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Truth and Dare: 2020 and the Impeachment of Trump

Charles R. Stith

Since Trump wrote his six-page screed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I have been thinking about an appropriately strong response, so I decided to write to Tom Perez, who is in charge of the Democratic National Committee, with the hope that he will express my outrage.

Dear Tom,

With the impeachment vote, the 2020 campaign is now in full swing. Trump and his minions are already beginning to frame the narrative for the election and Democrats can’t wait until there is a nominee to respond. So, Democratic Party leaders need to do battle.

The first task is to counter the Republican talking point that the Democrats have been trying to impeach Donald Trump since day one of his presidency. The reality is, Donald Trump has been daring Congress to impeach him since his first day in office. It started when he appointed Michael Flynn as his national security advisor despite having been briefed by President Obama that Flynn was under investigation for the very crimes to which he later confessed. Any normal person would have taken those warnings to heart. For Trump they were just another stop sign to be ignored. This was a lawless presidency coming out of the box.

Beyond that, each and every lie that was told about his advisors’, appointees’, and campaign’s contacts with Russians during the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election was a dare to impeach. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and subsequent meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister to assure him that there should be less pressure from the Russia investigation now that Comey was gone, could have been an impeachable moment. That was a bold and reckless move.

Up until Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Zelensky was exposed, Speaker Pelosi used great discretion to forestall Trump’s impeachment.  She had demurred despite a growing consensus within her caucus that Trump deserved to be impeached because of the pattern of lawlessness demonstrated by him and his administration. Only because of Trump’s scheme to pressure the Ukrainian president to contrive a smear campaign against Biden and absolve the Russians of any blame in undermining the 2016 election, did we discover that Trump had crossed a bridge too far. To make matters worse, we found out that the call was made the day after Mueller had testified: “if I could exonerate President Trump of colluding with the Russians in 2016, I would.” Mueller confirmed Russia’s intrusion in the 2016 election and he identified that as an existential threat to our democracy. Instead of being chastened or humbled by Mueller’s testimony, Donald Trump felt emboldened and called the Ukrainian President to ask him to get involved in the 2020 election. Trump was guilty of sinning boldly! This telephone call was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and forced Pelosi’s hand on impeachment.

The charge that the impeachment is based on hearsay evidence lacks merit.  Trump’s Chief of Staff Michael Mulvaney openly admitted “Yes, there was a quid pro quo, we do it all the time. Get over it.” We also heard Trump’s intermediary on Ukraine, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, say, “There was a quid pro quo, and everyone was in the loop.” These confessions were definitely cause for impeachment.

Mr. Perez, Democrats must make these four points again and again and again. A summary of this argument must shape the narrative for the next election if Democrats are going to defeat Trump and his acolytes in the Senate. Even before the Senate’s sham of a trial, Democrats should start running commercials in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Then  start running the same commercial in every state where there is a winnable Senate seat. If the Republican Senate is buying Trump’s brand of Republicanism, by God, make them own it.

While I’m talking about commercials to shape the narrative of the next election, let me add that you might want to consider one that lists all of the bills the House has passed that now languish on the desk of Moscow Mitch McConnell. Highlight the ones being held hostage that could really benefit the average American, like the bill raising the minimum wage or the one reducing the cost of prescription drugs. You could also highlight the passage of bills to require universal background checks to purchase a gun or the recalcitrance in taking up the Violence Against Women Act. Also, run a commercial capturing Christianity Today’s rebuke of Trump in the Bible Belt.

We can’t allow Trump to ride rough shod over the constitution, which he will continue to do. If we allow him and his enablers to win the next election, then, to borrow a Biblical dictum,  “the sins of the fathers [and mothers] will be visited upon our children.”

Charles Stith served as ambassador to Tanzania and serves as chairman of the African Presidential Leadership Center, a Johannesburg-based NGO focused on leadership development and tracking economic and political trends in Africa.

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