The current impeachment inquiry is the third in my lifetime. There have only been four attempts at impeachment of a president in the history of the United States. None have been successful [Nixon resigned before the impeachment resolution went to the floor of the house]. The betting is that this one won't be, either, but of course you never know.
The charges likely to be included in any House resolution to impeach Trump are being laid out day-by-day, pretty much as follows:
- Abuse of power -- impeachable, not criminal
- Bribery -- of Zelensky/Ukraine; impeachable, criminal
- Intimidation of witnesses -- impeachable, may be criminal
- Suborning perjury -- impeachable, criminal
- Defying Congressional subpoenas -- impeachable, may be criminal
- Probably violations of emoluments clauses -- this might be a throwaway
- Misprision of felony -- impeachable, criminal
And so on. The charge-list could get quite long indeed. But there is no likelihood, whatever Trump does, that a Republican-controlled Senate would vote to convict and remove him from office. At least not now.
It's possible that not even a Democratic controlled Senate would do so.
Here's the problem as I see it:
Trump has been allowed to get away with just about anything he wants to do during his tenure in office -- just like he's largely been allowed to do whatever he wants throughout his life. He's a terrible person and a rotten president, but.... he gets away with it, just like he always has.
As president, he's changing the presidency and the nature of the federal government. He's making the presidency over into a highly authoritarian position (it's always had such elements) in command of not just the government, but of the nation as a whole. In other words, the point is to make the president a ruler rather than a servant of the people. Opposition to be crushed rather than co-opted or negotiated with.
In this remodeling of the presidency by Trump, the president is to have full and personal control of the federal government independent of any advisors, systems, precedent, Congress, or the courts. S/he will personally direct and control every aspect of the federal government (something no individual human being can do, but that's beside the point). The president becomes a de-facto emperor. Something that again is inherent in the position, but which until recently has been suppressed in action.
These are among many aspects of systemic changes we're seeing in real time under Trump's presidency, and they will become precedent for future presidents. Trump may be a bad emperor -- oh yes -- but what he's being allowed to do can lead (in time, if we're very, very good) to a Good Emperor. But Emperor it will be, good, bad or indifferent.
I came to this conclusion while watching part of the Yovanovich testimony yesterday. What it boiled down to was a question of whether the president has the power and authority to emplace anyone he wants in an ambassadorship (yes), and whether it is appropriate for a president to engage in the smearing of an ambassador in the process of having her removed (could be.)
In this case, the ambassador is the avatar of any federal officer, the smear is the symbolic means of removal/replacement that could affect anyone in federal service. We've seen examples in the past (Shirley Sherrod comes to mind, but there have been many others, especially since the 2000 election.)
But now it seems the smear-and-removal will be codified.
These are big changes to what the presidency is, not so much what it could be, and I predict they will be permanent. Trump can go or stay, it really doesn't matter. The governing system is what is being overhauled-- mostly without the knowledge or consent of the governed -- and there will be no going back. Impeachment may just fade entirely from the conception of checks and balances. After all, the consistent argument during the Trump reign is that ONLY impeachment can be used to control the actions of the president, and if impeachment fails to remove him (likely), there's no remedy under the constitution or law. That's it, he gets away with it.
Ambassador Yovanovich was quite eloquent in defending norm, process, propriety, etc., but I don't see a future in which those things are considered necessities for governing. Indeed, just the opposite may become normalized. The reasons are simple enough. We're entering into a rough transition period in which the consequences of climate change and decades of neoliberalism become one continuous crisis. There's really no escape at this point. Past norms and processes will have to be jettisoned in order to deal with the inevitable crises, or the permanent crisis. No way around it. Trump is crude and awful, but he's doing what the ruling class believes is necessary to cope with the transition and beyond. That's why he's been protected and allowed to get away with so much harm.
Better it should happen now. So that we can become accustomed to it. It's only going to get worse for most of us.
Trump won't be in the Big Chair forever. And whoever comes after him -- whenever that happens -- will almost immediately be considered a "savior". Because he or she won't be as terrible a person nor as incompetent and chaotic a ruler.
But Ruler/Emperor the follow-on president will be. And most of the hoo-hah during the Trump years will seem silly in retrospect. We have serious business to attend to.
So, that's my theory of what's really going on...