It was the question of the week, and Frida Ghitis posed it best:
“How is it possible that after the country was torn apart by the Russian interference in the 2016 election and its aftermath, and after (President Donald) Trump himself endured almost two years under the searing spotlight of an investigation into that very thing, how is it possible that he could reach out to another country and – according to a whistleblower complaint – attempt another round of election interference? How is that possible?”
Her answer: “Trump has apparently come to believe that he is so brilliant, so talented, so invincible, that he could get away with defying every norm, every practice, every institution of the democracy he is charged with leading.”
In a word from ancient Greece: hubris.
Michael D’Antonio described it another way: “Trump’s decision to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a political opponent one day after the country heard special counsel Robert Mueller testify before Congress suggests a man with a political death wish.”
One thing worked well for candidate Donald Trump in 2016. His ability to nickname and define his political rivals swiftly and mercilessly froze everyone else out of the Republican nomination and then helped secure him an Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton. So, according to documents released this past week, he decided to do it again – by tarring 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden as dishonest and mired in a Ukraine corruption investigation – despite the lack of evidence that the former vice president had done anything wrong.
But is this election fundamentally different from 2016, with Trump as President seeking re-election rather than as an unlikely candidate?
Last week’s disclosures explained why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an inquiry that could lead to Trump’s impeachment, wrote Peter Bergen: “A sitting president appears to have abused his office for political gain, and White House officials allegedly engaged in a cover-up of that effort.”
Elie Honig noted that the whistleblower complaint ratcheted up the odds of impeachment, partly by showing Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s key role: “Giuliani’s involvement in Trump’s efforts to have Ukraine gather dirt on political opponents is itself a major problem for Trump: Why on earth was Giuliani – a private citizen and not an employee of the US government – involved in any of this at all? The answer, it seems, is that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine were intended for his own personal and political benefit and not for (or perhaps at the expense of) the best interests of the United States.”
Trump famously punches back at critics. And former FBI supervisory special agent Josh Campbell said we can expect more of what we saw from the President during the Mueller investigation: “President Trump has already started muddying the waters in the latest Ukrainian scandal, publicly blasting the whistleblower as a ‘partisan,’ even though Trump admitted in the same setting that he doesn’t know who the person is. The President denied knowing which phone call media reports were even referring to, and then minutes later described the same call as having been ‘beautiful.’ And, of course, he has returned to a familiar lexicon, labeling the latest incident as ‘the Ukraine witch hunt.’”
As congressional committees investigate, people are looking ahead to the debate over whether Trump’s actions are indeed impeachable.
Frank Bowman III is a University of Missouri law professor who has written a 478-page history of impeachment, and his verdict this week was unequivocal: “If what Trump did here isn’t impeachable, nothing is.”
Forty-five years ago, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned within two weeks. Bowman wrote, “Nixon’s conduct was penny-ante compared to Trump’s. Trump didn’t cover up a second-rate burglary by a group of inept ‘plumbers’ looking for dirt on Democrats. Rather, he appears to have wielded the entire economic, military and moral authority of a great nation to, effectively, extort another democratically elected head of state.”
Trump’s tendency to “speak in a code,” as Trump fixer Michael Cohen explained to a Congressional committee, is worth remembering when you read the rough transcript of the President’s call with Zelensky, wrote Paul Callan: “President Trump appears to be using his official position as President to coerce the Ukrainian President to investigate possibly false corruption claims in an attempt to smear his Democratic political rival. The ‘stick’ or threat that can be wielded is a cut-off of US aid unless Trump gains a personal benefit, the destruction of a political rival.”
Marc Thiessen of The Washington Post wrote that the Democrats favoring impeachment are getting ahead of the evidence relating to Trump’s request for an investigation of Biden: “Should Trump have done this? Absolutely not. But the reality of this call is a far cry from overheated charges that Trump used US aid to repeatedly pressure Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden. At a news conference with Trump at the United Nations, Zelensky said the call was ‘normal’ and ‘nobody pushed me.’ Career public integrity prosecutors at the Justice Department also reviewed the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call and found there was no campaign finance crime to pursue.”
Many have written about the pressure a vote for impeachment would place on moderate Democrats elected in districts where Trump won in 2016. But the real test is of Republicans, who profess faith in limited government and the rule of law, wrote Julian Zelizer. “There is a compelling argument that impeaching him could be the only way to demonstrate the GOP’s genuine commitment to conservative principles. In some ways, the most damaging step the Republicans could take is to continue stifling the investigation and blindly defending the President even as most can see before their very eyes the way that he is running roughshod over everything they have claimed to stand for.”
