The most recent installment of “Apprentice: The Whitehouse” features a new drama involving Donald Trump and his (ab)use of presidential power. Trump has openly admitted to asking the Ukraine for help, and we have the transcript to prove the abuse took place; he wanted Ukraine to prosecute Joe Biden — his leading opponent, who is vying for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 election — and his son Hunter.
In the transcript of the call that precipitated a whistleblower to file a legal complaint, we learn that Trump dwells on all the things he says the U.S. does for Ukraine (including military aid as Ukraine defends against an aggressive Russia that already tore the Crimea chunk out of the country in 2014, precipitating the rightful Obama administration sanctions that Putin seeks to end).
At the end of Trump’s windup to the Ukrainian president, he makes his demand, garbled and confused, but very firm in the end:
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
Creepily, after the whistleblower complaint was finally made public, Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky hold a press conference at the UN and the Ukraine president, visibly squirming in the rotten position Trump has put him in, tries to extricate himself. Meanwhile, Trump is sitting next to him, and “interprets” for him to the assembled media, “In other words, no pressure.” Trump then goes on to make claims of corruption about the Bidens, though investigative journalists have found no evidence of these assertions to date.
The catch, according to team Trump defenders, “there was no quid pro quo.” They latch onto Trump’s role in withholding or delaying $250 million in Congressionally approved military funding… no extortion, no quid pro quo, just a favor… they say.
I agree with Adam Schiff’s assessment that it reads like instructions in a Godfather movie. A tension-filled scene with a favor being asked but wrapped in frankly implausible deniability. It dawns on me that with the chaos and confusion that Trump is using as a defense and smokescreen for his corruption it is necessary for citizens to have a guide for what is to come.
Guides are the smart persons’ tools for reaching their final destinations and achieving desirable outcomes. Robert Mueller, for example, used the Watergate investigation, which lead to Richard Nixon’s resignation, as the template for looking into evidence of Russian interference in the U.S. Presidential election.
On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that formal impeachment proceedings would begin. “The President must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” Pelosi said. “Actions taken to date by the President have seriously violated the Constitution.”
By the end of Sept. 25, the magic number of 218 — the number of votes required to impeach Trump — has been reached.
So, now that the day it seemed may never come has arrived, what do we — as citizens — do?
First, we must take steps to moderate our sense of urgency. It is scary to have a corrupt head of state, who appears cornered, in a position of so much power — even nuclear weapons — with a complete willingness to do whatever it takes to promote his own self interest.
We have been gaslighted by the rhythm of scandals and rampant dishonesty, you may have even lost track of how many thousands of lies he has now told (The Washington Post had him over 12,000 a month ago). But we have not been Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf, this was abnormal corruption the whole time, but, sadly, the fix will not be as fast as we’d like, nor is this likely to be the last scandal.
Second, we must take steps to avoid hating the other. I turned on Facebook yesterday to see the misspelled messages encouraging people call Nancy Pelosi and have her end this “which hunt.” Calling out the other side as “stupid” or “ignorant” is easy, but it doesn’t change hearts and minds. Compassion and empathy are at a high premium. Understanding that Trump is a corrupt conman is one part, the other is that many people have been deceived and hurt. Farmers going bankrupt because of his failed strategy with China are not experiencing karma because they voted for him, they’ve been duped, and being lied to is not made easier with “I told you so…” Show sympathy to those who’ve been deceived, betrayal is painful. Avoiding social media altogether might be necessary, divisive rhetoric has already been escalating, and it is ugly. Hate groups emboldened by Trump have been trying to start the “race wars” his whole term, but that does not mean everyone who voted for Trump agrees that white supremacists are “fine people.”
Third, be strategic. Be purposeful in who you address, how you address them, and what you ask for. I am of the opinion that pressure needs to placed on all of Trump’s gargoyles. His defenders who hold elected office, like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, need to be reminded that they have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution which supersede whatever loyalty pledges they have made to Trump.
The united message reminding them that protecting our democracy should be a non-partisan issue is a great step for addressing the problems and healing divisions.
But, it may be more effective to reach out to those on the fence. Remember, it was almost exactly a year ago when survivors of sexual assault confronted Senator Jeff Flake to pressure him on his commitment to approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Their passionate plea may not have changed the final outcome, but they changed Flake’s mind enough to improve the process.
Fourth, mobilize or prepare to mobilize to demand that Trump be removed from office.
In a democracy the power is in the hands of the people. The Founders put a system of checks and balances in place, they even included a process for removing corrupt leaders like Trump, but they did not imagine a partisan political situation like we have today.
Those who put party and loyalty to Trump above the Constitution and the country it represents may effectively chose to keep a criminal in charge; it would be a mistake to assume any of them would do the right — moral and proper — thing in this time of need. The people need to be prepared to fill the streets and shout “Trump, you’re fired!” with or without the Senate doing their job. Citizens also should not let these morally bankrupt representatives off the hook, it is not just a matter of them being condemned for their failings in history books — failure to do their jobs should also guarantee their unemployment.
Fifth, practice self-care.
We are in a tale of two Americas; … “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity” … as “A Tale of Two Cities” ends with the feeling of crushing defeat, there is also the imagination of a peaceful future, one where those who’ve sacrificed laid the groundwork for those who were prosperous and happy.
Please remember the people and principles close to your heart, they will always provide you with purpose and motivation, but please do not forget yourself. The stress, depression, and worse that are metastasized by the unrelenting selfish corruption, unashamed cruelty, intentional malfeasance, and bigoted xenophobia have degraded our communities, institutions, and daily lives—please take care of yourself.
You are needed, we are all needed, in reclaiming an America to be proud of — together, finally, let’s make America great.
Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.