Trump, the impeachment trial, and hope for the future

The House Managers have put on a good case in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. An eloquent case.

Unfortunately, the Republican party has been totally cowed and corrupted by our authoritarian Leader, Donald Trump. Republicans control the Senate, with 53 votes. Tragically, not more than two or three appear ready to take a principled stand even on allowing witnesses and additional documentary evidence to be considered, before they “acquit” Trump of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” for which he is charged.

Trump’s defense lawyers have offered an endless stream of bad-faith arguments aimed at sowing confusion and throwing a lifeline to cynical Senators who will vote to acquit Trump, ignoring the evidence that is in front of their eyes.

The arguments these Senators will give to justify their votes–against witnesses and documentary evidence, for acquittal–sound like Fox News talking points. Ignoring the clear evidence. Failing to rebut the factual evidence provided in sworn witness testimony and documents provided by the House.

The Republican Party has become, clearly and beyond the shadow of a doubt, a bad-faith party.

But where does that leave the rest of us, the half of the country which still believes in good faith, truth, and the Rule of Law?

Trump defenders and cultists speak and act as if it is all a big game, as if none of the lies and distortions of the Leader make any difference.

Yet they do make a difference.

Trumpists lay the groundwork for a second term by the authoritarian Leader, who will be beyond the reach of the law or the Constitution if the Republicans retain the Senate or gain the House and he is reelected in November.

How did America come to this point? How can it escape its current path of descent toward authoritarian government?

The answer is not clear.

Democratic leaders should not abandon those who believe in the Constitution and the Rule of Law. After the sham trial and acquittal in the Senate, these believers in the Rule of Law need to have some reasoned grounds for hope, beyond the hopes of Democratic candidates to win their elections.

They need to see defenders of the Constitution and the Rule of Law taking the fight to the Leader and his apologists, every day.

There are two things that the Democrats might do.

First, they can resume House impeachment hearings into the cases of obstruction of justice detailed in the Mueller Report, and other “high crimes and misdemeanors”. They should do so with a view toard piercing Trump’s propaganda bubble, with a steady parade of witnesses and documentary evidence. Every day they should be wielding sledgehammers of truth to chip away at Trump’s propaganda wall.

Second, in connection with continued impeachment hearings, they can assemble a comprehensive yet succinct and persuasive narrative that tells the story of the Leader’s actions to neuter the Constitution and the Rule of Law. This they should do in terms that even the half of the population that supports the Leader can easily understand.

Can they succeed? Can America avoid an authoritarian government where the Leader is above the law, and real Congressional oversight is but a distant memory?

Who knows?

However uncertain the outcome, they–and we–must try. With every sinew of our being. Every day. The stakes are monumental.

For, as Karl Jaspers wrote in 1946,

And yet, we are oppressed by one nightmarish idea: if a dictatorship in Hitler’s style should ever rise, in America, all hope would be lost for ages.

Amid the ruins of his country following World War II, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, in The Question of German Guilt(1947) analyzed in rigorous detail the many evasions and excuses then commonly heard in Germany in response to charges of guilt for what had occurred. Near the end of the book, he also warned,

And yet, we are oppressed by one nightmarish idea: if a dictatorship in Hitler’s style should ever rise, in America, all hope would be lost for ages. We in Germany could be freed from the outside. Once a dictatorship has been established, no liberation from within is possible. Should the Anglo-Saxon world be dictatorially conquered from within, as we were, there would no longer be an outside, nor a liberation. The freedom fought for and won by Western man over hundreds, thousands of years would be a thing of the past. The primitiveness (crudeness) of despotism would reign again, but with all means of technology…

The German fate could provide all others with experience. If only they would understand this experience! We are no inferior race. Everywhere people have similar qualities. Everywhere there are violent, criminal, vitally capable minorities apt to seize the reins if occasion offers, and to proceed with brutality.
–Karl Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt (A.B. Ashton transl.)(New York: Fordam University Press, 2000), p. 93.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” a reader may say.

Yet if half the population has lost its belief in facts and truth, if the Leader is above the law and can act without Congressional oversight, if top government leaders have become subject to the Leader’s will, Jasper’s warning may not be so silly after all.

See Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017). On Truth, Snyder writes the following:

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis on which to do so. If anything is true, the biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
–Chapter 10: Believe in Truth.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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