The Trump Impeachment Slow-Walk

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 16, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Now is the rare exception when McConnell and the Senate should be pursuing decisive action, not dawdling.

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Rouse Yourself, Senator McConnell
I am annoyed at and dismayed by Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. And that is not an easy thing for the honorary president of the Cocaine Mitch fan club to write.

Senator McConnell is a true genius when it comes to delays, an artist of adjournment, a Picasso of procrastination, a Homer of holding patterns, a Leonardo of loitering, a Rembrandt of retardation — yes, I can keep going! — let’s just say that he is the Machiavelli of not getting stuff done.

This is why Senator McConnell is one of our most valuable and most effective politicians.

Senator McConnell is perfectly habituated to the institution he serves, because his inclinations reinforce the Senate’s one great enduring virtue: It is not the House of Representatives. Democrats may complain of Senator McConnell’s “legislative graveyard,” but this does not do him full justice, because his graveyard is not merely legislative but judicial as well: Ask Merrick Garland about that.

In a government that lurches from one phony crisis to the next, from adhocracy to omnibus to continuing resolution, Senator McConnell is in no hurry to get anything done. And 99 times out of 100, that is the best course of action.

Removing Donald Trump from office is the 1-in-100 occasion when it isn’t.

Donald Trump’s actions since losing the election have been criminal. They have also been destabilizing, which is, in some ways, worse. We can live with a little petty crime in Washington, D.C., from time to time — we cannot live with the incumbent president using the awesome powers at his command to attempt to overturn an election, which Trump has done twice — once through corruption, and once through violence. And before you sprain your thumbs, I hope the Trump apologists will spare me their staking their case on one adjective in his pre–coup d’état-attempt speech. Trump’s calling for a “peaceful” mob scene is like the local thug with a protection racket saying: “Nice little business you have. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Senator McConnell, who has navigated the Trump era about as well as any Republican in office — without the self-inflicted degradation and ignominy of Senate colleagues such as Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham — is said to be in a rage (I do wonder how the face of Mitch McConnell registers rage) about the sacking of the Capitol by Trump’s murderous mob. But he made no effort to bring the Senate back to take up the impeachment charge put forward by the House.

He should have.

Many of the lawyers and political engineers who have weighed in on the subject dismiss this complaint, insisting that, as a practical matter, there was nothing Senator McConnell could do. Even if he had convened the Senate for a trial, it would have stretched past the inauguration of Joe Biden (which we assume will not be prevented by another homicidal rabble) and into Trump’s ex-presidency (which we assume will begin as scheduled), and that any urgent action on the part of Senator McConnell would have been largely symbolic.

There are good occasions for symbolism. This is one of them.

If you are a budget bore like me, then you may remember budget sequestration with some nostalgia. It was one of the few modern-era efforts at imposing fiscal control on Washington that kinda-sorta worked. It also was treated as an existential crisis in Washington — because it worked. Which was why it had to be gutted. Sequestration mechanisms remain on the books, but Congress has put meaningful cuts off through a series of short-term measures that together constitute the long-term abandonment of the approach. Sequestration is destined to end up a legislative formality, something like the Logan Act, on the books since 1799, often talked about but never actually used.

Without getting too far into the weeds, let me offer this observation: When some well-connected rat-fink government contractor in Northern Virginia misses a check, Washington treats that like a crisis. Some peon bureaucrat gets furloughed, that’s a crisis. It’s a national goddamn emergency. When the sitting president — who has threatened to arrest political opponents on treason charges and apparently engages in speculative talk about martial law in the Oval Office, who has sworn he will never concede his defeat — goes and makes multiple attempts to overturn the election . . . well, I guess we’ll get to it when we get to it.

We should have got to it.

Perhaps, if I may be so bold as to offer the suggestion, a little urgency is in order here. Perhaps Republicans can rediscover their sense of priority when it comes time to convict Trump — and he must be convicted — and permanently disqualify him from any office.

