It is easy, and not entirely inaccurate, to describe the US has a deeply polarized country and to argue that the impeachment hearings demonstrate this as the Democrats and Republicans in the relevant congressional committees have such radically different understandings of the events in question. This explanation is insufficient because it glosses over the critical reality of the state of American politics as demonstrated during the impeachment hearings. The issue is not so much one of political polarization but that the Republicans in Congress, reflecting the position they share with the White House and the right wing media and punditry, are deeply committed to constructing and inhabiting a fantasy world built on a foundation of deliberate lies and held together with support from the Kremlin and almost solely dedicated to keeping Donald Trump, and those around him, in power and out of prison.
A Congress that was simply politically polarized would still differ on whether or not Donald Trump should be impeached, but the argument would be different. The Democrats, in that environment, would do largely what they are doing now, establish the facts of the scandal and argue that what Trump did was sufficiently egregious to merit impeachment. The Republican defense of the President would be quite different. They would largely concede the facts, while disputing some of the details. However, they would build their defense by claiming that that we cannot fully know what Trump’s motives were and that while Trump made a mistake it was not quite an impeachable offense. Texas Republican Will Hurd took this position during the Intelligence Committee hearings in November, but he has been the only Republican to base his defense of Trump around this argument.
The Democrats, in that environment, would do largely what they are doing now, establish the facts of the scandal and argue that what Trump did was sufficiently egregious to merit impeachment
The rest of the Republicans centered their opposition to impeachment around two issues. First, they have claimed that the process itself is unfair. This tactic has included endless and gratuitous attacks on Committee Chairs Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler for things like how they have conducted the hearings and in Schiff’s case, not revealing the name of the whistleblower. The Republicans have also consistently complained that they have not had sufficient access to information and have not been able to call witnesses. These are fascinating arguments because they reveal just how craven the GOP has become. The Republicans have been allowed to call witnesses both in the closed and the public hearings, including Kurt Volker whose testimony in the public hearing was not exactly helpful to Trump. The Republicans larger point is laughable because, as Representative Greg Stanton, Democrat of Arizona demonstrated so well in the Judiciary Committee hearing on December 9th, the reason the Republicans don’t have their witnesses or information is because Donald Trump has not allowed them the access.
The Republican defense of Donald Trump has also expanded to include two ideas that go well beyond dishonest partisan politics and reflect the increasing influence of the Kremlin on the Republican Party. First, as the impeachment inquiries have continued, the President’s defenders have increased their commitment to the idea that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who hacked our election. They typically cite an opinion piece written during the 2016 campaign by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the US, Valeriy Chaly, expressing his concerns about Trump, as well as the widely held belief among Ukrainians in 2016 that a Trump presidency would be bad for their country. The former may have reflected poor judgment on the part of Ambassador Chaly, but hardly amounts to interfering in our election in a way that is remotely comparable to what Russia did in 2016, while the latter is simply irrelevant. Moreover, the claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election is not just a lie, but it is exactly what Russia has said and wants us to believe. Thus, when Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana or others appear on television asserting that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, they are not only lying, but, conscientiously or not, doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding.
Republican behavior feels like the plot of a bad science fiction book where the Kremlin put some kind of mind control drug in the water in Republican districts
The second absurd and helpful to Russia argument the Republicans are making is that Joseph Biden was the one who was acting in a corrupt manner when he urged the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in 2016. We saw this view expressed by Doug Collins the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee as he questioned Stephen Goldman on December 9th. Collins argued that in demanding that Shokin be fired before releasing US assistance to Ukraine, Biden was the one who was trading foreign assistance for political favors. It is possible that Collins is stupid enough to believe his own argument, but I am not convinced. The more likely case is that Collins was deliberately twisting the facts to craft an alternate reality that protected Donald Trump and, not coincidentally, supported Russia’s on corruption in Ukraine. Unless Collins is incapable of memory or connected thought, he knows that Biden was implementing US government policy, backed by both parties in Congress, when he demanded the firing of Shokin. Collins also knows that firing was not done to prevent Burisma from being investigated. Nonetheless, for Doug Collins and the rest of the GOP the edifice of lies they have constructed has become an end in itself, one which they are happy to protect by parroting lines from Moscow.
Republican behavior feels like the plot of a bad science fiction book where the Kremlin put some kind of mind control drug in the water in Republican districts or where hypnosis of the kind seen the Manchurian Candidate somehow works on the crowds at Trump’s strongman rallies. Unfortunately, this is the new American reality one for which the media, analysts and punditry with their commitment to telling both sides of every story, expressing concern about polarization and suggesting false equivalencies between the positions of the two parties is now woefully inadequate.
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