The Impeachment Meltdown Begins
Last week, I was asked by a student what I thought of the possible impeachment of President Trump. This student doesn’t know my politics. They probably assumed, being an academic, I’m quite liberal. But my answer was independent of tribal identity. Condensed and made more coherent on the page than it probably was in person, I said that everyone needs to take a deep breath.
We’ve been through two impeachment circuses before. The Nixon scandal, as detailed in Bert’s outstanding post, took two years to get from the Watergate break-in to Nixon’s resignation. The Clinton scandal, from the day it was revealed by Drudge, took almost a year to get to a vote. We are in the very early stages of this. There are about 150 things that have to happen in order before Trump is dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House. We are on about step five. Everyone needs to take a step back, not get caught up in the rumors and passion of the day and let this play out. I suspect that, one way or another, this will resolve faster than the previous two Impeachment Tangos. But it will take at least months before we get anywhere. There’s plenty of time to think; we don’t need to jump on every story as though the world has shaken.
Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to do that because the person at the heart of this scandal — that would be sitting President — is manifestly refusing to take a deep breath. Over the last few days, he has been constantly rage-tweeting about the matter, posting dozens of angry rants, indulging in conspiracy theories, putting forth ignorant complaints about the legal process, RTing just about anyone who bashes the Democrats or the process (including, hilariously, a parody account that turns political tweets into tweets about sharks) and occasionally venturing into territory that is outright disturbing. To wit:
His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber. He wrote down and read terrible things, then said it was from the mouth of the President of the United States. I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 29, 2019
That would be the President calling for a treason trial of his chief political opponent in the House. Treason, by the way, is a capital crime. He later quoted a Pastor who predicted a Civil War if impeachment happens.
….If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress, @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2019
Normally, I ignore the Presidential tweets. I assume that they are mostly a game, designed to rile up his base or, more often, muddy the political waters so that his wrong-doing and incompetence are concealed in Whataboutist complaints about Democrats. And I do think a lot his defenders are playing that water-muddying game. Rudy Giuliani, for example, is talking about how the whistleblower complaint is “hearsay” even though, as a lawyer and former prosecutor, he knows perfectly well that hearsay is often admissible in Court, let alone a Congressional inquiry.
But I don’t think that’s the case here. I don’t think this is a carefully calculated smokescreen or Trump grinning inanely while riling up his followers. I think we’re getting a very real peek into the President’s id, an insight into what he is really like.
One of the things I’ve often said about President Trump, even before he became President, was that he is a deeply insecure person. Much of behavior — the flashy lifestyle, the trophy wives, the splashing of his name upon everything — is rooted in the deep insecurity that he will never really be one of the elite. I think of him sitting in the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, his face darkened with anger as President Obama mercilessly roasted him. I think of the fake publicist phone calls and the constant claims that “no one knows more than me” about law, politics, trade, economics and, by this point, probably astrophysics as well. These are not the utterances of a man blessed with self confidence; they are the desperate cries of an insecure person.
I recognize it because I’m somewhat of an insecure person myself. I know how I react internally to criticism, especially criticism I think is unfair or mean-spirited. But the difference is that my insecurities manifest in self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome. His manifest, as insecurities sometimes do, in lashing out. And we’re now seeing him in full meltdown mode, lashing out at anyone and everyone, threatening violence upon his opponents and completely unable to shut the hell up for ten minutes and let things play out.
During the 2016 election, I and other “Never Trump” conservatives talked about temperament and how much we worried about Trump’s temperament. This is what we were talking about. We haven’t seen Trump in a real crisis before. Actually, to be honest, we still haven’t. This isn’t a crisis, really. It’s a self-made problem that is in its earliest stages and being blown up into a crisis by his infantile reaction to it. The impeachment inquiry has barely begun. It may end up going nowhere. And yet he’s completely melting down, publicly and shockingly.
This is what we meant by temperament. We’ve seen flashes of it before with trade wars ignited by fits of pique and insults hurled against foreign leaders from the comfort of Air Force One. But now we’re seeing how he might react if, say, Putin stabbed him in the back on foreign policy. And the thought of this kind of meltdown happening on a diplomatic stage should be horrifying.
Say what you will about Hillary Clinton — and I’ve said plenty — she would not be melting down under these circumstances. She would be combative. She would be fighting it tooth and nail. She would definitely be saying her opponents were out to get her. But she would not be posting a hundred tweets ranting and raving like an unhinged lunatic, accusing her opponents of treason and threatening a Civil War. That’s why I said, at the time, she was not only the better choice; she was the more conservative one.
I have, to this point, been neutral on the question of impeachment. The Democrats have been wanting to impeach Trump since the election was called in November 2016 but I had yet to be convinced that Trump had done anything worthy of removal. I also thought it an academic exercise, in any case, since it was unlikely that any Republicans would defect to allow it to happen.
But I’m slowly falling off the fence I’ve been straddling for the last few months. The Ukraine thing may or may not be an impeachable offense. As I said, we’re still in the early stage of investigation. But Trump’s behavior over the last few days demonstrates a profound unfitness for office. Maybe…just maybe…it’s time.