Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.
It’s useless to try not to talk about impeachment. It’s nearly impossible to avoid bringing it up. Running away from impeachment conversations doesn’t mean the conversation in your head will stop. So I’ll join in.
First, the national conversation is about Trump, and that’s not an accident. For a while, we heard and thought and talked about the Democratic candidates for President. They all talked about Trump, but that was only a small part of their message. Trump demands to be the lead in every news report, and now he is and will be for weeks, if not all the way to November 2020. He didn’t impeach himself just to top the news, but it’s a welcome outcome for him.
The impeachment inquiry came about because Trump cannot distinguish between his own personal interests and the interests of the US. He never had a job where he had to think about anything but his own welfare. As a businessman, he was a constant public disservice, forcing people to sue him because he discriminated against black renters, stiffed the construction workers who built his buildings, and cheated the students who enrolled in “Trump University”. His narcissistic personality makes it difficult for him to think about anything but himself in any situation. So it made sense for him to subordinate American foreign policy towards Ukraine, Australia, and China to his worries about his electoral chances against Joe Biden.
His thinking is dominated by certain fixed ideas, which reason, evidence, and argument cannot budge. He enlisted the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General in his pursuit of a Ukraine conspiracy theory, which hardly anyone has heard of outside of radical right media, because it has no substance. Thomas Bossert, Trump’s first homeland security adviser, told him it was nonsense, but no person or group of persons can talk him out of these obsessions. Long after it was definitively proven that Obama was born in Hawaii, Trump continued to say he believed in his own lies.
The obsessions are about his exaggerated beliefs in his success and refusal to believe in any failure. He can’t stand the fact that he lost the popular vote to Clinton by 3 million votes. So he embraces one explanation after another, not based on anything more than his wishful thinking – first millions of undocumented people illegally voted for Clinton, now Ukraine plus the “deep state” secretly helped Clinton’s campaign and tried to pretend that Russia was helping Trump.
His political opinions are not convictions but malleable positions, depending on his interests and the moment. He has no fundamental beliefs except himself. That is evident from his changing positions on abortion, Democrats, and gay rights. Who jumps to the opposite side on every major issue of political culture?
He has no empathy or respect for people outside of his family. His family might be able to impress him with reasoned criticism, but they don’t because they are like him, putting self before any principle. More than any other group of people, their future is tied to his success or failure.
The American President presents the dangerous combination of absolute confidence that he is always right and always knows best, and a brain filled with nonsensical ideas. He commits impeachable offenses every day.
I don’t think that impeachment will get Trump out of the White House. There are not 20 Republican Senators who have the courage and patriotism to enforce the national interest when it might mean they lose an election. They share Trump’s ranking of their own political fortunes over any constitutional duty.
I think what matters is whether some Republicans in the House vote to impeach and some Republicans in the Senate vote to convict. In recent days, the first Republican dissenters have spoken out, led by Mitt Romney. Thus far, Senators Romney, Ben Sasse, and Susan Collins have openly criticized Trump. Republicans Will Hurd from Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Mark Amodei of Nevada in the House have expressed support for investigating Trump, but are still wary of impeachment. Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle says that “two dozen” of his Republican colleagues in the House are deeply concerned about Trump’s impeachable actions, although few have said anything. The defections from Trump worship may bring out others. This is history, and what each Republican politician does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say, will define their legacies.
Unless more Republicans than the few so far show that they believe that he is a menace to our country, the impeachment inquiry will have little effect on the 2020 election. And that is the vote that matters.