The Dems may have chosen the two wrong articles of impeachment
One has to be impressed in a perverse way at the fact that no Republican broke ranks on Donald Trump in the impeachment vote. Some even defended their votes with passion. I've often felt that since we know several of them loathe Trump that they were just acting out of party loyalty and a sense of self-preservation within their party.
But I start to wonder that some serious number of them, and their voters, don't think Trump's actions are that big a deal. Here's why:
- The first article is really about Trump using his office to help him cheat a bit in the upcoming election. Politicians don't think cheating in elections is wrong when it's done by their side.
- The second article is about obstruction. It's a fairly common attitude among non-jurists that obstruction isn't very wrong if the thing you're being investigated for isn't wrong.
Together, they may be legitimately wondering why this was the crime that Democrats planted their flag on. They often remarked about how many Democrats have wanted, at some level, to impeach Trump since day one, and they're not wrong. These two articles cover just one incident in a long line of transgression by Trump, including those that predate his election, such as his call to Russia to get Clinton's e-mails and things outlined in the Mueller report meshed with his own statements about how it's OK to accept help from Russia as long as you don't ask for it. The Democrats have been itching, but at the same time afraid, knowing that impeachment can backfire.
They chose this one it seems, because it's fairly clear cut, and the President and his chief of staff both confessed to it on video.
But their mistake may be that they felt that election cheating was such an obvious abuse of power. Sadly, it's not obvious, but not because it isn't a clear abuse of power, but because almost all politicians also participate in election cheating. The Republicans have become much worse about it of late, but most Democrats all benefit from things like Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a much stronger and nastier form of election cheating, done by both parties (though much more by Republicans) and neither party has renounced it or repudiated or expelled its members who participate in it.
The Republicans have jumped to Trump's defense because trying to get a third party to release some dirt on your political opponents has become part of the game. That's what Trump tried to get, after all. Not an actual investigation that showed Biden did something wrong, but simply the announcement that he was being investigated. Countless politicians have "opposition research" departments which try to find potential scandals on their adversaries. When they do, the next step is to find a way to leak that information to make the other guy look bad.
I fear they all think this sort of thing is fair game if their side is doing it. The voter suppression, Gerrymandering and the endless blatant lies that nobody ever criticises within their own party show this. Half of them have done something like this, or wished they could. They just didn't have the powers of the President at hand to do it, and they weren't so stupid as to do it while honest non-politicians were listening in on the deals.
The lies. Trump is the all time champion of them, by a wide margin, but it's an extremely rare politician who gets a perfect score from any of the fact checking organizations. The favours for donors. The indirect super-pac donations. So many of them do it, and do it so much they hardly even notice it any more.
Of course, famously, Nixon was forced out for trying to cheat in an election -- or more correctly for trying to cover-up the cheating efforts of his CREEPs. Eventually his own party turned on him. This trigger crime was a burglary, not a more subtle foreign relations quid pro quo. Nobody spent any time arguing whether burglary was OK or not.
Since conviction is unlikely, the prime goals of impeachment were to strike some fear into Republican hearts, and to get some of them to turn. None of them did, so far. As foretold, in fact, it has unified them, but the story is not over. Trump has managed to spread this tolerance for cheating to his base, who are OK with what he does because he's their man.
Obstruction of Congress
It gets worse when you consider the second article, obstruction of congress. This one is also quite strong on the facts. It's the impression of how bad it is that again causes the problem. Obstruction is a strange offense, well understood by jurists who value the rule of law. It is less obvious to the public. If you're innocent, or the crime is not a serious crime, it seems odd to get punished for trying to fight your (thus unfair) prosecution and attempting to get in its way. In fact, we have constitutional rights to not be required to help in our own prosecution much of the time. There are other times we are required to help, and of course if we hold office, this is particularly true.
But something doesn't sit right with non jurists about investigating somebody for something they didn't do (or which isn't wrong) and then punishing them for fighting the investigation. Trump's fans felt the same way when Mueller's report concluded it could not be proven that he colluded with Russia, but that it probably could be proven that he obstructed the investigation into it. The principles of the law make that an equal crime, but people don't feel it in their hearts about somebody they support.
That is what had made these seemingly fact-based questions become more partisan. The truth is we are all corrupt to one degree or another. As much as we declare ourselves to be people of principle, we routinely change our principles to make them match our desired outcome. This gets combined with confirmation bias, that makes us see only the facts that match our preconceptions.
Our fluid moral systems
This has an odd parallel to my recent analysis of robocar morals. There I looked into how we switch between rules-based and results-based morals based on our feelings, and this definitely happens in politics. Republicans like the results they are seeing under Trump -- good economy for many, snarky leftist opponents brought low -- and they switch to results-based morals. Because his attempt to get Ukraine to announce an investigation failed, no harm, no foul. Even when they know the law doesn't work this way.
This allows Trump supporters to overlook his large list of flaws. They actually see most of them, but have turned themselves into consequentialists, accepting them all as long as he still represents those core positive attributes.
To get an impeachment that is not partisan, it is necessary to find some things that Trump's supporters and party loyalists will be willing to see as wrong. It's remarkable how hard that has been. The religious right (except Christianity Today) has tolerated his affairs and other immoralities. It may need to be something as explicit as a break-in.