The racially-inspired venom that existed in America after the election of Barack Obama was dumbfounding to British observers. The most extreme example I know of personally was from a British psychologist friend of mine who routinely went back to visit relations in Washington state. (This was in the presumably more benign “west of the mountains,” not “east of the mountains.”) She reported among her conservative friends and relatives a level of animosity toward the President that she had never encountered before, and was able to recollect and compare and contrast it with their far milder dislike of Bill Clinton.
Her professional opinion was that their extreme animosity could not be explained by political ideology alone and had the unmistakable overtones of virulent racism. I had a hard time believing it at the time, particularly as I went to grade school in Tacoma and my memory of Washingtonians was that they were rational and politically above average in their sensibilities. But then, I had been living in England since the first term of the George W. Bush administration and had no firsthand recent knowledge of how truly repellent the American landscape had become, racially speaking.
All that has changed since 2016, of course, and I have been violently though reluctantly disabused of my naïveté. I now see daily examples of how the Right, particularly the Religious Right, has been willingly self-deceived into a downward spiral of hatred. My introduction to Barack Obama had been while living among the English who largely adored him, so this new hatred was a shock.
The marvelous tenure of political sanity that was Barack Obama’s serves as a useful foil for the current one. I know people are tired of the “imagine if Obama did what Trump was doing” sort of construction, but I find it useful. I know that had Obama behaved like Trump, even a little, I would have turned my back on him too.
So comparing Republican ungenerous pettifoggery toward Obama with their lavishly laissez faire indulgence of Donald Trump is both instructive and galling. The most masterful recent example of this was achieved by Adam Schiff. When at the impeachment trial we were reminded of Obama’s open mic gaffe while speaking privately with Dmitry Medvedev to talk to him after the election about missile security when he would have “more flexibility,” Republicans tried to convince us that Obama was abusing power much as Trump was when speaking with Zelinsky. Adam Schiff begged to differ.
In his brilliant rebuttal, Schiff said, “Let’s use that analogy and let’s make it more comparable to today and see how you feel about this scenario. President Obama on an open mic says to Medvedev, ‘Hey Medvedev, I know you don’t want me to send this military money to Ukraine ‘cause they’re fighting and killing your people. I want you to do me a favor though. I want you to do an investigation of Mitt Romney. And I want you to announce you’ve found dirt on Mitt Romney. And if you’re willing to do that, quid pro quo, I won’t give Ukraine the money they need to fight you in the front line.’ Do any of us have any question that Barack Obama would be impeached for that kind of misconduct?” I for one have no doubt of it. And I’m sure I can hear it in my head as clearly as you can hear it in yours – the shrill, indignant outrage of Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, et. al..
Schiff continued, “… And to say, ‘well, yes, we condition aid all the time,’ for legitimate reasons, yes! For legitimate reasons you might say to a governor of a state, ‘hey, governor of a state, you should be shipping more toward your own disaster relief.’ But if a president’s real motive, in depriving a state of disaster relief, is because that governor won’t get his attorney general to investigate his political rival, are we ready to say that the president can sacrifice the interests of the people of that state, or in the case of Medvedev the people of our country, because all quid pro quos are fine? … Because if we are, the next president of the United States can ask for an investigation of you.” Republicans must have some queasy notion that this Frankenstein’s monster they are trying to create will one day return to menace them.
Schiff continues, “They can ask for help in the next election from any foreign power. And the argument will be made, ‘note [that] Donald Trump was acquitted for doing exactly the same thing therefore it must not be impeachable.’ Now, bear in mind that efforts to cheat in an election are always going to be in proximity to an election! And if you say you cannot hold a president accountable in an election year where they are trying to cheat in that election then you are giving them carte blanche.” It is useful to point out to all those pearl-clutching Republicans that the very first impeachment was held in 1868 during – you guessed it – an election year!
The mighty Adam Schiff concludes, “So not all quid pros are the same, some are legitimate and some are corrupt and you don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which. For one thing, you can ask John Bolton.”