With articles of impeachment delivered and the trial set to start, Republicans in the upper chamber can no longer hedge by claiming ignorance of the facts.
President Donald J. Trump was impeached on Thursday.
I know that he was technically impeached when the House voted to do so in December. But the truth is, as a political and historical matter, Thursday was the day. House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy — brilliant to fans, incomprehensible to foes — of sitting on the articles of impeachment left a lot of people wondering whether this show was ever going to get on the road.
Now, with the chief justice of the United States sworn in to preside over the Senate trial, and senators sworn in as jurors, there’s no mistaking that it’s about to go down. The clearest sign that the Senate is taking this at least somewhat seriously: Senators are handing over their cellphones before they enter the chamber. That’s not good news for the president.
Oh, it’s still unlikely there will be enough votes to remove Trump from office. But having talked with many GOP senators since the Ukraine story broke, I can tell you that few have paid close attention to the facts of the case. Some weren’t engaged because they wanted — or said they wanted — to avoid reaching conclusions since they would have to be impartial jurors. Others seemed to think, understandably, that the Ukraine drama was simply the latest chapter in the long-running story of the media and Democrats rushing to “get” Trump no matter what. Others appeared eager to stay in their lanes, avoid the cable-news shout shows, and get on with the jobs they were sent to Washington to do.
Whatever the reasons, I’ve been shocked at how so many senators didn’t know — or claimed not to know — many of the central facts from the House hearings and news reports.
Now, they all have to sit in a room like good boys and girls and stay absolutely quiet as the House impeachment managers make their case. They can’t play Candy Crush or check out the latest sports scores on their phones. The rules say that if they even talk among themselves, they can be imprisoned.
Some senators have said they want to be protected from learning relevant new facts, claiming that because the impeachment process in the House was flawed and rushed — which is true — the Senate shouldn’t be obligated to do the heavy lifting of evidence-gathering. Though few have been as adamantly opposed to hearing new evidence as Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).
On Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) ignited a furor when she asked why new evidence provided by Lev Parnas — a Ukrainian grifter who’d been working closely with Trump’s personal fixer, Rudy Giuliani — wasn’t in the report sent by the House. When a journalist pointed out that the evidence had just surfaced, Collins replied, “Well, doesn’t that suggest that the House did an incomplete job then?”
Maybe this was a sign she wasn’t paying attention or an indication she doesn’t want to hear new evidence. If it’s the latter, she has a point. If representatives had taken time to do all of their due diligence, they likely would have uncovered more evidence, whether from Parnas or other potential witnesses.
But, looked at from a broader perspective, so what? Republicans screamed “show trial” during the House hearings. It was an overheated and indefensible claim. But if you’re on record saying you’re opposed to show trials — i.e., proceedings in which relevant evidence is ignored in pursuit of a foreordained conclusion — then saying you don’t want all of the facts is terribly hypocritical.
People are going to watch the hearings. They’re going to see miserable senators presented with ample evidence that the president used his office to pressure the Ukrainians to sully a political opponent. If the only times Republican senators make a fuss are when they maneuver to avoid hearing even more damning evidence, or demand that the Senate participate in the president’s strategy of making Joe Biden the issue, they won’t merely be violating their oaths to deliver impartial justice; they will risk going down in history — and appearing to voters — as participants in a cover-up.
Some senators will be fine with that, because that’s what a majority of their voters want. For those who either come from states that don’t have enough Trump-base voters to get reelected or are burdened with a politically inconvenient concern about their reputations, it will be a real problem. The one thing none of them will be able to claim, however, is that they don’t know the facts because they weren’t paying attention.
George Will and AEI’s Jonah Goldberg discuss the broad changes affecting American politics and conservatism.
(14:00)This is an outgrowth of the Flight 93 election syndrome which is that the end is nigh unlesspeople listen to people like us.It’s a way of pumping up the grandeur and magnificence and importance of people whosay, “We stand at Armageddon, and things have never been worse, but they might get worsetomorrow unless radical things are done.”Jonah: Right, and people who disagree with you must shut up for we are at an existentialcrisis.George: Exactly, existential crisis, but the self-dramatizing, things aren’t that bad.I mean, I’m not happy.No one writes political philosophy if they’re content, right?Because you’re irritated about something or anxious or afraid or something.But I just think this hysteria is to be ignored.Jonah: I quote you in one of my previous books.There’s a story you tell about how when you first got your syndicated column, you calledGeorge…William F. Buckley, “How the heck am I going to write two columns a week?”What was his advice to you?George: He said, “The world irritates me three times a week.”He wrote three times a week.He said, “The world irritates me.”And it turns out it’s true, the world irritates or amuses or piques my curiosity 100 timesa year.I’ve never had a day when I didn’t have three or four things I wanted to write about.
