Poor Donald Trump: His feelings have been hurt by the release of the redacted Mueller investigation report, showing the world that he feared a special investigation and knew that ugly things would be uncovered. The report also revealed that some of his minions did not obey his demands to block or even end the special counsel’s work. So, there’s still some integrity, albeit minimal, in the White House. Four weeks ago, Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summation of the Mueller report put to rest suspicions that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian interference in the 2016 elections. But last week’s release of the lightly redacted 450-page report has raised new questions and amplified existing suspicions about the criminality and corruption at the heart of the Trump administration. The bone of contention now is not collusion, but rather, clear evidence of obstruction of justice, as well as increasing doubts about Trump’s moral and mental fitness to carry out the duties of his office.
Addressing the report’s findings fully is imperative for the survival of the United States as a functioning democracy. In a perfect world, the report would have already catalyzed impeachment proceedings, but the Democratic-controlled House is very squeamish about impeaching the most unethical president in American history. Although this seems bizarre, it’s rooted in political pragmatism.
Most Americans are exhausted and exasperated by every aspect of Trump’s presidency, and frustrated that we cannot even impeach this odious man. Rather, we have to endure his insane tweeting, watch as he refuses to release his tax returns, tells his staff not to respond to subpoena requests, and continues to rant about a nonexistent immigration emergency at the southern border. It’s unimaginable that Barack Obama’s presidency could have survived even a fraction of the Trump administration’s scandals. The first black president of the United States was accused of being a Muslim extremist and, in some of the crazier corners of the Evangelical right, the devil himself. The GOP made it clear as soon as Obama took office in 2009 that they would do everything in their power to make sure he did not have a second term. Now the same GOP complacently looks on as Trump hollows out America’s institutions of governance and behaves like a deranged child.
The case for the impeachment of a president has never been clearer, despite Trump’s claims that the Mueller report exonerated him. Attorney General Barr’s four-page summary of the report papered over the seamy details of Trump’s Mafia mob boss actions and words. This is a president who cares nothing at all about the rule of law. The danger to the republic is not in question. Yet the Democratic leadership is counseling against impeachment proceedings, and only a handful of Democratic presidential candidates have plainly stated that the president must be impeached.
But the argument against impeachment is compelling for several reasons. First and foremost, the Senate will halt the proceedings. The GOP has firm control of that body, and even the shame of saving Trump from the ire of the House and a wide segment of the electorate won’t stop the Republicans from supporting and protecting him. This is a damning statement about the moral rot of the GOP, which used to pride itself as the party of “traditional values” and law and order. No high-profile Republican has emerged to challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020, and Senate leader Mitch McConnell is perversely committed to Trump no matter how badly he behaves. The GOP has the support not only of the billionaire class of corporate heads and ultra-conservatives, but also 30 percent of the American electorate, Trump’s true believers, who will view impeachment proceedings as a vendetta against their “persecuted” leader. It’s possible that impeachment proceedings would actually widen and consolidate Trump’s base ahead of the 2020 elections, and with the Democrats divided between a growing progressive base and the traditional moderates who now control the party, empowering Trump’s base could put the White House out of reach for the Democrats once again.
Secondly, despite his current low approval rating of 39%, Trump is a master of demagoguery, and Americans’ fears of his supporters are real and well-founded. During his congressional testimony in February, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen warned that Trump would not leave office willingly if not reelected because he is really a dictator and thug at heart. Trump’s die-hard supporters would undoubtedly see impeachment proceedings as an attack on the president, and might even turn to violence to express their anger. White nationalist and neo-Nazi groups have grown and become bolder since Trump entered the White House, and he is not shy about sending them messages at his rallies and in his tweets calling for violence against and punishment of his opponents, while also accusing progressives and the media of being “enemies of the people.” It’s hard to admit, but one third of the American public could well be holding the rest of us hostage with implicit threats of violence and insurrection should Trump face impeachment, let alone defeat at the polls in 2020. This is a damning statement about the moral rot of a significant segment of the American public.
Thirdly, even if by some miracle the Senate were to approve the House’s impeachment efforts, we would then be left with Mike Pence as president. The vice president’s views are even more reactionary than Trump’s, and, since he is not a repellant and pugnacious thug, he might be able to win the presidency in 2020 with Trump out of the way, thus garnering another four years for the current administration to pursue its draconian policies against minorities, the LGBTQ community, and women’s rights at home, while further empowering the Israeli right and white nationalists abroad.
Lastly, impeachment proceedings in the House would completely monopolize mainstream and social media attention in the lead-up to one of the most important presidential elections in US history. Many issues that deserve deep analysis and broad discussion—first and foremost climate change and healthcare—would be buried by all of the headlines focused on Trump’s ranting and raving about impeachment. Few would pay enough attention to the upcoming debates among the many candidates contending for the Democratic nomination.
The current course of action that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is implicitly suggesting seems to be the wisest: Hold continuous hearings on Trump’s misrule on the floor of the House, call witnesses from the huge pool of people Mueller investigated, and lay bare to the public the extent and depth of Donald Trump’s criminality and corruption. Such hearings will certainly provide ample ammunition and talking points for the current crop of Democratic candidates to use in their speeches and debates as the 2020 elections approach. In the meantime, Americans—and the world—will have to grit their teeth and bear the rantings and ravings of the worst president in US history.
(Read the Arabic version of this article here.)