Impeachment is finally upon us. From scandal to scandal, the country has been waiting to see when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would pull the trigger, and the moment has finally arrived — an inquiry has been opened in the aftermath of the Ukraine whistleblower debacle. But again, President Donald Trump is arming himself with his greatest political weapon: his ability to trivialize chaos.
Impeachment is a political rarity. Trump’s would be only the third instance, Richard Nixon notwithstanding (he was never formally impeached, resigning before articles were brought to the House). It’s a stain on a politician’s legacy, demarcating tension and disconnect between Congress and the person facing the charges. The main concern of whomever is faced with impeachment is often to maintain positive public opinion and confidence regardless of the turmoil, the most well-known example being Nixon’s infamous “I am not a crook” speech. Trump has proven himself a master of media manipulation and controlling public perception, whether it be by calling out ”fake news” or characterizing the investigation into his possible collusion with Russia in election interference as a “witch hunt.” Now, the appeals to the base are already in motion as Trump attempts to reclaim the word impeachment and use it against his political rivals. The goal of this is clear: to make impeachment seem less like the rare and extreme measure it is and more like a commonplace political tool to remove the opposition.
This intention has been made clear this week in Trump’s spats with congresspeople, both Democrat and Republican. Last Sunday, Trump called for both Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to be impeached, claiming that Schiff has been lying about him throughout this scandal and that Pelosi is acting as an enabler, both of them committing treason in the process. Similarly, Trump called for the impeachment of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) after he came out as unsupportive of Trump’s conduct with Ukraine. Nevermind that senators cannot be impeached — that’s not Trump’s plan. Making these claims against various political opponents is a psychological tactic to expose the general public to the term as often as possible to dilute its negative connotation. If minor transgressions or speaking out against the president become impeachable offenses, then it creates the perception that the proceedings are not the bombshell they’re made out to be. And this is exactly what Trump wants.
This is not the rhetoric of democracy. The danger lies in how easily dismissed this type of rhetoric is nowadays — as if everyone collectively says, “That’s so Trump!” when he attacks his opponents. The leader of a democratic nation is calling for his political dissenters to be removed from office, an action antithetical to the nature of democracy. Trump has shown with his castigation of Romney that he is even lower than putting party over country; he is such an opportunist that he can’t muster even that much loyalty. If Republicans finally realize that he is not the face of the party, but solely the face of his own brand, impeachment might have a better chance of passing than once thought.
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