Since the news of both the House’s impeachment proceedings and the depths of the President’s abuses of power was revealed last week, I’ve seen the same scene play out on social media, in the breakroom at work, and on the phone with my friends. It goes a little something like this:
Person 1: “Oh my gosh, did you hear about the Ukraine scandal?”
Person 2: “Yeah, it looks really bad. <Insert facts from the case here.>”
Person 3: “Yeah, but it won’t matter.”
Person 1, 2, or 3: “You’re right. The Senate won’t remove him from office and his supporters won’t abandon him. None of this will matter anyway.”
It’s understandable that some people think this way; after all, we’ve just spent the past several years led by a man who admitted to sexual assault on tape, called Nazis “very fine people,” nominated a man accused of sexual assault to the Supreme Court and endorsed a pedophile for Senate, openly adores dictators, pardoned an actual monster, and locks kids in cages. And, y’know, he’s still in office, and his supporters still love him.
But regardless, this scandal does “matter,” and I’d love it if you’d stop saying it doesn’t.
For one thing, it’s just patently untrue that the Senate will protect the President no matter what. In 1974, when Richard Nixon faced impeachment hearings for the Watergate scandal, the Senate was Democratic-controlled, but not by a ton; the chamber’s breakdown was 56-42, and Senators at the time told Nixon that only a maximum of 15 Republican Senators were willing to acquit him. That means that 27 Republican Senators would have voted to remove the Republican President from office.
I can practically hear some of you screaming about modern partisanship and how 1974 was a different time than 2019, so I also want to remind you that we’ve already forced Republicans to bow to public pressure since Trump’s election. Senators, regardless of partisanship, want to win elections more than anything. If they do things that make them look bad to their constituents, they won’t be re-elected.
Hey, remember the summer and fall of 2017? When millions of constituents spoke out against the repeal of the ACA? And three Republican Senators voted against the repeal bill? Remember how that bill failed? It failed because it was unpopular, and Republicans Senators didn’t want to take responsibility for that. Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, and they still couldn’t pass a bill that was their signature political promise for at least 6 years prior, because people got pissed.
Now, think about this: 23 Republican Senators are up for re-election in 2020. These include Senators in pretty tight or potentially difficult re-election races, including Martha McSally, Cory Gardner, David Purdue, Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, John Cornyn, and Susan Collins, as well as majority leader Mitch McConnell himself. A number of vulnerable Republican Senators are also running in 2022 and starting to think about re-election right now, including Marco Rubio, Lisa Murkowski, Richard Burr, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, and Ron Johnson. We need 18 Republican Senators to vote for conviction.
It is difficult to imagine Republican Senators voting against Trump when Trump is popular, or even just popular with Republicans writ large. It is not at all difficult, however, for me to imagine Republican Senators turning on Trump as soon as he becomes a political liability, especially since everyone in the Senate but Lindsay Graham seems to have a deep distaste for Trump on a personal level. If voters think Trump needs to go, so will Senators, because as much as many of them will put party before country, most of them will definitely put personal job security above party. And while we have no idea how the public will react to this scandal over the long haul, early polling seems to indicate that the public might move further toward impeachment. For the first time today, polling showed a majority of Americans backing an impeachment inquiry into the President. And this is really only data from right on the cusp on the scandal—it’s possible that as the scandal drags on and the news of Trump’s corruption reaches more and more of the public, backing Trump will become less and less politically tenable to Senate Republicans.
Which is where we come in as voters and as citizens. By repeating “none of this matters,” we set that exact expectation in the minds of people who might not be as interested in or attuned to politics as you are. Remember, if you’re reading this piece, you’re already more involved in American political life than at least 70% of the country. Impeachment is by definition a political process, and most of politics comes down to facts and narrative. If the predominant narrative of this scandal becomes “this doesn’t matter,” then it won’t matter. Political narrative is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we tell people it doesn’t matter because Republicans won’t convict, then people will believe that it doesn’t matter, and won’t bother getting riled up about it.
When you read the whistleblower complaint and the Ukraine call memo, the facts are clear and plain: the President used nearly $400 million in taxpayer money to bribe and extort a foreign leader into creating a scandal to hamper the President’s potential political rival. Then the President tried to cover it up. If this isn’t “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” then nothing is. This is it. This is literally the whole reason impeachment exists.
This matters. It matters morally and ethically, and it matters factually. It will traumatize yet another generation in the same way Boomers were traumatized by Watergate. The President of the United States is a danger to himself and to the rest of the country. But it also matters electorally and politically, and it matters to Trump’s continued occupation of the White House and to his re-election campaign next year. It has the potential to be the thing that finally—FINALLY—brings down this awful presidency.
And what you say about it matters, too.
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