Here’s my succinct request to Donald Trump and all the Democrats and Republicans trying to unseat him.
The founders wanted to create a new kind of country where individuals — and individual communities — could pursue happiness as they saw fit. They didn’t achieve that instantaneously, and we still don’t have it in meaningful respects, but they set up the machinery to make it achievable. This doesn’t mean the founders were against unity in all circumstances. Their attitude could be described as in necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas. In essential things unity, in non-essential things liberty, and in all things charity. In other words, they understood that unity was a powerful tool, best used sparingly and only when truly needed. Odds are good that this was — or is — the basic, unstated rule in your own family. Good parents don’t demand total unity from their children, dictating what hobbies and interests they can have. We might force our kids to finish their broccoli, but even then we don’t demand they “celebrate broccoli!” I wish my daughter shared my interest in certain things, but I have no interest in forcing her too, in part because I know that’s futile. Spouses reserve unity as an imperative for the truly important things. My wife hates my cigars and has a? fondness for “wizard shows.” But we tend to agree on the big things. That seems right to me.
What is fascinating to me is that in the centuries since the Enlightenment, unbridled unity, enforced and encouraged from above, has been the single greatest source of evil, misery, and oppression on a mass scale, and yet we still treat unity like some unalloyed good.
Just Drop It
Okay enough of all that. Let’s get to the here and now. Joe Biden promised this week that if he’s president, he will unite the country. Newsflash: He won’t. Nor will any of the other Democrats. Donald Trump won’t do it either — and certainly hasn’t so far. George W. Bush wasn’t a uniter. Barack Obama promised unity more than any politician in modern memory — how did he do?
For the reasons spelled out above, our system isn’t designed to be unified by a president — or anybody else. The Era of Good Feelings when we only had one party and a supposed sense of nationality was a hot mess. It’s kind of hilarious to hear Democrats talk endlessly about the need to return to “constitutional norms” in one moment and then talk about the need to unify the whole country towards a singular agenda in the next. Our constitutional norms enforce an adversarial system of separated powers where we hash out our disagreements and protect our interests in political combat. Democracy itself is not about agreement but disagreement. And yet Kamala Harris recently said that as president, she’d give Congress 100 days to do exactly what she wants, and if they don’t she’ll do it herself. You know why Congress might not do what she wants it to do? Because we’re not unified on the issue of guns. In a democracy, when you don’t have unity, it means you don’t get the votes you need. And when you don’t get the votes you need, you don’t get to have your way. Constitutional norms, my ass.
So here’s my explanation for why I don’t want politicians to promise national unity. First, they can’t and shouldn’t try. Tom Sowell was on the 100th episode of my podcast this week, and one of the main takeaways was that we shouldn’t talk about doing things we cannot do. Joe Biden has been on the political scene since the Pleistocene Era. What evidence is there that he has the chops to convince Republicans to stop being Republicans? When President Bernie Sanders gives the vote to rapists and terrorists still in jail, will we be edging closer to national unity? When President Warren makes good on her bribe of college kids with unpaid student loans, what makes you think this will usher in an era of comity and national purpose?
But more importantly, when you promise people something you can’t deliver you make them mad when you don’t deliver it. I’m convinced that one of the reasons the Democrats spend their time calling every inconvenient institution and voter racist is that they are embittered by Barack Obama’s spectacular failure to deliver on the promises he made and the even grander promises his biggest fans projected upon him. When you convince people they’re about to get everything they want and then you don’t follow through, two reactions are common. The first is a bitter and cynical nihilism that says nothing good can be accomplished. The second is an unconquerable conviction that evil people or forces thwarted the righteous from achieving something that was almost in their grasp. The globalists don’t want us to have nice things! The corporations keep the electric car down! The Jooooooooz bought off Congress! The Establishment pulled the plug! The Revolution was hijacked! The system was rigged! The founders were Stonecutters!