“A republic, if you can keep it,” that had as its collective genesis those very words spoken by Benjamin Franklin on the steps of the old Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in 1787, is being put to yet another trial by fire, this time in 2019. Once again an American foe emerges not from without but from within, as it did in its very first trial by fire, the American civil war. It was out of the turmoil of that very war from which sprang America’s first impeachment of a sitting American president, Andrew Johnson.
A little over one hundred years later a formal impeachment process against Richard Nixon was initiated on February 6, 1974, and was six months old when Nixon resigned. It was an impeachment in every sense of the word except for a final vote, which would have unquestionably happened and sent the process to trial in the Senate. So if you count that as an impeachment (and I do) and Trump’s ongoing matter as an impeachment (and I do), then of the four impeachments of a sitting American president in US history, including Bill Clinton’s, three of them have happened in my lifetime.
In the world of probability theory that is not as bizarre as it looks on the surface. It could be nothing more than statistical noise. I hope it doesn’t forebode anything significant, such as the moribund health of the American republic. If it does then perhaps we received a glimpse of why on Friday, when the president of the United States threatened a former United States ambassador with death.
If it shocks you that I should say that, it may be because you don’t understand what actually happened. Every time Donald Trump identifies by tweet an individual – or a group of individuals – as someone he dislikes or disdains, he puts their lives in peril. It is not theoretical peril either. People have died, or attempts have been made on people’s lives, because Donald Trump doesn’t like them. Heather Heyer, for example, is dead thanks to Donald Trump. Though Trump didn’t mention Heather by name, a MAGA hat-wearing loony murdered her because she was an acceptable symbol for an enemy of Trump. Several of the recent mass murders committed by assault weapons were committed by Trump devotees. On the same day Donald Trump identified the press as “the enemy of the people” a bomb was mailed to CNN.
Donald Trump’s speech is full of hate and is too often dangerously directed at specific people. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch has every reason to be fearful when Trump aims his toxic words at her, as he did in a tweet he sent out while she was testifying at Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing. Trump’s tweet said:
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
Trump likes to make his dots so large that his metaphorically legally blind followers can connect them. His reasoning goes like this: Somalia is a country in turmoil, right? In fact, it’s probably one of those “shithole” countries Trump has referred to in the past. Marie Yovanovich was its ambassador, right? Therefore Somalia is a shithole because of her. That’s Trump “logic,” and the genuflecting, sycophantic, drooling cretins who follow him have no trouble believing the two are connected.
Trump has plausible deniability, of course. Just as Michael Corleone could plausibly say that he merely nodded to Al Neri at his mother’s funeral, it didn’t mean Neri should take it as Michael’s signal that he was to murder Fredo. But the end result is the same.
The ambassador has reason for concern. Donald Trump is a psychopath with lots of psychopaths in his thrall. A determined nut job with a gun could go after her or her family. Trump knows this perfectly well, and he either doesn’t care or actually hopes it happens. The fact that many Americans missed the deadly intent behind Donald Trump’s words worries me. The fact that many Americans understood it and are glad for it worries me even more.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.