I would like to explain one more time why the impeachment process we finished today is not a big deal, except that it is a big deal, for one reason. Impeaching a president during an election year is folly. One day after the Iowa results come out, the Senate votes to acquit. No one can point to anything the Democrats in the House accomplished. No one even knows what the hell they thought they were doing.
So many people now say that with acquittal, the president has a free hand to do what he likes. If he can get away with this abuse, he can get away with anything, so say the wise. But that’s exactly the outcome people foresaw two months ago! Why would you want to go through a formal process that essentially sanctions presidential misbehavior? The Democrats realized exactly the outcome they sought when they launched this business – and now people wonder what it all means.
Well I’ll tell you what it all means. You just strengthened the president. That means he is much harder to remove from office in just nine months. For three and a half years, Democrats have tried every conceivable tactic to unseat the president. Everything they try nails him more firmly in his chair. The only thing they have not done is prepare properly for the upcoming election campaign.
They are like an Olympic athlete who needs to prepare for the quadrennial games. Yet instead of training, he tries one gimmick after another. He takes steroids to bulk up. He tries this diet and that diet. He even takes stimulants that keep him from getting enough rest. Then he loses on the big day, and people shrug. “Well I guess it wasn’t his day.”
The two parties used to accuse each other repeatedly of pulling political stunts. They don’t use that word anymore, because they tired of accusing each other of the same thing every day. Now we have theatrics, such as snubs at the State of the Union address. Impeachment was the ultimate snub, ultimate theatric, ultimate stunt. The House Democrats have no more tricks. No more Robert Mueller, no more Rachel Maddow, no more Adam Schiff. They’re all gone. No more dog and pony shows.
For the next few months, the question for Democrats will be, how can we keep that nut Bernie from getting the nomination, without turning off his supporters? Which is another way of asking, how can we nominate another candidate who will lose? If they sideline that nut Bernie a second time, his supporters will do exactly what they did in 2016, a second time. They’ll vote for Trump, or they’ll stay home. Democrats by the millions stayed home in 2016. Some of them lived in Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin. They knew exactly what might come from their disinterest.
We have seen two major parties expire right in front of us, yet people still use the names Republican and Democrat. It’s like seeing the state of Iraq expire at our feet during the last eighteen years, yet we still call it Iraq, because we have no other name for it. These are not political parties anymore. They do not function as political parties, any more than Congress functions as a legislature, or the president functions as a chief executive. We all pretend the game still plays. We even refer to democracy and democratic governance, what counts as abuse of power, and presidential norms, as if we might still honor these ideas in the breach.
We have travelled long, long past that point. We missed the preserve-our-democracy exit at least two decades ago, some would say well before that. If this pretense of impeachment does not convince you, if Democrats’ total inability to prepare for the upcoming contest does not give you some pause, if a lot of fretting about some mobile app in Iowa does not seem a little odd to you, then how can we hope to grasp the political reality we have created for ourselves? Some might say a rupture that destroys democracy will come – we just don’t know when, where, or how. Look around you. It has already happened.