One of the useful consequences of having two Senators per state in a nation that has fifty states is it makes the statistics absurdly easy to calculate. Since 57 Senators found Donald Trump guilty of incitement of insurrection that meant 57% of the “World’s greatest deliberative body” found him guilty — and 43% did not.
As it turns out, that’s roughly reflective of the attitude of the country. A January Monmouth survey found that 56 percent of Americans wanted Trump convicted. So one might conclude that yesterday, on balance, the Senate more or less accurately reflected the mood of the country in its vote in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. That’s not always a good thing, and in this case it’s definitely not. Clearly, the country is deranged.
If you think this is something new think again. Americans have been misled by demagogues before. The 1950s were only a month old when the junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, excoriated the State Department by proclaiming that 205 of its employees were registered communists. McCarthy rode a high tide of public paranoia for the next four years. His star began to fade when, like Trump, he went too far. The “Army-McCarthy hearings” were the beginning of the end for Joe McCarthy, who was famously asked, by an exasperated lawyer, if he had no sense of decency. The final verdict of a not-so-credulous, weary public was that he did not.
But it took time, and vestigial defenders of what came to be known as “McCarthyism” persisted for decades, and included conservative luminaries such as William F. Buckley and political opportunists like Richard M. Nixon. McCarthyism didn’t become an anathema cautionary tale overnight. History took many years to kill him off.
This is a lesson that’s easy to forget in our exasperation to see a quick death to Trumpism. You cannot change seventy million minds overnight. It takes time. But don’t worry, history is going to be every bit as savage to Donald Trump as it was to Joseph McCarthy. Like McCarthy, Trump is a little man, and he will have no staying power.
Meanwhile the Republican senators (and other politicians) who still cling to Trump and Trumpism do so for one cynical, principal reason. Donald Trump comes equipped with a built in consolation prize of seventy million voters that’s available to anyone brazen enough to grab them. That’s a huge block of constituents with which to kickstart a presidential bid if not a bid for re-election, and many Republican senators and politicians are interested in one, if not both, of those things.
But it’s a dangerous political calculation to make, and it’s based in part on Trump’s past luck. Trump survived Comey and Mueller and his first and second impeachments. True, he lost the election, but some of the more gullible among them secretly if not publicly console themselves with the delusion that the election was stolen.
Whatever their root motivation, politicians who choose to remain on Trump’s side won’t change their minds any time soon. We know this because if, in the impeachment trial, a perfectly awful defense in a pathetic reply to a stunningly brilliant prosecution didn’t change their minds, nothing will. There does not exist a combination of words in English that will get them to repudiate Trump because they know (or at least believe) a repudiation of Trump would spell the end of their political careers.
We will win in the end. But no one can say how long it will take for that end to come. Many things can happen in the coming months and years and they seem at once likely and impossible. Will Donald Trump go to prison? It seems both impossible that he won’t and impossible that he will. A former president has never gone to jail, even though some deserved to. But none have ever deserved to go to jail as much as Trump.
If it’s any consolation, during my activism against the rapist monster Bill Cosby, many fellow-travellers assured me that he would never go to prison. They asserted it with a kind of weary condescension at my thick-headed hope that he would go to prison. Well, he’s in prison now as I write these words. So don’t you lose hope. Trump very well may face the same destiny. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.