The dynamics at work in our world are beyond anyone’s capacity to fathom. We can’t be certain, for example, about what will emerge from the American people as the impeachment process unfolds over the next few weeks and months, as the public is exposed to a succession of dramatizations of presidential wrongdoing.
But how the various components of the American body politic respond to what they’re being shown will reveal something of great importance about the nation’s political health.
» For the hearings have already presented the American people a clear picture of unacceptable presidential conduct: violations of the oath of office, assaults on the rule of law, a fundamentally unpatriotic betrayal of the nation for his own personal benefit (“doesn’t give a sabout Ukraine”), and utter dishonesty.
Already, the evidence of presidential wrongdoing being presented in these hearings is overwhelming. (Experienced prosecutors declare that anyone in President Trump’s situation in regular civilian life anyone would be trying to get a plea deal.) With or without the inclusion of any of Trump’s many other impeachable offenses, the issue of Trump’s impeachability is not even close.
As many have observed, the United States finds itself in a position where if this president — with his brazen and pervasive trampling on the rule of law — does not need to be impeached, no president will ever require impeachment.
But it remains a question: How many Americans will respond to the picture of that reality by supporting the impeachment and removal of this president?
So far, it’s not clear that the hearings are increasing public support for impeachment. But we are just at the beginning.
Sometimes “impact” emerges from repetition: We should recall that dams don’t break at the first sign of cracks, and that camels’ backs break only after many straws are loaded onto them. And this drama has more than one act.
After the first act — in which the House Intelligence Committee has brought forward a parade of fact witnesses (punctuated by Chairman Adam Schiff’s powerful summations) — the American people will be invited repeatedly to consider this ugly picture:
» In the next act, the matter moves to the House Judiciary Committee, whose job it will be to draw up the Articles of Impeachment (one of which, I’m betting, will bring in the “multiple felonies” of “obstruction of justice” that are detailed in the Mueller Report).
» Then the entire House of Representatives will vote on those Articles, presumably after yet another substantive discussion. Presumably, the house will vote to impeach. And then …
» Finally, the American people will see the case tried in the Senate, with the Chief Justice John Roberts of the United States Supreme Court presiding.
When all that has been done — and likely done well, judging from Rep. Schiff’s masterly performance — what will public opinion look like? We really don’t know.
When it comes to the 40 percent of the population that supports Trump, it seems that most observers — regarding that 40 percent as all of the “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters” sort — despair of any change. They’ve got a lot of evidence to support such despair.
Over the years the Republicans have developed a base that would buy whatever they were told.
Their followers have been entrained to choose, when asked “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”, choose to disbelieve their “lying eyes.”
But that’s not the whole truth. Evidently some of those 40 percent in Trump’s base can judge him adversely when presented with evidence of his wrongdoing. We know that because the polls show that some 70 percent of Americans believe that what Trump did with Ukraine was “wrong.” We can do the math: Some of those people must be part of that 40 percent.
This impeachment test will tell us just how many of the people in Trump’s base are so tied to Trump that no evidence of his criminality and betrayal of the nation will shake them.
The polls show that roughly 50 percent of the American people support the impeachment process, or even “impeachment and removal.” (And some 56 percent tell pollsters that Trump’s conduct constitutes an “impeachable offense.) That suggests that of that 70 percent who have judged Trump to have done “wrong, 20 percent presently stop short of supporting impeachment and removal.
So another part of what we’ll discover is how many of that 20 percent will be moved by the cumulative presentations to recognize how seriously Trump’s wrongdoing threatens the constitutional order and the good of the nation.
This “Test of the American People” won’t tell us everything we’d want to know. To the extent that Americans fail this test, we won’t know why — whether it was a lack of attention, or of comprehension, or of caring about the stakes involved, or whether perhaps it is testimony to the power of America’s first “cult of personality.”
But — independently of the importance of what the outcome of this impeachment process is for Trump’s presidency — we should care about what this test shows about moral, political and intellectual condition of the American people.
Schmookler is a prize-winning author, many of whose works can be found at www.ABetterHumanStory.org. He writes a monthly column for The News & Advance.