Republicans are now talking idiotically about “unity,” that second-to-last refuge of a scoundrel, and the Trumpist element among them warns darkly that any serious effort to convict Trump of the offense of which he is manifestly guilty would “divide the party.”

Divide the party? That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Nothing would be better for the Republican Party than for it to be divided. Maybe one of the two surviving halves would be worth joining, worth voting for, worth trusting. Yes, I suspect that that would be the smaller half — at first. Conservatives should be willing to live with that — for now. The Republicans didn’t win their first one out of the gate with John C. Frémont, either. Change takes time. Amputations are painful, but they also save lives.

Republicans who are clinging to Trump and his movement as a life-raft are making a titanic mistake, and I am rooting for the iceberg. I cannot say that I will be very sorry to see them go down with the ship.

And if Titanic isn’t the show you have in mind, think of it this way: Republicans seem to believe they are watching an American Coriolanus; in reality, they’re extras in The Music Man.

Words About Words
“Who Says Art Is Only for the 1 Percent?” demands the New York Times headline. I don’t know — who? Who says that? Does anybody say that? I have never heard anybody say it. Nobody says that. I have never once heard anyone say that art is for only those with high incomes. In fact, there’s a great tradition of American art historians’ and curators’ being modestly paid and of connoisseurs’ being nowhere near the top 1 percent of incomes, while a great many high-income Americans are absolute philistines. The actual story — a New York gallery is offering some works in relatively inexpensive series called “multiples” — lacks the class-war bite and the hectoring tone.

Overly rhetorical headlines are a plague: “No one should go to jail for a crime they didn’t commit,” reads another headline. Does anybody think otherwise? Kamala Harris, maybe — anybody else?

But headline writing is a dying art, with the digital media world dominated by SEO considerations and algorithms.

“I’m Really Second-Guessing My Decision to Delay Kindergarten Because of COVID,” reads the Slate headline, and I’d love to meet the five-year-old who wrote it. Maybe one of those woke five-year-olds we’re always hearing about online, who ask their parents pointed questions about progressive tax policy and American misadventures in the Maghreb.

Rampant Prescriptivism
In other language news, a reader asks: “Is the word ‘impactful’ grammatically correct?” Grammar mostly describes the relations between words (and punctuation marks and such) and a word itself is neither grammatical nor ungrammatical. The word impactful is not ungrammatical — it is stupid. But it is a word, right there in the OED. You’d be better off with powerful or influential or important, or something more precise as the situation requires.

Impactful is corporate-weasel jargon, bubbling up from the marketing departments and human-resources offices. When we cringe at such a word as impactful, it is not the word we are recoiling from — we recoil from the sort of people who use such words. Corporation-speak, TED-speak, and Davos-speak (which may be considered subjargons of the same jargon) make us think of headache-inducing fluorescent lighting, timecards (back when those were a thing), pointless meetings, synergy, forced readings of Good To Great, “Do you want me to deprioritize my current reports until you advise me of a status upgrade?” etc.

So, to use impactful or not? It’s in the dictionary, but, ask yourself — do you really want to be that guy?

Send your language questions to [email protected]

Home and Away
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In Closing
“Under normal circumstances I would not share a column by the odious Kevin D. Williamson,” writes Rob Weinert-Kendt. He’s the editor of American Theater, a theater critic for America, the Jesuit magazine, and the music minister at Greenpoint Church, a self-described liberal congregation in Brooklyn. I’ll bet that is some ministry.

Odious, meaning deserving of hatred, from the Latin odium, meaning hatred. Some of you will know the famous Catullus line: “Odi et amo” — I love and I hate. Or, an arresting line from the Vulgate: “Si mundus vos odit, scitote quia me priorem vobis odio habuit.”

It’s always the people who talk about the love they have in their hearts who hate the most remorselessly, always the people who preach (literally, even) tolerance who are the most intolerant, always the ones for whom kindness is a bumper-sticker who are the most lacking in kindness of the ordinary sort. No one has murder in his heart like that guy in the car with the “Coexist” bumper-sticker.

The interest here is mostly linguistic. I’ve been hated by more interesting people.

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