While I admire the prosecutorial brilliance of the House managers of the Trump impeachment trial, I still think impeachment 2.0 was a mistake. Not that Trump does not deserve such a disgrace and such a historical branding-for-life, but I fear the unintended and uncontrollable consequences of the sorry saga.
A first concern is how much the reliving, in vivid video, of the insurrection is a recruitment film for the radical right. The managers chose to emphasize how close the insurrection came to succeeding and how feckless are the government’s defenses. Even if Trump gets off, as was foreordained, his martyrdom to the forces of the political order will be enhanced. It would appear that March 4 is when the new rendezvous with insurrection will take place (that day being the historic day for presidential inaugurations), goaded by the near miss of January 6. And mass radicalization now can take place rapidly, given this new fuel.
My second worry is that the highlighting of Trump’s last days and his pathetic retreat to fantasy and lethal apathy will, like Watergate, add a vivid, social-media-catnip chapter to governmental distrust. True, the main immediate victims will be the Republican Party, radicalized and shameless for all to see. True, the Democrats under Rep. Jamie Raskin, showed great skill and coordination in pressing the attack.
But why didn’t Congress know enough to harden its target? Is the Senate now exposed as dysfunctional, as Ezra Klein contends? And, to cite Peggy Noonan, why didn’t Trump supporters in the GOP actually face down the crowd and tell them to STOP? It’s a huge governmental fail, disguised as a short-term Democratic gain.
Lastly, why did the whole trial have to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, thus further deepening the partisan divide and driving the Republicans’ backs to the wall or into loyalty tests to declare fealty to the battered Trump? The Democrats had two de-escalatory options — censure or invoking the 14th Amendment to prevent Trump from seeking office but without impeachment. But no Republicans would support such half-loaves and Democrats retreated into an “impeachment or nothing” mode.
The result is “nothing.” No, worse than nothing: a panicky retreat to open warfare.