Actually, Impeachment Terrifies Trump

Some say he wants it. No way.

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There’s a funny strain of argument in the commentariat averring that the president wants to be impeached. The thinking, if you can call it that, is that an impeachment inquiry would rally his base, bringing his approval up to more than 50 percent, thus jeopardizing Democratic chances of winning in 2020. As I said, it’s funny.

For one thing, Donald Trump has been pouring gasoline on the campfire of right-wing sadism since the beginning of his life in the public eye. His base of power is about as stoked as can be. It’s hard to imagine an impeachment inquiry rallying supporters more, meaning that his 41 percent approval rating (give or take) may be a ceiling more than a floor. Sure, it might push some independent voters back his way, but it might just as likely push away other independent voters more than they already are.

For another thing, the idea of wanting to be impeached does not jive with what happened this morning. The White House invoked an absurd and monolithic claim to executive privilege to stop the House Judiciary Committee from seeing the full and unredacted Robert Mueller report and its underlying empirical evidence. This is on top of a series of moves meant to block the Congress from having access to people and documents it needs to execute oversight. For a man with nothing to hide, Trump is bending his entire administration for the purpose of hiding pretty much everything. That’s something you do to avoid impeachment. In effect, however, the president is, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday, “goading us to impeach him.


And all these people will end up seeing things Trump does not want them to see, because if they see them, his big con is over.


If Trump were shrewd and wily enough to desire impeachment for reelection purposes, he’d let the process unfold safe in the knowledge that Senate Republicans will bail him out. At that point, he could claim that surviving removal was tantamount to surviving a coup, thus making him stronger and more worthy of being reelected. But Trump isn’t that shrewd and wily. He never was. Every day is a reaction to the previous day. Those looking for counter-intuitive strategy—i.e., impeachment is good for him—are participating in the charade. Trump doesn’t want impeachment. He fears it.

But he doesn’t fear it for reasons most of us think. His fear isn’t rooted in power, because he doesn’t recognize any power higher than his ego, which is where the fear is really rooted. Impeachment will consume the attention of the entire country, maybe much of the world’s, too. It will bring people into the conversation who would normally have better things to do. And all these people will end up seeing things Trump does not want them to see, because if they see them, his big con is over.

Consider what happened this morning. The Times published a comprehensive and humiliating investigation into Trump’s finances, showing that far from being a business tycoon, the president “lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer” over 10 years. In 1985, he lost “$46.1 million from his core businesses—largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.”

This isn’t surprising. Those of us who have been paying attention knew that Trump inherited his wealth and squandered it on terrible business deals, one after another, while flirting with the criminal underworld. We knew that NBC’s Mark Burnett reinvented him for The Apprentice. As editor Jonathon Braun explained to The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe: “Most of us knew he was a fake. He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.”

In another time and place, the Times report would be a lethal blow to a man portrayed on TV, as Keene wrote, as “a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines.” Fact is, he’s none of those things, and he’s probably much worse. As Tim O’Brien and others have noted, Trump was broke for much of the 2000s but in 2008 went on a buying spree, paying for a series of properties in cash. This has led to speculation of money laundering, with the money coming from Russia and elsewhere.

The Times report was not devastating because Trump is protected by a gigantic right-wing media apparatus that can absorb such blows, and indeed, turn them to the president’s advantage. It can do this because reporting by the Times and elsewhere comes out piecemeal, one at a time. That gives Fox and others plenty of leeway to knock them down—literally to lie to Republican supporters. In doing so, the right-wing media not only protects the president politically. It protects his ego, too.

That will be harder to do with a full-on impeachment inquiry, because hearings will get serious play from all the television networks, in effect dramatizing for a television audience all the things this president does not want dramatized. It’s going to be humiliating. Even if the GOP saves him, Trump will in the end be a smaller man.

—John Stoehr

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