by Alex Knepper
When the impeachment saga began, I described the thought process behind the bizarre and debased behavior of the Republican Party under Donald Trump and his apologists:
In a word: the right more-or-less understands itself as either having lost the culture war or as decisively losing it. The left’s victory, in this perspective, has been so total that it controls the schools, the universities, the mainstream press, Hollywood, and, in ways its members do not even recognize, the Republican Party. If the right does not take radical, decisive action, the culture wars will be forever lost…The people pushing the sinister leftist agenda — and getting rich off of it — have complete contempt for everything the right believes in, and any attempt to cooperate with the left in the past has only led to the slight delay of greater incremental gains for them, while the right gains nothing and is written into the history books as the bad guys. Why should the right continue to play the historical role of controlled opposition, while the left continues to gain and gain? Why should the right magnanimously continue to play a losing game when the end result is only for it to be devoured? This is the question they face.
But how to fight back? The right resolved, both consciously and unconsciously, to assimilate to the postmodern relativism it once aligned itself against; to adopt an ‘info-wars’ mentality: ‘there’s a war on for your mind’; the truth of a statement matters little compared to how a statement functions on behalf of some power or people. The value of a statement consists in its usefulness, not its truth. Did thousands of American Muslims dance in the streets on 9/11? Was Barack Obama an African usurper? Is the ‘real scandal’ a Joe Biden scandal? ‘Who cares? F**k these people. They hate us; we owe them nothing; they want to destroy us, so we have to destroy them or else they’ll destroy us.’ They have lost faith that participation in democratic institutions is capable anymore of delivering the results they want, and so have turned to non-democratic, illiberal tactics, the tactics of the marginalized: to inflame, disorient, and perplex.
President Trump is now impeached and on trial. What exactly are Republicans supposed to do? If they decide to critically examine the evidence and rationally argue about it, all they are doing is undermining their own goals, conceding that they have backed a criminal con-man clown for the last five years, and handing the Democrats a victory. ‘Objectively’ speaking, the evidence against Trump is obvious and overwhelming. But Republicans have recognized that there is no God-figure who will intervene to stop them from grinding the machinery of impeachment to a halt through sheer force of will. Republicans have an unspoken agreement: since there simply are not enough Democrats to remove Trump from office, and since in practical terms it is true that Trump can do whatever he wants as long as we agree to not care, the only rational course of action is to deny, obfuscate, and try to disorient the opposition. Why should Republicans stick their necks out to attack Trump, defend the Bidens, and undermine their own policy goals by trashing the leader of their party? From this perspective, it is equally obvious to Republicans that Democrats are wasting their time and everyone else’s, since they must know that Republicans are not going to vote to remove him.
The specifics of Republican rhetoric regarding impeachment include a bewildering variety of red herrings, marginally-relevant side-shows, and a long series of emphatic and outraged assertions and denials that are full of bombast and emotion but totally devoid of any attempt to argue using evidence.
Some Republicans, gripped too much by a sense of shame to say outright that it was OK for President Trump to illegally delay Congressionally-appointed funds so he could use them as bait to induce a foreign leader to open an investigation into the family of his domestic political rival, have argued instead that there’s no crime and no foul since no investigation was opened, the aid money to Ukraine was disbursed, and policy ultimately proceeded according to the will of Congress, so the whole thing is a hoax.
This is like the argument of the men caught by Chris Hansen on the television program To Catch a Predator: they know they cannot actually argue that they weren’t there to have sex with 12-year-olds, so instead they declare that the whole arrangement was rigged from the start and that there was never any actual 12-year-old, and no 12-year-old actually got raped, so the whole thing is a hoax.
It fills me with disgust that this should actually have to be pointed out, but the obvious rejoinder to the both arguments is: No, the crime wasn’t ultimately committed — but it wasn’t for any lack of trying. The aid money was disbursed not by Trump, but by the State Department, which could not determine why Trump was holding up the money and concluded there was no legal basis to withhold the money. He was rescued from his mob-like predilections by our system of checks and balances, not by his own virtues.
Others insist that Trump was merely acting to combat corruption; these shameless beings insist that the president has a mandate to investigate corruption and that the president did nothing he wasn’t supposed to do.
