going to put tariffs on them if they don’t make a deal that’s a fair deal,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal.
He makes threats. He can cause great pain, and he will. Don’t mess with him:
For months, European officials have tried to stay under Trump’s radar, hoping he was distracted with the China talks. Several European leaders, including Macron, have invited Trump to high-profile ceremonies, in part to keep trade discussions going and avoid tariffs.
“Up until now, Europe has managed to keep its head low when it comes to Trump’s trade ire,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “But with Trump calling a truce with China, he may be looking to pick one last trade fight before the November election – and Europe is in his sights.”
And his base will love that. Now the Europeans will feel great pain, and screw that environmental nonsense:
“The world is in a state of emergency, and the window to act is closing fast,” Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, said in remarks shortly before Trump took the stage. The European Union has its own Green Deal in the works to become carbon-neutral by 2050, including new regulations and massive government investment.
In his formal address at Davos, Trump dismissed such concerns as overly alarmist. He stressed that countries should be free to make their own decisions.
“We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse,” Trump said. “These alarmists always demand the same thing – absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.”
In short, no one will tell him what to do. No one will tell any American what to do. No one will tell the United States what to do. And thus Max Boot sees this:
President Trump keeps bragging about having the “biggest and by far the BEST” military “in the world,” with $2 trillion worth of “brand new beautiful equipment.” This is, as usual, a vast exaggeration. But even if it were totally true, it wouldn’t matter. There isn’t enough military equipment in the world to make up for the unilateral disarmament that Trump is committing in the field of soft power.
In fact, we have no soft power left:
The Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye defined soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” Under Trump, America’s attractiveness has gone down even as its stock market has gone up. The Pew Research Center found in a survey of people in 22 nations that the number who expresses confidence in America’s president fell from 70 percent in 2013 to 28 percent in 2018, while the numbers who see U.S. power as a major threat climbed from 25 percent to 45 percent. A recent YouGov survey found that more Germans view Trump as a danger than they do North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and China’s Xi Jinping combined.
Much of the world rejects Trump’s policies. A new Pew Research Center survey of people in 32 countries found that 68 percent oppose his tariffs, 66 percent his withdrawal from climate change agreements, 60 percent his border wall, 55 percent allowing fewer immigrants into the United States and 52 percent his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. What makes Trump’s decisions worse is that so many of them were taken either without consulting U.S. allies – as when he pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership three days after taking office – or without seriously listening to their concerns.
But wait, there’s more:
It’s not just his policies that make Trump – and by extension the whole country — so much less popular worldwide. All of the appalling behavior that causes him to lose standing at home – his incessant lies, his bombastic threats, his playground name-calling and abusive tweets, his racism, his erratic zigzags – also undermines him abroad. When Trump pardons war criminals, tries to legalize bribery by U.S. companies, insists that he did “NOTHING WRONG” in pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political opponent, calls the media “the enemy of the people,” tries to discredit the intelligence community (“go back to school!”) and the FBI (“badly broken”), and orders investigations of the investigators – in other words, when he acts like a typical dictator – that’s when American soft power melts as fast as the polar ice caps.
Every time Trump meets with foreign leaders, the yawning gap between his inflated self-image as a “very stable genius” and the disturbing reality becomes starkly apparent.
So it comes down to this:
It never occurs to Trump that he is confirming every anti-American stereotype on the planet. If you think the United States is a rapacious imperialist bent on despoiling the planet and looting other countries with an army of mercenaries, Trump seems intent on convincing you that you are right.
But he’s not on trial for that. And it’s not much of a trial anyway. He’ll walk. So he will be the face of America now and maybe forever. Whatever happens, the world will remember all of this.