Newsletter: The banal repugnance of acquitting Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor before the vote on calling witnesses on Jan. 21.
(Shawn Thew / EPA/Shutterstock)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

On Friday, the Senate voted 51-49 against calling witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, an action the Democratic House prosecutors warned would represent an inflection point in the United States’ constitutional order. Now, as with so many times during this presidency, now that we have once again crossed the Rubicon into heretofore un-American territory, it feels unnervingly, well, normal — just as when a Supreme Court justice who lashed out at senators in a partisan tirade after being credibly accused of sexual assault started hearing cases, when the FBI director investigating the president was fired, even when the novelty of the abominable scene of Donald Trump taking the oath of office wore off.

In other words, we’ve had plenty of practice picking up and dusting off after chiseling away at the facade of American stability and strength.

Trump’s acquittal, at once thoroughly outrageous and sadly predictable, is assured, so demanding his removal from office after a trial whose outcome was preordained seems pointless. And yet that’s exactly what the L.A. Times’ editorial board did immediately after the Senate declined to call witnesses. The editorial makes points that ought to resonate with any open-minded reader now and with experts generations from now who will shape the historical consensus on this era. I’ll quote at some length from the editorial:


“The details of those crimes have been laid out a thousand times, but here they are again: Congress voted to give $391 million to Ukraine, an ally that was at war, defending itself against Russia. But Trump withheld that money in a clear violation — an illegal violation — of Congress’ express wishes. He did so not because he had foreign policy disagreements with Congress, but because he hoped to extort from Ukraine’s president what he called ‘a favor’ in return for the money — the announcement of an investigation into groundless accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden that he believed could be useful to him in winning reelection.

“In other words, he hijacked national security and foreign policy to induce Ukraine to take actions to smear a prospective political opponent. He abused the power of his office to benefit himself personally. Then, as the second article of impeachment makes clear, he sought to stonewall the investigation by refusing to release documents and ordering his subordinates not to testify in the House inquiry. ...

“Just as they voted not to hear any further witnesses, the senators will most likely vote quickly along partisan lines to acquit the president that the Republican majority has defended from the start.

“But that would be a grievous mistake. The evidence is in and it is incontrovertible. The senators ought to take seriously their oath to assess the case against Trump impartially, and they should vote to find him guilty.”

Adam Schiff is the new Nancy Pelosi. Just ask Trump. As someone raised in the congressional district that Schiff represents, I have to admit some bemusement over the president’s obsession with the straight-shooting, borderline boring member of Congress. Opinion contributing writer Rich Benjamin similarly notes Schiff’s rise from prominent congressional back-bencher to the Democratic Party’s moral conscience. L.A. Times

Hunter Biden may leave a bigger stamp on U.S. politics than his father did. Years ago he made the “jaw-droppingly stupid decision” to join the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, writes Jon Healey, setting off an unlikely sequence of events that would culminate in only the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history. “One of the numerous ironies here is that Hunter Biden may also have damaged his father’s presidential bid beyond repair,” Healey writes. “But we won’t find that out for sure until long after the Senate has acquitted Trump.” L.A. Times


If you’re in L.A., impeachment wasn’t the trauma of the week. That (dis)honor belongs to the untimely death of former Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others aboard a helicopter that crashed into a Calabasas hillside on Sunday. It’s hard to find anything uplifting in this tragedy, but this op-ed article by Logan Jones on Bryant’s advocacy for women’s athletics comes close. Separately, readers reacted by expressing admiration for Bryant; some recalled his 2003 sexual assault arrest.

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The overreaction to the coronavirus is more dangerous than the virus itself. The world cheered when China’s authoritarian government stampeded to stop the SARS epidemic in 2003, doing away with the public live animal markets that gave certain cities their character and inhibiting the movement of its people. Now, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, entire metropolises are being shut down, and travel to and from China is being curtailed. This is a massive overreaction that can do much more harm than good, writes Katherine A. Mason. L.A. Times

Finally, here’s your reminder that the Trump administration is still governing, and doing it badly: Millions of acres of native Pinyon-Juniper forestland in the West are being leveled to provide more land for cattle grazing. The Trump administration says it also seeks to improve the health of those forests, a bizarre justification for turning old-growth trees uniquely adapted to the West’s heat and aridity into mulch, writes Christopher Ketcham. L.A. Times

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