News & Politics

Democrats Need to Fight for Impeachment — It's the Only Antidote to the Trump's Lies

If you’re playing chess with someone who puts a hand grenade on the board, you don’t try to capture the grenade with your bishop.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Living through the Trump era is like being critically ill yet being denied the medicine that could make you better.

White House Counsel John Dean famously told President Richard Nixon, at the height of the Watergate scandal, that the coverup of the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee was a “cancer on the presidency.” If only we were so lucky. Donald Trump’s malignant presidency has been eating away at our entire political system.

So when newly nominated Democratic House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently declared her support for impeaching Trump, I found myself thinking, not at all for the first time: Oh, right. We have a vaccine. We’re just so afraid of offending the anti-vaxxers that we’d rather cure ourselves with positive thinking and a juice cleanse.

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Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are of the opinion, you see, that despite Nixon-in-1974 poll numbers supporting impeachment, Democrats explicitly calling for it would only help Republicans running in the midterm elections. Which no doubt it would, if Democratic leaders were to approach it the way they tend approach other goals — like they kinda, sorta want it but it’s probably not something they should go into any detail about or get all righteous about or anything and, OK, you know what? Forget they ever mentioned it.

Which, you know, is — God, I can barely type the words at this point — exactly why Trump won. 

By vastly underestimating the metastatic reach of modern, paranoid right-wing ideology and the tenacious hold it can take in the public consciousness, Democrats have ceded more than mere political ground. Years of substantive and rhetorical compromise with a Republican Party that feeds on fantasy has nourished an ever-expanding, corrosive lunacy that grows harder to stem with each dispiriting news cycle. Now, in the person of newly nominated prospective Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it's on the brink of blocking future Democratic attempts at a cure, and destroying everything.

I know, I know: Democrats don’t have the votes to impeach Trump now. They may not have them after the midterms either, even if they win a House majority. Yes. Also, that sound you’re hearing is the sound of a President Who Didn’t Have the Votes to Become President laughing all the way to the Deutsche Bank.

If you’re playing chess with someone who puts a hand grenade on the board, you don’t try to capture the grenade with your bishop. You recognize that you are no longer playing chess, that something else is now occurring where there once was chess, and you react accordingly. You flip over the board. Then you flip the table and go find some guys who know how to toss a grenade or two themselves. Hoping to stop Trump by tapping his shoulder lightly with Chuck Schumer’s pen has become life-threateningly ridiculous.

Here’s something you may have noticed about how Republicans react when they don’t have the votes for something: They don’t give a flying death panel about votes.

They care about story.

Politics is storytelling, and the stories that Republicans tell are highly successful and have loads of fans. There's the story of a health care system that robbed from the “makers” to give to the “takers” and put the government in charge of your physical well-being. There's the story of a heartless, anti-American corporate shill who slept soundly while Americans were being killed in a middle-sized city in North Africa. Anybody remember its name?

Half the country came to believe those stories and lots of similarly dubious other stories. The fact that they were 110 percent steaming bot-crap didn’t matter in the slightest.

Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but in case you haven't noticed, she is not president today. Yes, the Affordable Care Act is still (barely) hanging on, but the story of its diabolical concoction at the hands of a Muslim socialist helped elect Donald Trump and continues to help sustain his massive support among Republicans.

Even on their own terms, the terms of good-faith political horse-trading, the Democrats have been winning battles but losing wars like this for decades, from “ending welfare as we know it” to Bush v. Gore, to the public option that didn't happen with Obamacare. The Democrats’ knack for preemptive compromise on any and all issues hasn’t just let Republicans assert false counter-narratives, it has legitimized those narratives in a way that shut down future avenues for argument.

When Bill Clinton declared that the era of big government was over, when Obama proposed a stimulus half the size it needed to be, they breathed life into the cancerous nonsense at the heart of the conservative movement. Now, even with the cataclysmic results of this allergy to fighting sitting in the Oval Office, Democratic leaders have made sure that another looming conflict — this one over impeachment — will be twice as hard as it should have been.

In order to overcome that self-imposed disadvantage, Democrats need to get to work now, telling the story -- or the many stories -- of Trump’s corruption, cruelty and incompetence, so that when (or if) the opportunity for impeachment finally presents itself, the necessary groundwork will have been laid.

While maybe a few dozen journalists and their most devoted readers might have anything approaching a comprehensive understanding of the extent of Trump’s corruption, everyone in America knows The Story of the Witch Hunt — even if they don’t believe it. Schumer and Pelosi have let the White House and the GOP craft, repeat and refine a baroque and possibly democracy-destroying lie, all for the possibility of . . . what exactly? Susan Collins' vote against the confirmation of a sure-to-be-revanchist Supreme Court nominee whom Schumer shouldn’t even let come to the floor in the first place?

I mean, I get it. Part of me can’t help but admire the Democrats’ faith — as unshakable as the Republicans’ belief in the free market — in the wonk market, in the hidden moral hand that guides political compromise. Yet by continuing to insist on its honorable, musty tenets -- by respecting the other side’s point of view, taking their word at face value, upholding norms — liberals are putting their faith in a thoroughly obsolete set of conventions that only worked when they were practiced in the context of an agreed-upon reality.

Modern conservatives re-concoct a new reality for themselves every day. It’s not horse-trading when the other side is offering unicorns. When Democrats refuse to challenge Republican delusions and lies, whether about MS-13 or the Russia investigation "witch hunt,” they help give body and shape — the weight of reality — to insidious fantasy.

Yet Democratic leaders seem determined to keep on taking the Republicans seriously and clamming up about impeachment in the hopes that it will earn them some undefined political capital at some unnamed point in the vague and misty future, despite the toll that strategy has taken on their stated agenda and the country. As a full-fledged authoritarian assault is being made on our system, Schumer and Pelosi, rather than taking measures to stop it, lecture the party’s most fearsome fighters on the value of civility and scold its base about how things “really work” in Washington.

Republicans, on the other hand, know that the way things really work is that volume and repetition can make anything true. Anything. The Russia investigation is a witch hunt. The deficit is going down. The press is the enemy of the people.

An April poll by Monmouth University found that 77 percent of Americans believe that major news outlets regularly report "fake news.” How can that be? How can so many people believe a lie? At least one answer is: What choice do they have? What equally vivid, galvanizing assertions of honest-to-God truth have been articulated as often and as loudly by Democrats?

Democrats need to talk about impeachment. The story of why Trump should be impeached is the story of the greatest con in American history, one that, if Democrats are not working tirelessly to expose, they are aiding and abetting. They need to call a lie a lie and a grift a grift — quickly, forcefully and repeatedly. They need to articulate a clear, resounding vision in powerfully symbolic language, every day, and connect the dots between that vision and the effect it has on real people’s lives.

Democrats need to fight the good fight, even for causes that might seem lost, and especially for the most urgent cause of all: salvaging our democracy. There’s more at stake than just an election.