These are somber times, indeed. We all know, and knew even from the outset, the conclusion that the impeachment trial would bring. Make no mistake — acquittal of the president.
It’s not that the Republican members of the Senate haven’t known, as well as Democrats, precisely what the president did with the Ukraine, and why he did it. And it’s not as if the Republicans who present as so loyal to the president lionize him for the man he is, and the sometimes disturbing conduct in which he so eagerly engages.
How could they? How could, for example, senators whom he has so zealously humiliated over the last few years have supported him despite what he has said of or done to them – Graham, Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Romney? Is it that they’re laudably forgiving individuals willing to say and believe: “Well, that’s just his personality. He doesn’t mean it, and I don’t take it personally.”
Or has something altogether different propelled them to back him until the last dog dies? Isn’t it that they’re simply afraid, not just about future recriminations from him (that are inevitable, if they stray), but what each’s individual constituency will think and do when election time rolls around for them?
One may ask why their constituents expect them to acquit, but the “why” is actually pretty simple. The president, despite the unpleasantness and the downright foul things that come out of his mouth and notwithstanding that the Republican constituencies wouldn’t want him as a role model for their children, or grandchildren or fellow churchgoers, has tapped into their side of the culture war that now divides America at its fault line. That is, the culture war that began when President Obama and his team “took over” America: by “overregulating”, by according women rights over their own bodies, by giving too much encouragement to the underclass and by trying to give the “brown people” meaningful equality in America.
And for some, it might be different. Whether Christian Evangelicals or American Jews who are Zionists, or for those who see Israel as the bastion of hope and refuge (if need be), in an era that sees increased anti-Semitism, the president’s strong support for Israel, whether sincere or cynical, causes them, particularly in the Orthodox community, to support the president in spite of what he otherwise does or says. And it truly doesn’t matter what!
So, the Republican senators, who themselves need these votes, and members of Congress who voted against impeachment, will have voted reflexively for Trump, even though most of them probably can’t stomach him personally and many likely despise some of his policies, such as they are. But yet they willing to lay down their own principles and expectations of what a president should be.
And whether the pro-Trumpers want Trump himself, or simply someone who can be as successful as he has been in degrading the “leftist” Democrat party – and no one seems more equipped than he – the Republican “man (and woman) on the street” have talked themselves into a willingness to trade the integrity and dignity of the presidency for a man (sadly, for some) capable of winning the battle for the soul of America.
Yes, Trump seems to have the unique ability to cause their defeat at the ballot box. But why? Because each fears— Romney is the best example with five years left in his current term — that his or her constituents truly want what Trump puts out so effectively. Not only the laws and regulation issues, but the open hostility he demonstrates to the democratic (small “d”) principles that the nation stands for: checks and balances, judiciary independence, government regulation, equal protection for everyone. These senators fear defeat by the masses if they appear to be unwilling to go along — on behalf of the people — with the assault on what has been the status quo in America probably since Ronald Reagan left office. And if these senators vote against Trump or say the “wrong thing” on a telecast, Trump will demean them publicly and mercilessly to their constituents as unwilling to support the change Trump, and Trump alone (at least according to him), can bring.
At the trial, the House managers have spoken sometimes eloquently about America and what it stands for. But they have omitted, for understandable reasons lest they appear to be actually attacking the “judges” themselves in the impeachment trial, these words uttered by Alexis de Tocqueville nearly two hundred years ago:
No man can struggle with advantage against the spirit of his age and country, and however powerful a man may be, it is hard to make his contemporaries share feelings and ideas which run counter to the general run of their hopes and desires.
(Democracy In America, 1835)
One expects that if De Tocqueville were around today studying America, he would conclude that Trump excels, as he does, only because this president is the leader of a band whose audience has been waiting for him to come along and lead that band in precisely the way Trump does. They are his “willing” population. The cacophony of the performance and the discordant notes often played don’t matter, as long as the bandleader, in reversal of the (for them, aberrant) bandleader who came before him, directs the band to play the music in precisely the manner his audience — call it, his “base” — truly wants.
President Trump, his baton in hand, knows his audience well. And he knows precisely the music they want.