This post is part of our “Destruction of Democracy” series, where our authors bemoan the state of our politics and its implications for the health of our Republic.
If you live inside the Beltway Bubble, you would think that the world revolved around President Trump, the Mueller Report, and the possibility of impeachment. It is all the political class and media seem to want to talk about. Existential rhetoric has been invoked involving “rule of law,” “Constitutional fealty,” and even the “preservation of our democratic institutions.” Make no mistake. This fight is and always has been politics at its worst.
Democrats, for starters, have shown their insistence to continue down a path of disruption, denial, and destruction. They refuse to concede that the Mueller Report did not find criminal conspiracy or coordination (colloquially referred to as “collusion”) between the Trump campaign and Russia. While a few suspicious attempts to engage Russian sources did occur by the Trump campaign, they were ultimately unsuccessful and fall short of criminal wrongdoing. Having lost the “collusion” argument, Democrats are now rallying behind the potential obstruction of justice allegations outlined in the Mueller Report. While obstruction of justice can still be criminal without an underlying crime, neutral observers may start to see some merit in the term “witch hunt” if Democrats continue to attempt to take down President Trump by any means necessary—Mueller Report, subpoenas, tax returns, marital scandals, etc.
The ultimate goal for Democrats, presumably, is to impeach President Trump despite the fact that the American public does not support impeachment. With a Republican-controlled Senate, the President would never be convicted and impeachment would merely be symbolic. As well as pyrrhic. Because the more the Democratic political class focuses on impeachment, the less they focus on the kitchen table issues that actually matter to voters: the economy, healthcare, education, national security, and retirement. According to a recent CNN poll, exactly zero respondents said that the Mueller probe was the most important issue related to their 2020 vote. Congresspersons frequently state that they can investigate and legislate at the same time but even casual observers of Congress will note that Congress can barely legislate as it is. Congress should listen to the 60+% of the American people wanting them to move on.
Meanwhile, Republicans remain just as obstinate. Despite attempts to discredit the investigation, the Mueller Report was not a witch hunt. The investigation documented several attempts by members of the Trump Campaign—George Papadopoulos, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn specifically—to obtain information on their opponent from a foreign adversary, including criminally hacked information. While the jury is still out, so to speak, on obstruction of justice, it appears that the Special Counsel did not make a recommendation to charge the President because (1) there was no underlying crime, (2) the Office of Legal Counsel does not allow the indictment of a sitting President, and, most damningly, (3) Trump’s subordinates refused to follow his orders which, had they, may have amounted to obstruction of justice. This is not vindication. It is condemnation. Legal questions aside, many details in the report, though below the threshold of criminal behavior, are certainly an indictment of the President’s fitness for office. The Mueller Report depicts a President who believes that he and his administration are above the law and who puts pettiness and selfishness before the needs of the American people. Many Republicans disapprove of Trump’s behavior and policies behind closed doors but do not have the political courage to stand up and say something. History will not look back on them fondly.
One must ask, for all the fighting, for every bit of “breaking news”, and for every piece of “game-chaning evidence,” what has changed? A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that 65% of Clinton voters believe that the Mueller Report shows “Trump is unfit to be president” while 73% of Trump voters believe the Report “does not reveal anything damaging”; 86% of Clinton voters believe Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation and 85% of Trump voters think he did not; and 69% of Clinton voters believe that Trump should be impeached while 91% of Trump voters think that he should not. As with most things in politics these days, where you sit is where you stand. We shouldn’t be surprised. Indeed, before the Mueller Report even came out, 72% of respondents said that the Mueller Report would be unlikely to make them re-think their beliefs. At least the American people will at least admit their intransigence.
All in all, the American people are exhausted with partisanship, pettiness, and impeachment—71% of the public believes that Congress will “bicker and oppose one another” in 2019 as opposed to work together. And while the many houses of Washington battle in the Game of Thrones, Winter is coming. There are immense, and in some cases, existential problems that the United States is facing. The Opiod Crisis is ravaging 130 lives per day. Our immigration court backlog that surpasses one million cases. The federal deficit surpassing one trillion dollars. A rising China that threatens the United States economically, technologically, and militarily. These problems, and many more like them, merit a united country’s undivided attention. Impeachment is a distraction. One that risks the destruction of our democracy.