Impeachment hearings: Trump Ukraine scandal isn’t just another partisan dispute

The Editorial Board, USA TODAY

In physics, the speed of light is supposed to be a constant. Math has the ratio known as pi, as well as a number of other constants. Politics has, as its constant, President Donald Trump’s approval rating.

It has been lodged between 41% and 43% for nearly two years in the FiveThirtyEight adjusted average. The only real exception came during the government shutdown at the beginning of this year, when the rating broke out to the downside for a month. As of Tuesday, Trump's approval was 41.3%.

This consistency — unique in the presidential polling — has many political pros characterizing the impeachment hearings, so riveting within the confines of the Beltway, as inconsequential.

Don't dismiss impeachment inquiry

The temptation might be to dismiss an impeachment process when Senate Republicans have already signaled that they are unlikely to convict Trump even if the president's impeached by the House.

And for millions of Americans not particularly tuned in to Washington and who take their cues from pocketbook issues closer to home, the temptation might also be to see the inquiry — like the endless partisan wrangling over Benghazi, Libya, during the Obama administration — as just another dispute between Republicans and Democrats.

It is not. There is nothing remotely normal or proper about the way Trump has conducted business since the outset of his presidency. On occasion after occasion he has endeavored to turn important bulwarks of democracy —  prosecutors, the judiciary and the Federal Reserve, to name a few — into obedient servants of his political interests.

Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, testify on Nov. 19, 2019.

FREEDOMWORKS: Democrats have weaponized the impeachment hearings 

Nowhere has he done this with more malice than in the Ukraine scandal. The testimony so far, including Tuesday's from a decorated Army lieutenant colonel, supports the thesis that Trump's goal was to co-opt America’s national security apparatus to pressure a foreign head of state to do him a personal favor.

Abuse of power

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have begun to refer to this as bribery. Perhaps a better word is extortion. Trump threatened to withhold a face-to-face meeting and much-needed military aid if Ukraine’s president did not give him political investigations he wanted, including one into potential 2020 rival Joe Biden.

This is not something that can be shrugged off as merely inappropriate, even if the aid was eventually released after a whistleblower's complaint made its way to Congress.

This is a major abuse of power and a threat to democratic governance. Its closest parallel is Watergate, only with the president personally directing the break-in rather than merely trying to cover it up.

Those who don’t stand up to these abuses will be judged by voters and by history, and not in flattering ways.

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.


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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment: Trump Ukraine scandal isn’t just another partisan dispute