This is definitely the moment when the passing of John McCain is becoming a matter of national and even global tragedy.
Whatever the political reasoning may have been to shy back from launching full-scale impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, the latest incriminating allegations against him ought to alter that calculus.
Does “high crimes” still have ANY meaning?
If the words “high crimes and misdemeanors” enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are supposed to have any meaning and any relevance at all, then Trump’s attempt to influence the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son meets them in full.
For a sitting U.S. President to make a Congressionally mandated transfer of defense funds conditional upon that foreign leader aiding and abetting Mr. Trump in the dark underbelly of his 2020 campaign is truly the most serious violation of the President’s oath of office.
And this means the time for initiating impeachment proceedings is now.
Why the Dems have hesitated on impeachment
The hesitation of the Democratic Party leadership to firmly move in that direction over the Russia allegations is well-known. But irrespective of the debates among Democrats over which course to pursue, the politics of impeachment are such that the incriminating evidence, no matter how clear cut, doesn’t even matter.
Given the Republicans’ total blockade in the U.S. Senate – and, yes, their total subservience to a known con man – the Democrats cannot successfully move the needle toward getting rid of this President.
They realize that if they initiated impeachment inquiries in the House, they would actually increase the likelihood of impeachment going nowhere. House Democrats would be looked at as wasting the nation’s time and money. Another “do-nothing” Congress, in other words.
The John McCain moment
And that means in practice that the country can only cleanse itself if the Republicans reconsider their blockade. And for that to happen, it sometimes takes just one brave individual to step forward to call on all the others to do the obvious — the right thing. Once he or she has made their case, others will follow.
The late Arizona Senator would have likely taken that step. That is why John McCain is all the more sorely missed now.
Looking for “A Few Good (Wo)men” among Republicans
Movie-oriented as U.S. culture is to this day, it is important to recall the 1992 movie A Few Good Men in this context. Tom Cruise plays Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a military lawyer, who is reluctantly defending two marines accused of murder in a court martial trial.
As we learn later, these marines had been instructed by their commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Colonel Nathan Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) to impose “extrajudicial punishment” on their dead fellow Marine.
Although a U.S. facility, the camp is located on the island of Cuba, i.e., in what is hostile territory for the U.S. military, with the attendant pressures of operating in such an environment.
Can Republicans handle the truth?
Lt. Kaffee, young and lazy, rather wants to negotiate a plea bargain for the accused than go to trial, but they repel his attempts. As the trial proceeds, Kaffee begins to realize the darkness that lies behind this crime.
In a heated testimony by Colonel Jessup, Kaffee ultimately tricks the commanding officer into admitting that he indeed gave the orders that led to the murder of the Marine. Jessup is consequently arrested.
In the contemporary context, the decisive moment of the movie occurs when Cruise demands the truth from Nicholson and Nicholson both cockily and indignantly replies “You can’t handle the truth!”
The current affair around President Trump and his alleged efforts to extort the Ukrainian President very much raises the question of whether the Republicans can handle the truth.
Whatever Hunter Biden’s merits or demerits, for any U.S. President to pressure a foreign government to investigate a family member of a possible Democratic nominee for the presidency on corruption charges is a step too far.
This is where John McCain and the question raised in the movie “A Few Good Men” comes in. Are there any good Republican men and women left in the U.S. Senate who can handle the truth?
Trump’s shredding of the U.S. constitutional make-up
By any measure, Trump’s presidency – if for nothing else than his extreme politicization of the entire U.S. judicial apparatus and his systematic effort to make any notion of checks and balances ultimately meaningless – does not just put the values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution at risk. These values are being shredded.
The much bigger question is what price Congress is willing to pay by not removing the President. In that context, it is critical that enough Republican Senators step forward and show that “they can handle the truth.”
Precisely because the U.S. Constitution has made the removal of a sitting U.S. President from office a profoundly political process, no matter how clear-cut the criminal and legal dimension of the case may be, the Hunter Biden affair is the moment of truth for the entire Republican Party.
The party is being handed a golden opportunity to rid itself of the specter of Donald Trump.
Everything is a political calculation
The structure of impeachment is such that, with its hurdle of two-thirds of the members of the U.S. Senate voting in favor of removal from office, it requires the consent of more than just the members of the majority party.
Impeachment is fundamentally a matter of peer pressure in view of crass violations of the political code of conduct.
Therefore, what happens to Trump now boils down to the political calculations made by Republicans. On the one hand, they are in so deep with Trump that they simply may not be prepared to jump ship, even if it is sinking.
On the other hand, politicians are politicians. And that means that, irrespective of their full-mouthed pronouncements of support until this very moment, they can jump ship in no time when they see their own political fortunes at risk.
What thus determines impeachment or not is whether the Republicans believe that Trump will win in 2020. The odds for that are getting longer.
Switching presidential horses?
While it is fair to argue that the Republican Party had lost its soul long before Trump even appeared on the radar, it is time for the party to wake up.
And even though the time for switching presidential horses is desperately short, if they don’t act in time, the Republicans’ failure to act may indeed sideline them as the minority party for a long time to come.
While removing Trump from office is still a long shot, the growing evidence against the President and his sheer limitless appetite for abusing the power of his office and violating his oath of office could well lead to rapidly plummeting poll numbers.
This is bound to have significant “down-ticket” effects, meaning that enough Republicans Senators and members of the House of Representatives would have to fear for their own re-election chances.
It has been noted often enough that America’s demographics no longer favor the continuation of the “white men rule” practice. Realizing that, and acting upon it, is precisely the challenge the Republican Party faces right now. It desperately needs a Lieutenant Kaffee moment.