The impending impeachment of Donald Trump will be a rebuke, but it will not be a restraint.
Indeed, if the Senate votes to acquit Trump, as it is expected to do, the precedent will be set, and the die will be cast: A president can do almost anything to win re-election. And he can do anything at all to avoid accountability.
This is the new America, one in which all the old rules have been wiped away, one in which corruption is tolerated, one in which truth is denigrated, one in which tyrants are venerated.
It is tempting to think of this moment, this presidency, as a blip or an anomaly, as a horrible mistake the country made and will soon redress. But, I think that take is ill considered and overly optimistic.
What has happened in America under Trump is a tectonic shift that is generating an unthinkable realignment. Trump has poked and prodded the limits of acceptability, and he has found them to be not fixed, but flexible. He has continuously stretched the range of acceptable behavior. In fact, a post-impeachment Trump, punished but still in power, is likely to be even more emboldened and unbound.
At the same time, the American people have had their own sense of what is acceptable stretched and reset. The unthinkable seems to be happening daily. Television news is an unending string of “breaking news” banners. Investigations and exposés by the press may dazzle and awe, but the moments they produce are mere blips. Keeping track of all the corruption and grift is exhausting, and maybe that’s the point.
Trump and his administration have so overwhelmed the country with successive outrages that it all begins to flatten out, to smooth out, to become a kind of toxic new normal.
To be clear, not everyone sees what Trump is doing as outrageous. The country now exists in two worlds on the issue of truth and facts. One acknowledges some basic truths; the other is untethered from them.
Part of this is driven by Trump himself, his incessant lying, his propagating of conspiracy theories and his leveling of false charges. But it is also driven by conservative media, much of which exists in a symbiotic interrelationship with Trump.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found that 53 percent of Americans approved of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, but that approval varied wildly depending on the sources of media that were consumed. As the polls found:
“That included 72 percent who said they regularly consume MSNBC or CNN, 69 percent who consume liberal news, 59 percent who watch broadcast media, and 57 percent who get their news from social media. But it was a different story among those who consume conservative news (33 percent approval) and those who watch Fox News (30 percent).”
There is some tribalism being manifested in these findings, to be sure, but they also are a result of intentional disinformation.
When the truth itself is under attack and millions of Americans blithely accept anti-truth propaganda, those of disrepute and those of foul motive learn that dishonesty is a viable position — and possibly a winning strategy. That is terrifying, but that is where we are.
And, there is absolutely no guarantee that this episode in the country’s history will end or fade in 2020.
There is a good deal of hand-wringing in liberal circles over whether Trump will be defeated or re-elected in November. I am wise enough not to venture a prediction, but I will say that with the information Robert Mueller uncovered, an impeachment acquittal in the Senate and Trump’s clear desire to exploit every opportunity and advantage, foreign interference in our election will essentially be ordained.
And that says nothing of voter suppression and the role social media plays in forming people’s opinions.
Our elections have never truly been a reflection of the will of the people; they have been, rather, a reflection of the will of the states. That is why we can have presidents who lose the popular vote but win the presidency.
This situation gets worse when some of the states disenfranchise voters, in particular, those who would vote for the opponents of the politicians in power.
It also gets worse when the very notion of one’s “will” is being influenced and manipulated without the person’s full awareness of it.
Is your position on an issue your own? Or were you purposefully led to the conclusion you drew after being targeted and influenced by shady operators?
In many ways, our current acrimony has been engineered. The people honoring and defending the truth have been recast by Trump and his cronies as bitter rage-aholics who will stop at nothing to damage Trump because they loathe both him and the people who support him.
And the sense that Trump opponents despise Trump supporters helps breed an equal and opposite Trump devotion.
Trump is leaving an indelible mark on this country, regardless of what happens in November. He has shattered convention and protocol, and they can’t be repaired. Trump will leave in his wake a weaker country — with his sensibilities seared into it.
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