House Democrats will impeach Donald Trump on Wednesday, and they will be right to do so from both a legal and strategic perspective. Not to mention the “future of the Republic” angle—if they don’t impeach now, in the face of the clearest evidence anyone could ask for, then the rules no longer apply. Anyone who opposes impeachment at this point does so because they want to oppose impeachment. They may love Trump or hate Democrats or have any number of motivations, but to argue that there was no soliciting of foreign interference and subsequent obstruction is to argue from a place of willful ignorance, and the “literalist” bullshit—”he never said it, exactly”—is transparently just that.
And yet, why does it feel so empty?
Because it’s all part of the circus act that was set in motion the minute Donald Trump began running for president, and solidified when it became clear that neither the Republicans or Democrats had a clue in hell about how to stop him. The odds of this man getting impeached were high, since he would invariably both do something illegal and usher in a Democratic House majority at the midterms, just as the odds of him ever being removed from office were low, since the Senate would always remain the top obstacle to change. The discourse around impeachment will be similarly frustrating, with many editorial boards in swing state newspapers proving themselves too cowardly to support it. Republicans will not break ranks. Democrats in vulnerable districts will support it only after agonizing over what it means for their own political careers (hint: If they’re in Republican districts, it ain’t great). Your angry uncle will post on Facebook that the trans-loving liberals are out to get him. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to support impeachment, but elsewhere voters are being purged off the rolls in critical states and the 2020 election is still going to be close as hell.
The instinct for Democrats and liberals will be to celebrate (even though a perpetually terrified Nancy Pelosi has given her party an explicit “don’t gloat” mandate after it goes down), and the instinct is understandable—they’ve wanted to see Trump held accountable for years now, especially because he’s proved so invulnerable even as he’s made a mockery of the office and whatever remained of political decency. He’s the bright light that has exposed the weakness of our democracy, of our checks and balances, and it’s tempting to view impeachment as a long-awaited reckoning.
It’s not. It’s the latest act in the ongoing circus, and it doesn’t really mean much. The only thing that matters at this point is the 2020 election, and the only effect impeachment will have is to solidify the dividing lines. Mitch McConnell has admitted he’ll be working in lockstep with the administration when this hits the Senate, and the chances of real accountability—kicking this disgrace of a president out of office—are nil.
If there’s hope, it comes in the fact that Trump has endured three straight ass-kickings in national elections since his first big victory. That could translate to a fourth, should translate to a fourth, but the battle lines for that particular American Armageddon have been drawn long ago. Impeachment, if it changes the balance at all, will do so subtly, incrementally, and not at all in the dramatic sweeping manner that liberals hope. It’s the right thing to do, it’s the necessary thing to do, but it’s also achingly hollow, and the latest revelation that we’re in a broken country in a broken age.