When in the course of engaging the enemy – and by “enemy” I refer to the worldwide confederation of bigots and fascists – it is sometimes necessary to concede a smaller point to make a larger one. For example, in a recent piece I compared Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings, vote and trial in the Senate, to a commonplace criminal prosecution. Of course it isn’t that at all and it was only used for the sake of analogy. While it may have been a useful analogy, an impeachment is in fact more along the lines of an employment tribunal, where it is being adjudicated whether or not a particular employee’s conduct merits dismissal. If the employee has been found to be embezzling funds from the company, say, then an ordinary criminal prosecution may follow his or her termination. If the employee was merely incompetent, or rude to customers, subsequent criminal prosecution would play no part. In either case, it’s up to the tribunal to decide whether or not said employee is fit to continue working for the company, and the tribunal’s decision is (presumably) made in the best interest of fellow workers, the good of the shareholders and the overall health of the company.
Again, the concession I made in the service of the major point was comparing impeachment to a criminal prosecution. Whenever such concessions are made it is always a good idea to do a little housekeeping and make sure everyone understands that they are analogies only and we are not trying to make them get up and walk around on all fours. Otherwise the concession will mysteriously become part of the narrative and will, sooner or later, be used against us as a distraction. In fact, such distractions have already been made.
Indeed, the fact that the original whistleblower’s identity has been kept secret has been deliberately conflated by dishonest Trump apologists with the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That clause provides that, “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” But again, impeachment is not a criminal prosecution (“But, but, you just said it was!”) and we should continue to make that very clear. In fact, the whistleblower’s identity is protected by law and that should be the end of it. Of course, the dishonest and dishonorable lawyers suggesting otherwise know that perfectly well. They aren’t speaking to us when they make their underhanded point, they are speaking to Donald Trump and his base.
Another concession we keep making concerns quid pro quo. Because there was an unequivocal quid pro quo between Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine (and I’m not about to jump through any hoops to justify something as obvious as that) we have been taught to think that quid pro quo is everything, that it is the lynchpin upon which everything hangs. That is, all the Republicans have to do is disprove quid pro quo, or at least cast doubt on it, and the entire case against Donald Trump collapses. That is simply not the case. By merely asking President Zelensky to investigate his political rival, Donald Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Quid pro quo need not play a part.
What makes it far worse than that is it wasn’t merely a case of quid pro quo. It was extortion. Donald Trump was effectively employing the force of the threat of withheld funds for the protection of Ukraine against Russian armed aggression at their border if Zelensky refused to cooperate. That is the textbook definition of extortion, and extortion is bribery with a threat. The Constitution is very specific on the subject of bribery: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But, just as we allowed the narrative to be hijacked during the Mueller investigation by allowing the word “conspiracy” to be substituted by the word “collusion,” we are allowing “extortion” to be substituted by “quid pro quo.” We need to stop allowing that, even in the service of a larger point.
The phone call, or series of phone calls, between Donald Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, has been repeatedly characterized by Donald Trump as “beautiful.” It wasn’t beautiful, it was ugly. It was the hideous work typical of a bully, a psychopath, a cheater, a self-admitted sexual assailant, a man so insecure that he has to rig everything he does just to win, by cheating contractors out of their money, golf opponents out of their game, women out of their dignity and Americans of out their democracy. The impeachment of Donald Trump is the righteous imperative of a righteous people, and never for one minute permit the quibblers, nitpickers, dissemblers or prevaricators to distract us from our morally imperative course.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.