A year ago, it hardly seemed possible that the country could become more polarised. Then came impeachment. Today, it is as if Americans are on two separate ships, facing each other across a harbour with all cannons firing, cheering when an opponent falls overboard.
To Democrats, the Trump presidency is sheer madness. To Trump supporters, that outsider’s “madness” was required to blow up Washington and deliver results.
Impeachment isn’t likely to accomplish much but driving the two sides farther apart. But perhaps, as the process unfolds, we should at least try to understand the motives of the other side.
With that in mind, let me try to explain the world view of Republicans like me when it comes to Trump’s impeachment. For starters, we aren’t being wilfully blind. We’re not liars or hypocrites. We haven’t abandoned our ethical standards. We do, however, have concerns about what’s driving this impeachment and whether the proposed punishment fits the alleged infraction.
Operating in bad faith
Republicans believe Democrats are operating in bad faith, because impeachment has been their goal since before the president was sworn in. It doesn’t help when a Democratic member of Congress is selling “impeach the [expletive]” T-shirts on her website, or that Nancy Pelosi had special “impeachment pens” made to sign the documents and hand out to her colleagues.
Republicans believe Democrats simply never got over losing the 2016 election and have been casting about since then frantically, desperately for a way to make it all go away as soon as possible. Hence the obsession with Russia (he couldn’t win without their help, you know), and now the obsession with Ukraine (he can’t win again without Ukraine’s help on Joe Biden, you know).
Impeachment will come and go over the next few weeks, and I am sure some as-yet-unknown revelations will deepen our national disagreement along the way. But no matter what side you are on impeach or not take heart: America’s Founders, in all their wisdom, gave us regularly scheduled ways to resolve our differences
And, I hate to break it to you, but Adam Schiff was the wrong person to lead this inquiry. After his disgraceful media performances in the Mueller period, I can’t think of anyone less credible to a Republican than Schiff.
Another issue is the Ukraine matter itself and how to remedy it. Republicans have varying views. Some don’t think Trump’s actions are a big deal, while others have serious concerns about the president’s judgement, actions and choice of close associates.
But no matter where you fall on that spectrum I find the phone call itself less than compelling, but believe deputising Rudy Giuliani was galactically bad judgement the question is: What’s the remedy? Democrats gave Republicans only two choices: throw the president out of office or do nothing.
Nullifying an election
Pelosi’s binary choice locked out any chance of a Republican joining Democrats’ partisan crusade to hold the president accountable. Even Republicans who are disturbed by the Ukraine issue don’t think it rises to the level of nullifying an election.
In addition, many Republicans believe Democrats have chosen to simply dismiss facts that are inconvenient. There is no doubt, for example, that Biden apparently ignored conflict-of-interest warnings from the Obama State Department about Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company.
It was poor judgement all the way around from the Biden family, so much so that Joe Biden has been forced to say it won’t happen again should he win the White House. Republicans wonder why Trump is being punished for raising legitimate questions about what the Bidens themselves admit was “poor judgement.”
And then there’s the matter of the Ukrainian aid. Republicans perceive Democrats as simply ignoring the long history of administrations using aid to reward or punish foreign governments for their actions. Why is Trump, they wonder, being held to higher standards than Biden himself, who bragged about withholding aid from the Ukrainians in exchange for their firing a prosecutor who had been investigating the company his son was working for?
And don’t get us started on Democratic attacks that Trump is acting like a rogue president by gasp asserting executive privilege and resisting congressional oversight. He learnt it from Obama. Who learnt it from Bush. Who learnt it from Clinton. And on and on.
Given all these things, Republicans wonder why we can’t just settle everything in the upcoming election. You want a remedy? Let’s vote! If Americans believe the president’s actions should be punished with removal from office, they’ll soon get their chance.
Split down the middle
For Congress to throw out a president would be unprecedented, of course, since America has literally never done it. Do we really want the first time to be on an issue that has split the country down the middle, with a House impeachment vote driven by only one party?
The Democratic retort is that Trump is a clear and present danger to the republic and must be removed immediately, an answer blown to smithereens by Pelosi’s head-scratching decision to withhold the articles for several weeks.
Impeachment will come and go over the next few weeks, and I am sure some as-yet-unknown revelations will deepen our national disagreement along the way. But no matter what side you are on impeach or not take heart: America’s Founders, in all their wisdom, gave us regularly scheduled ways to resolve our differences. Even disputes like this one.
Scott Jennings is former adviser to President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell