What’s Different About This Impeachment?
In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof offers to explain “What’s Different About This Impeachment” compared to Watergate:
“The essential difference between Nixon and Trump lies not in their misconduct or in their unsuitability for office, but in the grim refusal of today’s Republican Party to notice wrongdoing and its determination to stand by Trump come what may.
What’s different today is not the abuse of power by a rogue president, but his party leaders’ shortage of principle. That in turn flows partly from the pernicious influence of Fox News, which enables a Trumpian ecosystem that is largely impervious to facts.”
The byline summarizes:
“It’s not the offense, but rather one party’s rejection of reality.”
Kristof’s theory on the difference between Trump and Watergate is unpersuasive. It’s too complicated. There is a simpler theory that explains the difference just as well, if not better. And, following the Rule of Occam’s Razor – “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity” – one should, other things equal, favor the simpler theory over the more complicated.
Kristof’s idea is that in the over 40 years between Watergate and today, the Republican-voting half of the country – and only that half! – went essentially mad: it rejected reality, became impervious to facts, and now refuses to notice the wrongdoing of its “rogue president.”
But don’t you need further explanations for this explanation? How and why was there such an extraordinary mental degeneration in so many tens of millions of Americans? What were the presumably deep and complicated psychological, cultural, sociological, economic, and other historical forces that caused this descent into mass unreality? And what is the evidence for any of this, beyond the sturdy unwillingness of Republicans to do as Democrats would like?
The nearest Kristof gets to any argument for his complicated theory is to clamber atop that wheezing, sweaty old nag, “the pernicious influence of Fox News.” But just how pernicious can Fox News be, with merely 2.7 million primetime viewers, less than one third the combined 8.5 million primetime audiences for the liberal and left-leaning cable and network news channels (MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC)? If anything, one is grateful for the modest diversity that Fox injects into the otherwise drab political monoculture of the American TV news.
The simpler and better explanation for the difference between Watergate and Trump is the one that Kristof tries to preclude at the very outset: the difference is in the offense. There is simply no comparison between the depth of evidence on the crimes of Richard Nixon in the Watergate investigation, on the one hand, and, on the other, the pitifully inadequate evidence base on President Trump’s activities in Ukraine hurriedly patched together by Schiff and Nadler. The evidence for the charge of abuse of power or ‘quid pro quo’ in President Trump’s conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine is hardly more than a claim that Democrats are good at reading Trump’s mind: “look, we just know what that evil orange bastard was doing.”
It’s disappointing that Kristof evades this matter of the weakness of the evidence in the Trump inquiry because it was at the very center of Professor Jonathan Turley's lengthy and brilliant testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on December 4. Turley summarizes in a couple of op-eds, here and here.
From the second of these, "The Art of Impeachment - Why I Still Just See a Banana Taped to a Wall":
“In all three previous cases — those of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon — criminal acts had been clearly established and the facts surrounding them were widely accepted.
This would be the first presidential impeachment to go forward with no credible (or at least uncontested) crime at its heart. That does not mean that the Democrats’ case is necessarily invalid. The problem is that this is the thinnest record of any modern impeachment as well as arguably the shortest impeachment investigation in history (Johnson was impeached after three prior attempts and the House had been working on creating the grounds for impeachment for a year).
This would not matter if the non-criminal acts were clear and uncontested. They are not. The most serious impeachable act raised by the Democrats is abuse of power, a legitimate basis for impeachment, as I stated in both the Clinton and Trump impeachment hearings.
But in inexplicably rushing to an impeachment vote, the House is forgoing the subpoenaing of key witnesses who could shed light on potential abuse of power, including former national security advisor John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Instead, the Democrats insisted we should go forward on “inferences” or interpretations rather than delay further. Yet I have looked at that banana taped to the wall from all angles, and I just don’t see how it clearly establishes a quid pro quo.
There are three direct conversations on the record. Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which does not state a clear quid pro quo. He asks for a favor but promises nothing in return for it. Moreover, in his August conversation with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Trump reportedly denied any quid pro quo. In his September conversation with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, he also denied any quid pro quo.
The House Intelligence Committee did an excellent job of undermining the final two calls by showing that Trump was already aware at the time he was speaking of the whistleblower controversy emerging on Capitol Hill. However, that does not alter the fact that those direct accounts have not been contradicted by countervailing statements from the president
Another complication is that Zelensky himself has said that he did not discuss any quid pro quo with Trump…
As it stands now, with so much in the Democrats’ case relying on inference, how one views the impeachment is entirely based on one’s view of the president. That is the trouble with impressionistic impeachments: They leave too much in the eye of the beholder.”