How Democrats dropped the ball before Trump's impeachment trial even began

How Democrats dropped the ball before Trump's impeachment trial even began
Chuck Schumer // MSNBC

While most Senate Republicans are complicit with Donald Trump's insurrection and are thus unwilling to convict the former president whose second impeachment trial begins Tuesday, Democrats still have a chance to make a powerful case to the nation about the dangers of the Republicans' embrace of right-wing radicalism. But, in typical Democratic style, it appears they're pointlessly clipping their own wings right off the bat.

The Washington Post reports that an agreement between Republicans and Democrats is focused on "a rapid timetable that could bring the proceedings to a close within a week." That sounds like a good thing, especially as President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, reportedly have a robust legislative agenda (though it can't actually be robust if they won't end the filibuster) that they want to get cracking on swiftly. The fine print of the deal, however, swiftly makes clear that this yet another example of Democrats giving up a serious political advantage for no good reason.

"[T]here still exists the possibility that senators could vote after four days of arguments to extend the trial by calling witnesses and examining testimony," the Post reported.

They could call witnesses? Could?!

It appears that Democrats in the Senate are more interested in the possibility of wrapping by Monday than having heart-rending testimony from congressional staffers and Capitol police that underscores Trump's guilt and GOP complicity. They just want to take all that possible new footage that could be used and reused for ads and viral content ... and just toss it in the trash?

And what about the various Capitol rioters, Trump aides, and victims of Trump's pressure campaigns during his extended coup efforts that could offer testimony that would be must-see TV? Who wouldn't want to watch some wild-eyed QAnoner rave about conspiracy theories involving Dominion voting machines and Wayfair pedophile cabinets? Who wouldn't be riveted by state officials explaining how they had to endure Trump berating them to steal the election for him? Who wouldn't be dying to see some Trump aide squirm when asked under oath exactly how excited Trump was while watching his minions storm the Capitol, baying for Mike Pence's blood?

Forgoing witness testimony is the kind of rookie error Republicans would never make.

Republicans dragged out the Benghazi hearings, a controversy that was not just fake but incomprehensible — even to the conspiracy theorists they were feeding — for two years. Republicans understood the value of generating an endless stream of content for Fox News, Facebook ads, and other channels that made Democrats — again, completely falsely — look shady and bad at international security. California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, now the House Minority Leader, infamously bragged to Fox News' Sean Hannity that the GOP's Benghazi investigations successfully marred Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions.

Democrats have the same opportunity here, except this time it is a moral imperative because they're telling the truth.

Trump did cause an insurrection. Republicans have been shielding him from responsibility because ultimately, their only problem with him is that he failed. The rise of American fascism is a major problem facing our country, one that the majority of Americans who disapprove should be riled up about. Hastily getting this over with so it can be forgotten in a month's time is a terrible mistake.

Note that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., freaked out at the possibility of Senate Democrats calling witnesses. He responded with a bunch of impotent threats about how Republicans will retaliate by calling FBI witnesses to talk about "what happened with the security footprint at the Capitol," as if Democrats themselves weren't even more critical of Capitol police failures. Graham is only making threats now because he knows full well how bad it would be for Republicans if Democrats called witnesses.

Or look at the absolute meltdown right-wing media and Republicans are having in the face of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D.-N.Y., releasing a video talking about her experiences during the Capitol insurrection. They spent a week fruitlessly trying to discredit her testimony, using every trick misogynists typically use to smear rape and domestic violence victims. Republicans aren't frantically trying to silence Ocasio-Cortez because they think her testimony doesn't matter. They recognize how politically damaging it is. Why can't Senate Democrats see this as well?

Part of the problem might be the one-sided inability of Democrats to take the fight to their opposition. The New York Times reports that "the managers were wary of saying anything that might implicate Republican lawmakers who echoed or entertained the president's baseless claims of election fraud," because to "have any chance of making an effective case, the managers believe, they must make clear it is Mr. Trump who is on trial, not his party." This is uncut nonsense.

There is no chance Senate Republicans will be swayed to convict Trump because no matter how painful this is to accept the vast majority of the GOP has become radicalized against democracy and will do whatever it takes to protect the openly fascist leaders who are emerging, including Trump himself. So the only value of this trial is to make the case to the public — and doing so requires witnesses. As Paul Waldman of the Washington Post writes, "Insulating the GOP from its extensive entanglement in Trump's effort to subvert our democracy — at exactly the moment when Congress is focusing maximum public attention on it — would seem like a missed opportunity."

That is an understatement. Right now, Democrats have a real chance to outline for the country not just Trump's guilt, but the stakes if we continue down this path of having one out of two political parties increasingly reject democracy. Whatever silly rationalizations Democrats come up with, the fear of really taking the fight to the Republicans appears to be based in a genuine fear of conflict with their colleagues, one rooted in the same ridiculous D.C. obsession with "bipartisanship" that is only and ever the responsibility of Democrats to maintain.

Democrats need to stop being such cowards. The very fate of our nation rests on their ability to show courage in the face of creeping fascism, and to marshal every tool they have towards beating it back. Democrats may fail — fighting fascism is often an uphill battle — but it shouldn't be for lack of trying. Calling witnesses is a no-brainer, a way to help draw media attention and make the case to the public about why violent authoritarianism and the party that supports it, the GOP, should be wholly rejected. If Democrats fail to make that case out of a fear of offending Republicans, they share in the complicity of letting Trump pull our nation further into darkness.

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