Donald Trump is going to be impeached.
It is as certain as the sunrise now. Only three months ago, though, the odds on it were exceedingly, perhaps vanishingly small.
It wasn’t that the subject hadn’t been in the air; it was discussed even before Trump took his oath of office. His unfitness to serve was evident to the party that nominated him. It was clear enough to too many who voted for him, precisely because he was unfit.
Trump’s base had had enough presidents who were fit enough to have transferred trillions of dollars in wealth from the have-nots to the haves in the past several decades. That base wanted to throw a brick through the West Wing windows. Trump advertised himself as such. It would prove enough.
Within a month of his presidency (I’m being generous here), Trump had delivered a boatload of offenses, some obviously impeachable and some so unprecedented they were sheerly jaw-dropping.
From day one, he violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by harnessing the government to his own personal fortune. He lied, preposterously, about the size of his inauguration crowd and offered doctored photographs, easily rebutted, to “prove” his claims. He claimed to have won the popular electoral vote that he’d lost by nearly three million and set up a laughably sham commission to prove that too, at taxpayer expense.
On top of all that, Trump had to fire his National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, for lying about his contacts with Russian agents and for failing to register as a foreign lobbyist. He tried to bribe the man charged with the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the election. Claiming that he could revamp the American medical system in a week, he began a systematic campaign to undermine the Affordable Care Act, a law that he was charged to enforce.
It was all downhill after that.
The Founding Fathers provided a remedy for a demagogue in office, though they called such an individual a tyrant then. They didn’t want it to be lightly applied, though, and so they made the impeachment process a cumbersome one. They also didn’t anticipate a two-party system in which at least partial consent of a president’s own party would be required to remove him from power. So it has taken time to get to the present point. But, why has it taken Ukraine to get us here?
The absurdity over Ukraine is familiar now. On July 25, Trump made a phone call to Ukraine’s newly installed president, a former comedian named Volodymr Zelensky, who is undoubtedly wishing he could get back to his former profession now. Trump asked him to dig up dirt on his presidential rival, Joe Biden. This ask was implied as more of an order, since Ukraine’s regime, installed in 2014 by an American-backed coup, is utterly dependent on Washington for its survival.
This wouldn’t have been a particularly big deal by Trump’s standards. He had openly called on Russia in 2016 to hack into confidential e-mails to undermine his then-opponent, Hillary Clinton. As president, he had only in the previous month stated publicly that he would accept foreign help in the upcoming election. Why, then, shouldn’t he solicit it as he had three years earlier?
Trump felt so sure of his ground that he made his call on an open wire with plenty of his minions listening in and recording. Once a whistleblower turned him in, he saw no harm in obliging Congress with a rough transcript of the call. Asking a friend for a favor he couldn’t refuse — after all, wasn’t this the way business was always done, at least in Mafia-land?
Trump wasn’t the only person who didn’t see impeachment coming. Neither did Nancy Pelosi, who had held off her increasingly rebellious caucus in the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives.
Robert Mueller’s testimony on Russian electoral interference had laid a bomb the day before the Zelensky call, and Congress was headed toward summer recess. When it returned, there would be no impetus for impeachment, and the 2020 political campaign, already in full sway, would swamp any effort at it. As for the whistleblower, his or her allegations could be discredited when the time came. Where was the proof?
And then Trump, clueless about the gun he was putting to his own head, provided it.
Nancy Pelosi, at this point, didn’t have a choice. The front-running presidential campaign favorite of her party, and probably her own one too, was about to be slimed. The foreign policy of the United States was being sold, precisely for $391 million, the amount of military aid Congress had appropriated to Ukraine but which Trump was now sitting on in anticipation of Zelensky’s payoff. To head a stampede in her caucus, she finally consented to an “inquiry” over impeachment in the House.
There was another factor, too, of prime importance. Joe Biden stank to high heaven over Ukraine already. More bad news in that department was the last thing he, and the Democrats themselves, needed.
Ukraine is, to put it politely, a client state of the United States. Nominally independent since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was the prime target of European Union and NATO expansion in Eastern Europe.
At the same time, surrounded on three sides by the Russian Federation and with a sizable Russian population, it dared not alienate Moscow. Ukraine, in short, walked a tightrope. When its president, Viktor Yanukovych, tilted a little too far toward Russia for American tastes, we engineered his overthrow. He was succeeded by a toy manufacturer, the guy before the comedian.
Joe Biden, as Barack Obama’s Vice President, was given Ukraine as a portfolio. His son, Hunter, whose talent for tracking his dad’s placemats would have done a Trump heir proud, joined the board of Ukraine’s natural gas company, Burisma, run by an oligarch with many murky dealings. Hunter had no knowledge of Ukraine or of the natural gas business. He was paid $50,000 a month for his nonservices.
As the media tirelessly reiterates, there is no evidence of legal wrongdoing in the Bidens’ family windfall, or of improper influence exerted by Joe on behalf of Hunter. Does there have to be? It’s a classic sweetheart deal that involved America’s point man in a critical area of American, um, interest. In fact, it was just about the kind of arrangement the Trumps make every day. And Trump didn’t really need any extra dirt. Merely the suggestion that the Bidens were being “investigated” by Ukrainian prosecutors would have hung the ringer around Joe’s neck.
Donald Trump’s impeachment was long overdue, but it had to happen to contain a scandal of the Democrats’ own. Ah, democracy.