When Representative Al Green’s Trump impeachment resolution was tabled by the House yesterday, coverage of the incident focused on the fact that more Democrats (95) had voted for it than on Green’s past efforts. It was brushed aside, though, because (depending on how you look at it) Democrats weren’t ready to move in that direction or will never be ready, unless something really new about Trump pops up. I understand — and to a considerable extent share — Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to stake the entire 2020 election on a dumpster dive into the details of the Mueller investigation and incidents of presidential obstruction of justice. And it wasn’t surprising that many House Democrats who are at least open to impeachment might want to wait until next week’s Mueller testimony before reaching any conclusions on the path ahead.
But then I read Green’s resolution, and its single article of impeachment, and discovered it’s not about obstruction of justice or collusion with Russia or violation of the emoluments clause or contempt for the rule of law or any of the other long list of particulars we’ve heard so much about as possible grounds for putting the 45th president in the dock, literally or figuratively. No, it’s about the latest and clearest evidence that Trump is a disgusting bigot:
The House of Representatives on July 16, 2019 strongly condemned President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimatized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants and those who may look to the president like immigrants, should go back to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as invaders. And by saying that members of Congress who are immigrants or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants, do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.
In all of this, the aforementioned Donald John Trump has by his statement, brought the high office of the President of the United States in contempt, ridiculed, disgraced and disrepute, has sown seeds of discord among the people of the United States, has demonstrated that he is unfit to be president and has betrayed his trust as President of the United States to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. And has committed a high misdemeanor in office.
No need to grill Robert Mueller, or to battle with the Justice Department for documents, or to bone up on constitutional or criminal law, to put forward that proposition, is there? If there was any doubt of the president’s willingness to espouse, endorse, and campaign upon the deliberate encouragement of racial resentments, he has removed it this week. So from that perspective, Green’s resolution was not a moment premature, but instead perfectly timed.
Unlike an impeachment resolution focused on the murky doings of Trump and his campaign and his staff and assorted sordid associates in days long past, Green’s would not risk being a distraction from the case against the president’s reelection that Democrats will inevitably make anyway. How can you possibly tell Americans why they should deny this man a second term in office without confronting his evil nature, his malignant character, and his relentless efforts to divide the country and heap contempt on the most vulnerable (or as Trump would call them, the losers) among us? How can it fail to “normalize” his behavior if his critics once again protest for a day or two and then change the subject to health care or the minimum wage or Iran or who said what to whom as Mueller’s hounds lurked nearby?
Yes, I know there are actual bigots out there who love Trump for his hate-filled tweets and rants but who might yet be persuaded to vote against him if they are shown he has broken his lying promises to them or that he’s up to his neck in alligators even as he pretends to “drain the swamp.” But we should realize this week, if not before, that none of these efforts to surgically detach Trump voters from him with tweezers and rubbing alcohol are going to work. The president will always drag political discourse right down into the gutter with him, because it’s what he does best. It’s how he beat Hillary Clinton, and it’s how he intends to slither across the finish line again in 2020. Of course, Democrats need to promote their own agenda and provide the clearest possible alternative path ahead for the country. But at the same time, they have to make it unmistakably clear that all these things we tend to slough off as Trump’s “style” and “M.O.” and “tactics” — the rotten racist core of his message and its fascistic trappings as well — are unacceptable as a matter of principle and patriotism. Otherwise Trump — and if not Trump, certainly Trumpism — wins.
A doomed impeachment effort (doomed by a Republican Party with leaders who are privately horrified by Trump, even as they publicly rationalize his pathologies and flatter his limitless vanity) may still not be the right course of action for Democrats. But one way or another, focusing on his unchanging character is a surer path ahead than perpetually hoping that the next rock overturned — whether it’s the Mueller report, or the census litigation, or the Epstein prosecution — will finally reveal the unimpeachable truth about Donald Trump. We already know the most dangerous things he’s done to respect for decency, for honesty, and for each other as human beings. We already know he’s corrupted one of our two major political parties with the powerful drug of white nationalism, and seduced millions of earnest conservative Christians into abandoning love for anger and the Golden Rule for guns and cages. If this is to blame the symptom rather than the cause, so be it: Whatever devilish moral virus Trump represents, it must be confronted. Al Green offered one way to do that, and a majority of House Democrats declined it. Let’s hope they haven’t simply grown numb.