There is a narrative being frequently reiterated by political analysts around the 116th Congress, particularly the Democratic-controlled House, which, the narrative goes, faces a dilemma in that the left wing of the Democratic base wants them to focus on impeaching Donald Trump, whereas “moderates” want to see more bipartisan cooperation. As an Independent of the radical center, who saw the rise to power of a thoroughgoing narcissist who is both a symptom and exacerbator of partisan gridlock as an extremely dangerous thing to begin with, I find this dichotomy irritating to say the least.
Granted, it doesn’t exactly help to dispel this narrative when a member of the famously large congressional “freshman class” helps it live up to the name by putting calls for impeachment into the context of a vulgar and almost Trumpian playground insult, then claiming to “speak truth to power” when what she has actually spoken is merely a cheap applause line to her own base. That the line was heartily applauded demonstrates that there is indeed a reactionary left that will eagerly reward any such inflammatory speech from one of their own as a matter of course – even if it means that any eventual serious and demonstrably warranted discussion of impeachment will be taken less seriously. Yet, cheap applause lines notwithstanding, not only is the closing down of the fundamentally self-serving (and possibly criminal) operation called the Trump presidency not incompatible with bipartisan cooperation, but these two things are ultimately dependent on each other.
The visible polarization in Congress – which both reflects and is echoed by the loudest voices among the electorate – may make bipartisan impeachment proceedings more difficult to achieve, but it also makes them more necessary. That is, impeachment proceedings must have bipartisan support to have any real credibility. The possibility may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, given that the GOP’s unfortunate choice to throw its lot in with Trump has always been more of a Faustian bargain than a matter of actual principle. They need to hear from their constituents – not least the forgotten independents who want a stable and functional government, as well as Republicans who want a stable and functional party – that it is high time for Faust to get out of hell.
Moreover, the stability and functionality of the government is fragile at best as long as it is forced to work around the all-pervasive distortions of a narcissistic personality cult, all the while having to act as if this were something like normal governance. Make no mistake, Donald Trump did not create bipartisan polarization, nor the deeper fault lines running through American society. They existed well before him and will not magically disappear once he leaves office. But he did attain that office by exploiting and exacerbating the polemics, and from his campaign to the present day has seen it in his continued interest to stoke fears and divisions and generally bring out the worst in all of us, making it that much harder for either Congress or society at large to honestly address our fears and divisions at the source, whatever that may be.
All that being said, I am not for a minute suggesting that impeachment proceedings be undertaken without verifiable just cause, or in any way that bypasses due process or fails to take seriously the gravity of such a step, rightly meant to be reserved for extreme cases (all of which is the problem with glibly partisan calls for impeachment as if for its own sake). But what I find truly alarming is that partisanship may in fact impede that process: the political risk of impeachment is, after all, another analytical talking point, such that there has been earnest questioning of whether sufficient political will would exist to initiate impeachment proceedings even if the president is demonstrably shown to have committed an impeachable offense.
Besides the generalized political risk inherent in such a serious move, Congressional Democrats may easily reason that they have a better chance of regaining the White House in a 2020 race against Donald Trump than against Mike Pence, thus being incentivized to keep the bar as low as possible. With the potential for such calculations of political advantage to outweigh any real or stated concerns for the functioning of our democracy or, for that matter, basic human decency, partisanship becomes as much an impediment to impeaching the impeachable as a provocation of it.
In terms of that sort of utilitarian calculus, I don’t have a dog in the fight: as an Independent, I frankly don’t care what the cost is to the Democratic Party or to the Republican Party should Donald Trump be held fully accountable for any violations of the law or investigative process he has committed. As a citizen, I care a lot more what the cost is to the functioning of our government and the health of our society if he is not.