Republicans are mounting an effective defense against impeachment that is without foundation, but is likely to prove effective. Essentially, they are all repeating the same lies in unison, over and over again, taking advantage of something called the “illusory truth effect,” which causes people to confuse repetition with truth.
A less kind—but perhaps more accurate—characterization of what they’re doing would be to invoke Goebbels “big lie,” a tactic that relied on audacious lies repeated over and over.
They’re ignoring the validity of Trump’s actual crimes, instead focusing on process and a series of distractions. There’s a reason for that, of course. The evidence of Trump’s crimes is overwhelming and incontrovertible.
Let’s look at their objections and examine them against the facts.
Big Lie #1: Trump didn’t commit an impeachable offense
Their first claim is that no laws were broken, or that there was no offense that meets the high hurdle of impeachment established in the Constitution, and that the evidence is based on heresy. They repeat ad nauseum that treason and bribery were not mentioned in the articles of impeachment, while ignoring the rest of Article II, which states that “high crimes and misdemeanors” are also a basis for impeachment.
But, we know—from his own words and the words of his chief of staff and his Ambassador to the European Union—that Trump attempted to blackmail the new Ukrainian leader by withholding tax payer money appropriated by Congress to help the Ukraine in their war with Russia, in order to get dirt on Joe Biden. In short, he compromised our and our ally’s national security for his own personal gain. In the words of Representative Jayapal, “Trump is the smoking gun.”
This is so much more than a high crime or misdemeanor—it is an abuse of his position that is unprecedented in U.S. history, and it is precisely the kind of offense the Founders envisioned when they expanded the grounds for impeachment from just bribery and treason.
Trump compounded this by obstructing the pursuit of justice in a number of ways, again, in broad daylight. The Founders created a government based on checks and balances between the three branches of government. Trump has subverted the system by instructing his staff not to honor subpoenas and refusing to provide documents. This is both unprecedented and it amounts to prima facie evidence of his guilt.
Big Lie #2: This is a partisan witch hunt designed to overturn the election
Republicans say Democrats have been trying to get rid of this President since he was elected. As Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) noted, the Democrat Party as a whole voted against impeachment three times before Trump’s latest egregious crime. The reality is, Trump left them no choice, this time. His violations threatened the thin and delicate fabric of the rule of law. The US has the oldest written constitution in the world, and it has survived and remained effective because throughout our history there has been a commitment to honor the principles and customs that give force to the mere words written on the thin parchment, however eloquent those words are.
In fact, Democrats didn’t pursue clear and obvious violations of the Emoluments Clause, and they declined to pursue an obvious obstruction of justice case established in the Mueller Report. Pelosi knew that impeachment was never going to be a winning political issue, and that’s why she held back those in the Party who wanted to aggressively pursue Trump’s many and obvious violations of the law.
But the seriousness of Trump’s total disregard of the separation of powers, and his serial violations of both law and decency left her no choice. To not impeach would be to sanctify an imperial presidency that would be little different than a monarchy.
As for “ignoring the will of the people” and trying to overturn the 2016 election, it’s worth noting that Trump lost the popular vote by about 3 million. If the people’s will were followed, Trump would not be in the White House.
Big Lie #3: Democrats are impeaching Trump because they’re afraid he’ll win in 2020
The nature of Trump’s crimes also explains why the Democrats didn’t simply “wait until the next election,” and let the people decide. We expect our Representatives to safeguard the Constitution, and they take an oath to do so. Not impeaching Trump would be a violation of that oath and of the people’s trust, in addition to creating an Imperial Presidency.
Here again, the evidence that this is a flat out lie and an attempt to discredit the need to impeach is overwhelming.
Trump loses to each of the three top Democratic candidates in virtually every poll; Democrats swept the table in 2018 and they’ve won the majority of elections since. The evidence suggests Trump will lose in 2020, and ironically, impeaching him probably works in his favor, politically.
Big Lie #4: Democrats are ignoring the people’s business by focusing on impeachment
The Democratic House has passed 50 consequential bills, including such popular measures as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, protecting people from being dropped by insurance companies for preexisting conditions, insuring fair elections, requiring background checks for gun purchases, climate legislation—the list is extensive and important. These bills were supported by the majority of Americans, and they were opposed by most House Republicans. Now they are languishing in Moscow Mitch McConnell’s legislative grave yard, formerly known as the Senate.
If time and the people’s will were an issue, Republicans in the House would be voting for the bills they’ve fought against, and Mitch McConnell wouldn’t be sitting on them, he’d be introducing them for a vote.
Why the Big Lie is likely to work
The real jury in impeachment trials are the people. As I said in the beginning, the Republican strategy of telling the big lie will probably work for them. The overwhelming majority of Americans are fed up with government in general and partisan bickering in particular, and they have little faith in government.
Both parties have contributed to this: Democrats by abandoning the New Deal and adopting a centrist, corporate friendly strategy that has benefited the 1 percent, and punished everyone else; and Republicans by adopting a strategy specifically designed to discredit government, and empower oligarchs. (see Lewis Powell’s infamous manifesto, or “WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track”).
This means a sizable number of people will tune out the whole process, and another chunk of folks will believe the lies. By positioning themselves as “outsiders” Republicans ride the very wave of dissatisfaction they themselves created, and Democrats—having abandoned the values that made them a majority party and gave them credibility—won’t be trusted enough to convince people this is anything other than the usual partisan bickering they come to loathe.
John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson.