|SAMUEL CORUM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES|
Whether Donald Trump goes bye-bye after an impeachment trial in the Senate, which remains extremely unlikely, or after the 2020 election, which is extremely likely, we can credit an individual the president called "a really good man and a great American," who then proceeded to blow the doors off the White House.
Looking back on two weeks of marathon public testimony before House impeachment investigators there may never have been a public figure who was so bad but did so much good as Gordon Sondland.
This bullet-headed naïf bought the EU ambassadorship, for which he was utterly unprepared, with a $1 million contribution to Trump's inaugural festivities. Sondland may have been the last guy in the room to get a joke -- Hey, Burisma is code for Biden, Gordy -- but he was in the right rooms at the right times and pounded the last nail in Trump's coffin in confirming that in a stunning abuse of power, the president of the United States was directing a rogue operation to extort dirt on a 2020 opponent from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in return for nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid to fight Trump's favorite despot and a coveted visit to the Oval Office.
"We followed the president's orders," Sondland said in dismantling one of the top talking points incessantly flogged by Trump's apologistas. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
If character is destiny, then America was bound to find itself at this crossroad as the third year of the most corrupt and evil presidency in history tweets to a conclusion.
Even Trump's Republican congressional sycophants, in their pathetically flailing efforts to defend the indefensible, understand that he is deeply damaged goods, but they'll stick with him until the bitter end. To do otherwise would be to invite revenge, be it primary election challenges next spring or more subtle reprisals.
Still, there is much to feel good about amidst so much awfulness.
Sondland could have taken the Fifth. The career publics servants (Trump sneeringly calls them "bureaucrats") who preceded and followed him could have obeyed the president's orders to not comply with congressional subpoenas but believed the country they quietly and patriotically serve is much more important than knuckling under to a mob boss and instead delivered withering rebukes.
"I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and a moral obligation to provide it," said Fiona Hill, who like all of the officials who spoke testified under oath. While all of the officials who Republicans tried to lead us to believe would exonerate the president refused to testify. (Memo to Mike Pompeo: Your political career is over.)
Adam Schiff and his fellow Democrats conducted impeachment hearings with a gravitas befitting so serious a process, their dignity and seriousness of purpose juxtaposed by the absurd arguments of Trump's defenders. And they nailed Trump in only a few weeks, while it took Robert Mueller two years to produce a big something or other.
Many Americans were paying attention. No matter where you went, you could not escape images of the hearings flickering on televisions. How many viewers came away newly convinced of Trump's unfitness for office and will vote for the Democratic presidential nominee no matter who she is?
And the wannabe Democratic nominees, debating just hours after Sondland's star turn, put aside their internecine bickering and let Trump have it with both barrels. Senator Amy Klobuchar, in a subtle nod to Hill and Marie Yovanovich, scoffed at the notion that a woman can't beat Trump, saying "Nancy Pelosi does it every single day."
|SAMUEL CORUM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES|
But back to the awful stuff.
Trump is still president even if the drip-drip-drip of disclosures are deeply incriminating.
As in Russia being involved in a yearslong campaign to blame Ukraine for its own 2016 election interference, which plays astutely into one of the more outrageous defenses propagated by Representative Devin Nunes and other right-wing conspiracy theory freaks. As in Nunes secretly meeting with indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas in Vienna to dig up dirt on the Bidens. As in Giuliani, who as the president's personal lawyer-fixer ran the extortion scheme on the ground in Washington and Kiev, now being the subject of three federal investigations.
Brett Stephens, a conservative New York Times columnist, opposed impeachment two months ago but is now all in for removing the president.
He concludes that for all the talk of corruption in Ukraine, because of Trump we've been living in a country undergoing "its own dismal process" of Ukrainianization:
[O]f treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as 'human scum'; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends -- and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal. This is more than a high crime. It's a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.Trump's criminality notwithstanding, it is possible that not one oath-violating Republican, pretty much all of whom have become not just accomplices but Russian stooges in their cult-like fealty to the Chosen One, will vote to convict him after a circus-like Senate trial at which Joe and Hunter Biden could be called as defense witnesses. And make no mistake, America, the biggest beneficiary of the legislative and domestic dysfunction that Trump has sown is his favorite autocrat -- Vladimir Putin.
So if Trump's defenders can't be shamed into accepting what the impeachment hearings have revealed and continue to buy into what Hill called "politically driven falsehoods," perhaps it's time to drop any pretense of winning them over.
This has prompted Greg Sargent at The Washington Post to propose that Democrats begin treating the president's defenders as criminal accomplices who are actively engaged in keeping the president's corruption from getting fully uncovered, let alone judged fairly as jurors at a Senate trial.
A great if ultimately impractical idea, but there even is a silver lining here as well. That is because in November 2020 Trump will be taking down with him many a Republican who couldn't be shamed but can be defeated, marking the beginning of the end of our long national nightmare.