So far, congressional Republicans have been more lukewarm than usual in their support of Trump, amid reports that a majority of GOP senators would oppose the President, if they could vote to remove him in secret (they can’t). “The President achieved his dominance over the GOP by making just about everyone in the party afraid of him,” Michael D’Antonio wrote. “This will work for as long as they believe he is truly powerful. Now that the cracks are beginning to show, he cannot count on anyone’s genuine affection or loyalty. And he has given those who will control his fate reason to regard him as expendable.”
Other takes on Trump and Ukraine:
John Avlon: Trump’s absurd projection reveals his anxiety
LZ Granderson: Trump voters are waiting … and watching
Alice Stewart: After the Mueller report, Democrats need to stop crying wolf
Warren challenges Biden for top spot
Elizabeth Warren continued gaining last week in the 2020 Democratic primary polls, along with the perception that she may surpass Joe Biden as the frontrunner. “Why? It’s simple: Warren is increasingly exciting people about her candidacy,” wrote Dean Obeidallah. Warren is drawing big crowds, scoring points in debates and benefiting from her “I have a plan for that” approach to the race and her early support for impeaching Trump.
Still, Sarah Isgur wrote, there are concerns about Warren’s strength in a potential matchup with President Trump: “Biden’s standing with the Democratic electorate seems largely driven by fear – fear of losing again to Donald Trump. If she can assuage that fear – or if another candidate can prove more viable – Joe Biden could be looking at a swift and total collapse.”
Froma Harrop urged Democrats to be wary of abandoning Biden’s candidacy: They “might ask themselves why President Donald Trump is so intent on smearing … Biden with phony scandals. Why isn’t he doing the same to Elizabeth Warren, who’s been climbing in the polls and has a shot at becoming the Democratic nominee for president? The clear answer is that Biden, in his own words, could ‘beat him like a drum’ – and while Warren could win against Trump, her victory does not look like a resounding one, according to recent polls. In Trump’s view, Biden poses the greatest threat and must be destroyed. And what better way than to wound Biden to the point that Democrats might think he’s more trouble than he’s worth?”
Tuesday was a dark day, wrote Jill Filipovic. “We awoke to find the President of the United States using his massive social media presence to mock a child whose only crime was trying to make the world better (and to maintain its existence).” Trump’s sarcastic tweet about the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg came amid his turn at the UN General Assembly, where he announced globalism is dead and that nations must focus on self-interest.
But Thunberg, wrote Jen Psaki, “made the starkest argument yet” that dealing with climate change is more than an issue “millennials vote on” and candidates debate. “It is an issue that future generations, the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the leaders milling through the halls of the United Nations today, should not be burdened with solving alone … She is angry and she wants action. Thunberg put a face and a voice to the generation who will suffer.”
Other takes on climate:
Erna Solberg and Tommy Remengesau Jr.: Look to the ocean for climate change solutions
Morgan Folger: Trump’s disastrous reversal of tough auto emissions rules
The Queen was not amused?
UK Prime Minister was on a trip Tuesday to his native New York City when his nation’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he broke the law by suspending Parliament for five crucial weeks as the Brexit date of October 31 approaches. He owes the Queen an apology for misleading her, wrote Kate Maltby. “The monarchy’s defenders have long presented the royals as the last bulwark against demagogy and political overreach,” she noted. “The Queen’s one job is to act as a check on misbehaving politicians. This week’s decision demonstrates that the 21st-century monarchy is no longer capable of doing that job.”
Melissa Blake: Bell-bottoms and a blended family: ‘The Brady Bunch’ at 50
Rebecca Bodenheimer: The 2019 Emmys were supposed to be predictable. Then they shocked me
Anushay Hossain: Why Lilly Singh just rocked my world
Finally, a doll that looks like all of us
“A bona fide tomboy.” That’s how Allison Hope describes herself. “I was a girl who liked to get messy and play sports. I liked to be in charge and didn’t feel intimidated by boys with louder voices or bigger muscles.”
So, she was pleased this week when Mattel announced a line of dolls “with a kit offering both feminine and masculine-presenting options for clothes, accessories and hairstyles so that kids can mix and match and create a diversity of representations of gender expression,” Hope wrote.
“It is only when we realize that there is nothing scary about the beautiful expression of our own gender in all its infinite possibilities that we will see the full spectrum of human lives and experiences emerge. And for a lot of us, that starts in our toy box.”