I had written another column for today. It was glib and sarcastic because that’s how I am when I’m worried and stressed. My editors wisely and gently put it on the shelf, as they should have. So here we are. I’ll write what’s in my head and in my heart.
We’re on the precipice of another impeachment fight, the second of my lifetime and the fourth — if you count the impeachment proceedings already underway when Richard Nixon resigned — that our Republic has had the misfortune to undergo. I was in college when Bill Clinton was impeached, and I remember thinking that the president was a liar, a cheater, and kind of a schmuck, but that what he’d done didn’t merit removal from office. The Senate agreed. Impeachment failed, and we all moved on.
Everything leaves scars. Every new choking, invasive vine has roots that run deep. Clinton’s impeachment was just one incident in a long, drawn-out political clash that has its roots in the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Then again, maybe we can trace it back to the 1930s and the New Deal, or to the Civil War, or to the moment the first African slave set foot on these shores a year before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth.
After all this is over, that fight will continue. It defines us, and it’ll haunt us until the end of the Republic and the shattering of the union.
As for right now, the case seems so clear-cut that I’ve caught myself thinking, we’ve finally got him. How can he wiggle out from under his own words? How is it not clear that it is deeply wrong to call up foreign head of states and, with the might of American diplomacy behind him, pressure them to investigate his political rival? How can it not be obvious that this is an abuse of power?
Surely, he’ll be abandoned like Nixon was. Right?
Surely, this time … But I’ve said that before.
How does that end? How does any of this end?
I see a few possibilities, ranked from least to most likely.
First, the impeachment proceedings will compel the president to realize his presidency is done, and he’ll resign for the good of the country. This isn’t likely at all, but the world is full of surprises.
Second, he somehow skates through this without consequences, nothing sticks to him, and continues to do what he’s doing now. He’ll bring that chip the size of Latvia that’s on his shoulder into the 2020 election, but will otherwise take no hit in popularity or reputation. Democrats will essentially fold, and bullying foreign leaders into investigating political rivals will become normal. This is a little more likely, sadly, but the determination of Democrats in Congress and the Democratic base suggests it won’t go quite like this.
Third, the president provokes a widespread violent conflict. This is the “civil war” option that someone on the fringes was tweeting about — but was then retweeted by the president. Can he really want civil war? I have no idea. His mind is a mystery to me. Maybe he does. Maybe it’s just a threat.
This is the one that scares me the most, but honestly, I don’t think it’s likely. We have deep divisions in our society but the conditions that created the kind of hell that we’ve seen in Syria don’t exist here right now. It isn’t impossible that we could get there, but a lot of very bad things would have to happen along the way.
Here’s what I think is going to happen. The president is going to put up a desperate, scorched-earth fight like the ones cornered animals resort to. It’s going to be brutal, because he has everything to lose. He’s going to leave shredded institutions, broken government, abominable rhetoric, and more in his wake. One way or the other, either by an act of Congress or by the collective actions of the voters, he will be forced out of office by 2021. He’ll put up a fight about that, too, and prying him out of the White House will be the final, most awful chapter of this part of the saga.
And after it’s done, those fresh scars will be with us for a long, long time. Rebuilding government and bridging the gaps between all the peoples of this country will be a long, painful process.
In the end, though, I think we’ll do it. I am a patriot, and I believe in the promise and the people of this country. Together, we’ll find our way out of the darkness.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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