Like Saratoga in 1777 or Gettysburg in 1863, the Donald Trump impeachment is shaping up to be a decisive battle. In this case, the conflict isn’t the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. It’s the early 21st century Information War. Will the facts and the evidence prevail, or will they vanish into the gale-force storm of dust, fog, lies and distraction that the president’s allies are kicking up?
To insist there is no problem, as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and many others do, is to deny reality to a degree matched only by the commander in chief. It is gaslighting on a national scale — the epitome of disrespect for America, its people and its Constitution.
The closed-door impeachment testimony released so far is a little shop of horrors, except it’s the size of a department store. Every revelation is a nightmare. A president likely cultivated for years as a Russian asset? Check. Death threats? Check. Amateur hour? Check. A “mishmash of conspiracy theories”? Check. Anti-Semitism? Check. Fake news? Check. And those are all from one witness, former National Security Council Senior Director Fiona Hill.
Sorry, apologists, Trump was involved
Let’s dispatch with the supposed noninvolvement of the president. He himself released the call transcript in which Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned military aid appropriated by Congress and Trump immediately responded with his infamous “I would like you to do us a favor though." Then the president asked for investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden (potential 2020 rival) and the supposed Ukraine role in the 2016 election (debunked conspiracy theory that, if true, would have been good for Russia).
If Trump's own words aren't enough, take it from his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani ("I don’t do anything that involves my client without speaking with my client"). Or witnesses George Kent and Catherine Croft, who testified that on a July 18 call, an Office of Management and Budget employee said the hold on the military aid came from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney “at the direction of the president.” Or acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor's account of the same call ("the directive had come from the president").
Senate Republicans may not recognize this quite yet, but House Democrats are handing them a prime opportunity to divorce themselves, if not their party, from this man. And they’ll have an excellent argument that it won’t amount to overturning the results of the 2016 election.
No self-respecting Democratic coup leaders would put Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office. There would be no slowing of conservative judicial nominees with Pence in charge (although perhaps he would at least pass over the ones the American Bar Association deems “not qualified”), no letup in plans to cut taxes for the wealthy. There would be continued attempts to outlaw abortion and support for “religious freedom” that elevates some people's rights over others.
Trump die-hards are a minority
No, this would not be a Democratic coup. It would, however, seem like that to die-hard disrupters who not only wouldn’t care if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, they might admire him more. The whole point is to get away with something, whether it’s self-dealing on a major international conference at his own Florida resort or running a shadow foreign policy that withholds military aid and White House meetings if a new Ukrainian president, under siege from Russia, does not meet Trump's requests for political investigations that would help no one but Trump.
Impeachment intimidation: Trump's tools include a weaponized Twitter feed and die-hard fans who get the 'code'
A recent Monmouth University poll found there is nothing Trump could do to turn off 62% of his supporters. But that is 62% of 43% — which amounts to only about 27%. If this poll approximates the country even roughly, millions of Trump voters could be open to new information.
These are not the disrupters who want to trigger the libs. Maybe they thought Trump wouldn’t really be cruel to immigrants, or would only deport “bad hombres.” Maybe they believed him when he promised health “insurance for everybody” and said “everybody’s going to be taken care of much better" than they are now, for much less money (instead of, you know, trying to kill the health care law that guarantees insurance is available for people with preexisting conditions).
Maybe they are disturbed that he is destroying overseas markets for farmers, sinking us ever deeper into debt, failing to save the coal industry, failing to keep auto plants and other manufacturing alive, and failing "Dreamers" — the young immigrants brought here illegally as kids and whom he once said he loved and would “show great heart” toward.
The ultimate test for Democrats
In other words, breaking the promises that made him seem like a plausible choice.
Democrats aren’t known for presenting great theater, as they have shown all too well in hearings they’ve held on Trump’s corruption and abuses of power, including the Mueller report. In House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, they have a former prosecutor who dealt with Russian spy craft before coming to Congress. He knows how to build a case. But the Republicans on the committee have made clear their focus will be deflecting, attacking and provoking.
Editorial Board: Don't reveal the whistleblower on Donald Trump's phone call
Will these autumn hearings devolve into a chaotic circus or emerge as pivotal? The latter is not out of the question. All of us will finally be able to hear, see and evaluate some of the many national security and diplomatic professionals appalled and worried by what they have seen. It is the Democrats’ last best chance to get through to busy Americans and convince most of them that they are hearing the facts and the truth.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment hearings will make public case that Trump abused his power