America’s most wide-awoke progressives — whose fear and loathing of President Donald Trump is a consuming preoccupation — are worried about the November election.
They are right to be uneasy, not least because excessive progressives are themselves becoming one of the main reasons for worry — if one agrees that America would benefit from an end to the Age of Trump.
Trouble is, in the central spectacle of an operatic week in U.S. politics, Trump’s impeachment trial ended Wednesday with acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate. This turn of events was about as surprising as the sun’s coming up in the east this morning, after unexpectedly setting in the west last night. We again face the blunt fact that the only way to jettison Trump is … to elect someone else.
Yet for the small (but perhaps decisive) number of more-or-less-moderate Americans who feel caught in today’s political crossfire, the impeachment battle did nothing but deliver one more reason that the prospect of putting progressives in power might become just as frightening as keeping the incumbent lying lout in office.
Once among those dubbed “Never Trump” voters, this flummoxed faction (in which I confess membership) might now have to be called the “Never Say Never” voters.
Never Trump — unless the radicalism of the left, and the inability of sensible liberals to resist extremist demands (i.e., impeachment), forces one to reconsider.
Even before the Senate trial got underway, Democrats were denouncing it as a “coverup.” So it’s another non-surprise that they’ve now declared Trump’s win an “acquittal in name only.” Yet the much-derided argument that apparently swung the result — that even acknowledging Trump did wrong, it was not so grave a misdeed as to justify removal — is exactly the rationale on which the Senate acquitted Bill Clinton in 1999 (and for that matter Andrew Johnson in 1868).
Minnesota’s Sen. Tina Smith proclaimed on these pages last week that the institution she serves “abandoned its responsibilities,” leaving “a permanent cloud over these proceedings.” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York defamed the Senate as a “kangaroo court.”
But it’s not just the Senate. During the trial’s question segment, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent up a query to be read by Chief Justice John Roberts. Does the fact of Roberts’ presiding over such unworthy goings on, Warren wondered, “contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?”
Notice the word “contribute” — a verb the law professor had time to choose carefully in this written question. It can only mean that Warren believes the impeachment trial merely added to a “loss of legitimacy” that existed already.
How many serious presidential candidates before this have ever suggested the U.S. Constitution was losing its legitimacy? Not to mention the Supreme Court and the chief justice of the United States?
But even if the kangaroo court Senate connives under a cloud — and even if the fundamental law of the land is losing legitimacy — we’ll always have elections. Or will we?
Repeatedly during the trial, Democrats including California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House’s lead Trump hunter, argued that American elections can no longer be trusted.
“We are here today,” Schiff announced early in the trial “to consider … an attempt to … cheat in an election.”
He added: “For precisely this reason, the president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box — for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”
Schiff reiterated the theme many times, for example telling one television interviewer that the Senate needed “to remove him from office because he is threatening to still cheat in the next election … so the normal remedy for a president’s misconduct isn’t available...”
One need not believe that our courts or Constitution are flawless; or doubt that politics too often prevails over principle in Congress (sometimes even among Democrats); or be indifferent to the dangers of foreign meddling and other forms of election mischief or incompetence (sometimes, as in Iowa, among Democrats) — one need none of that naiveté to find this dark progressive portrait of American government unsettling.
The Senate is corrupt; the courts and the Constitution are losing legitimacy; and the “normal” democratic process for settling our differences is no longer sufficiently trustworthy.
Such suspicions are persuasive to many Americans of goodwill; that’s the depth of trouble we’re in. Because this is the way revolutionaries and coup leaders talk: Until this emergency passes, normal political processes must be set aside …
Combine this with the broader ultraprogressive spirit that suppresses unpopular (conservative) ideas on college campuses across America; with an “intersectional” ideology (i.e., “1619”) that seems to think America’s principle distinction is the diversity of its injustices; that yearns to repeal and replace a “rigged” economy that it perceives benefits only the undeserving rich — and, well, your average Never Say Never voter starts wondering what progressives’ mood would be like if America wasn’t enjoying peace and prosperity.
Of course, Trump is a creepy clown show emitting a ceaseless shriek of extreme and ignorant rhetoric. He claims and attempts to exercise (mostly unsuccessfully) nonexistent autocratic powers. Far from admiring him for “not pretending to be someone he isn’t,” Never Say Never voters wish he would pretend to be someone else — someone with dignity, prudence, charity, etc., etc., etc.
He won’t. And yet, we have seen in three-plus years that Trump can do only so much harm. His actions are often less off-the-wall than his harangues and tweets. The courts have blocked him in numerous ways. So has Congress, if only through its genius for gridlock.
Perhaps, if elected, a new Democratic president would be similarly constrained. Maybe today’s progressive diatribes about the illegitimacy of American institutions would likewise turn out to have been just talk.
But some candidates would make it easier than others for Never Say Never voters to take a chance on that.
D.J. Tice is at Doug.Tice@startribune.com.