Again, it fills me with contempt to even have to explain this, because the odds are low that the people who make this argument actually believe it, rather than finding it useful as a distraction from the accusations against the president. It strains the mind to think that anyone could actually believe that a secret probe exclusively targeting the president’s top domestic political rival is part of a broader ‘anti-corruption initiative.’ But suffice it to say, there are legal channels for investigating corruption or expanding anti-corruption policies; the way to investigate corruption is not to make a secret deal with a foreign leader using Congressionally-apportioned money as bait.
Trump himself says the government of Ukraine is extremely corrupt, and yet he trusted them to fairly investigate Americans.
Senate Republicans want to block witnesses from being called during the impeachment trial, or want to cut a ‘deal’ to force Democrats to make Hunter Biden testify alongside real witnesses like John Bolton. Hunter Biden has literally nothing to do with the charges against Trump. If Republicans want to call Hunter Biden, Democrats should insist on calling Rosie O’Donnell as a witness, in fact, since her testimony would be equally relevant. In fact, the charges against Trump have literally nothing to do with whether the Bidens have done anything unseemly or even criminal. Trump could have been investigating John Wayne Gacy and what he did would have still been equally criminal and unethical. The fact that he was attempting to sabotage a domestic political rival is a red flag regarding his motives, of course — but the president is never allowed to hold Congressionally-apportioned money hostage to use as leverage to cut a secret deal with a foreign leader.
Of course, the notion that Donald Trump, of all people, actually cares about the unseemly favoritism and nepotism common in politics and business is simply farcical. Trump’s own children have been the beneficiaries of enormous financial windfalls since his presidency began; he has appointed many of his relatives to positions of significant power, and his oldest son became a #1 New York Times bestselling author and has been bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for speeches and appearances. Official White House channels have been used to promote Ivanka Trump merchandise. Obviously, President Trump does not believe it is corrupt for a politician’s relatives to use their connections to gain lucrative deals in the market. He thinks it is corrupt for Democrats to do so.
Most damningly, we know that Trump, Giuliani, and their associates wanted Ukraine to make the investigation look like it was their idea. If Trump is merely a benevolent crusader against corruption, why would he want his involvement to be a secret? And why are Republicans acting like he was proudly doing his job, since pride and secrecy don’t go together?
The answer is: f**k you, that’s why.
A tweet from Dan Bongino, a former Congressional candidate in my district, sums it all up: “Nobody cares…nobody cares.”
The president could literally start shooting people on 5th Ave. and not lose any of his supporters, remember?
If the left is really an existential threat to the United States, then drastic measures are not only permissible, but necessary and highly just in order to blunt their efforts. Absolutely nothing should be said or done to cast the president as the villain, which only gives aid and comfort to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, and other Democrats, who of course are the truly corrupt ones, since their corruption consists in hating America and undermining hard-working white middle-class Americans. If Republicans play the game on their terms, sifting through the evidence ‘objectively’ and prioritizing order, decorum, and process over the real fight lurking underneath it — the ideological fistfight — they are obviously going to lose. As long as Donald Trump is president, strict adherence to the rule of law — which is rigged to benefit the Democrats, anyway, of course — will only harm the right’s ideological goals. Instead the entire process must be rejected and the president’s conduct must be unambiguously defended. (Trump knows this, however crudely, which is why he keeps referring to the phone call as ‘perfect.’)
And it must be again emphasized that this is all completely rational and comprehensible from the perspective of the right. They are indeed losing the culture war, and their vision of the United States is indeed slipping away against a rising tide of demographic change and Millennial reaction to Reaganite capitalist excess. If extreme measures are not taken, they will lose for good what they wish to preserve. Show me a magnanimous loser and I will show you a loser. So why should Republicans cast aside their ideological concerns in order to make an ‘objective’ or detached or ‘impartial’ evaluation of the president’s actions? Why should Republicans sacrifice the country to punish Trump for sabotaging the Bidens? The Republicans — again, having assimilated, or submitted, to the postmodern playbook in which the usefulness of a statement is more important than its truth — know, or think they know, that impartiality is not possible or desirable, and view it as a charade engineered in the service of their eventual ideological destruction. From the perspective of History, they have little choice but to dig their heels in.
This spectacle ought to servce as a grim warning to Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and all others who imagine that it is possible in 2020 to ‘unite Democrats and Republicans as Americans.’ That cannot happen until one side in our ‘cold civil war’ is decisively defeated. We are in the midst of a ‘time for choosing’ — and many our differences are irreconcilable. One side is really going to win, and one side is really going to lose. Republicans all understand that. Only some Democrats do.