Democrats blow huge opportunity at impeachment trial, losing 57-43. But work must continue to tear down Trump’s propaganda wall.


Mike DeBonis and Tom Hamburger, “Late-night talks and a moment of chaos: Inside the Democrats’ eleventh-hour decision to forgo impeachment witnesses,” Washington Post, February 13, 2021 (4:07 p.m. EST).

After brilliantly prosecuting the case against Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial, and winning a vote to allow the calling of witnesses, the Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of possibility Saturday afternoon, falling for a defense ploy that destroyed their chances of putting on witnesses, winning the trial by a larger margin in the court of public opinion, and potentially even putting the vote to convict into play.

They became very confused just after winning their vote to call witnesses.  The defense offered to enter a stipulation, to enter into evidence an affidavit by the witness the Democrats wanted to call, in exchange for giving up the victory they had just won in the vote to call witnesses.  Forgetting that the most important court was the court of public opinion, they fell for the ploy.

What was certain when they made this decision was that they would fail to gain the two-thirds vote needed to convict Trump.

What was uncertain was how the twists and turns of a trial with witnesses might open up new opportunities to win the public over.

They were obviouly divided over whether or not to call witnesses. They were reportedly unprepared to call further witnesses, and were following a game plan before Friday night that did not involve witnesses.

A number of Senators were ready to go home for a week in their home districts.   And there was no nimble, clear-eyed strategist among them who could take firm control of their boat in stormy, uncharted waters, and steer them safely to their destination.

So, they followed their original plan. They traded certain defeat and the opportunity to go home for Valentine’s Day and a week of working from their districts for a major chance to shake up the whole trial in a way that might have enabled them to achieve larger goals.

Above all, they fell into a pattern of hurried and scatter-shot decision-making which prevented them from carefully considering their new options.

The result was a disaster, a fact which will be increasingly appreciated in the coming months and years.

The main mistake they made was that they lost sight of who their main audience should have been.

Since the Spring of 2019, they have failed to understand that the greatest threat facing the country has been the phantasmagorical world Donald Trump and many others have created, a world of big lies, massive propaganda, and enormous delusions.  It is a world in which perhaps 35% of the population live, an alternative universe where truth is not recognized or valued, and whose fascist inhabitants are increasingly willing to use violence, and even kill people, to impose their and their Leader’s will.

The great political challenge we all now face is to find a way to dismantle Trump’s propaganda bubble and alternative universe, so that rational people, no longer fearful of fascist mobs and voters, can participate in a politics of reason.

The advantage of a broad impeachment inquiry in 2019 would have been that it might have served as a huge educational project in which daily hammers of truth might have chipped away at Trump’s propaganda wall of lies and distortions.   Such an inquiry might have helped to break Trump’s hold on the minds of his cult-like followers, and also on the minds of Republican politicians ruled by fear.

The Democrats didn’t get it.  

Instead they went for Nancy Pelosi’s ploy of impeaching Trump on two narrow grounds related to the Ukraine affaire, sending articles of impeachment to the Senate for a removal trial they knew beforehand they could not win. This maneuver helped Pelosi resist demands to conduct a broad impeachment inquiry into Trump’s crimes and abuses of power.

On February 13, 2021, the Democrats made a similar mistake. Viewing their goal solely in terms of convicting Trump, they lost sight of the broader challenge America faces and the opportunity they had just created to call witnesses and to demolish, in front of a national television audience, the last remnants of Trump’s wall of lies and delusions, puncturing the propaganda bubble that feeds and sustains him.

The arguments that were heard yesterday, such as Senators were ready to vote and wanted to get home for Valentine’s Day, or Republican Senators were ready to vote and if the proceedings were delayed for witness testimony, the Democrats might lose a couple of Republican votes for conviction, sound ludicrous today, and will be ridiculed by future historians.

“You threw away your chance to transform the trial through witness testimony, when the future of the Republic was at stake, so Senators could get home for Valentine’s Day?”  “You blew this opportunity because you were afraid you’d lose a couple of Republican votes for conviction as Senators were restless and wanted to go home?”

History will be a merciless judge.

Yet let us not lose sight of great success of the House Impeachment Managers in presenting a compelling case. Let us also not lose sight of the fascist challenge that America faces, and the hard work that remains to be done to overcome it.

Building on the brilliant presentation of the evidence by the House Impeachment Managers, Democrats and all American (small “d”) democrats must now turn their attention to the project of civic education and de-programing of Trump’s cult followers.

Important components of this project will be establishing a 9/11 style commission tasked with investigating Trump’s crimes and abuses of power, including his attempted coup d’état which culminated in the Capitol Insurrection on January 6, 2021.

It is important, however, that the inquiry not be limited to the January 6 Capitol Insurrection, or even the attempted coup d’état whose origins probably go back at least to June, 2020. It is also important to show Trump’s four-year pattern of obstruction of justice, including the very actionable cases set forth in great detail in the Mueller Report.

Intimidation of witnesses and subornation of perjury were part and parcel of Trump’s modus operandi throughout his four years in office. It is important that the commission investigate these facts, and leave no doubt as to their occurrence.

A second key component will be the prosecution of Trump and his co-conspirators for the many crimes he and they committed during what was, in effect, a four-year crime spree.

Because Trump’s fascist supporters continue to threaten and use violence against legislators and officials who oppose the Leader’s will, so that they not only fear political consequences but also physical harm to themselves and their families, it is critically important that all those who make such threats or commit such actions be prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. Such prosecutions will have an important deterrent effect.

In pursuit of the broader educational project, Democrats and all democratic Americans will need to wield their hammers and jackhammers of truth in tearing down Trump’s wall of lies and deceptions, just like the the East Germans tore down the Berlin Wall in November, 1989. Those Republicans of principle who remain must join with Democrats in demanding, like Ronald Reagan did to Mikhail Gorbachev,


The Trenchant Observer