At the end of the 1973 film The Sting, after Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) pull off an elaborate con on Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) in revenge for murdering a friend, Gondorff turns to Hooker and asks him if it’s enough. Johnny Hooker thinks about it and says, “It’s not enough.” Then he laughs and says, “But it’s close.”
I think that’s how I feel about the impeachment of Trump. I know that the Senate Republicans will not vote to convict him on either count because they are either beholden to their party line and that party line is Trump No Matter What, or they are too afraid of angry old white guys with Truck Nutz and deer rifles to stand up for the oath they took. Most of them, it would seem, signed off on their oath of office the same way most people sign off on their software terms and conditions; click Yes to agree and move on to the porn or shopping cart. So Mitch McConnell will quickly dispatch the trial, not allow witnesses or testimony from the House committees, and let Trump off the hook.
But the damage has been done. No matter what happens in the Senate, the first line of Trump’s obituary will include that he was impeached, sharing that honor with Bill Clinton, the husband of his nemesis, and the 19th century’s paragon of Confederate revenge, Andrew Johnson. History will record it, the archives will contain his rants and ramblings, and generations from now our successors will ponder the mindset of a country that eight years before elected an African-American and then, in a paroxysm of splenetic vitriol, elected the perfect antithesis of Barack Obama.
The defenders of Trump have been saying that the Democrats are trying to overturn the election of 2016. Yes, they are. That’s why the Constitution has the remedy of impeachment. The folks who wrote it knew that at some point, there would need to be a remedy for an election that turned out badly for the country and that’s how it is done. They didn’t anticipate that it would be a partisan issue, but they had the foresight not to take it lightly, so that’s why they made it as hard to impeach a president as possible: both the House and the Senate had to concur, and in conviction it had to be more than just a majority of votes. The only thing harder to pull off is amending the Constitution. So far, none of the presidents that have been impeached have been convicted; Johnson escaped by one vote, and it was hardly close for Clinton. But the remedy of impeachment still carries the sting, and if for no other reason, this is the mark that Trump will take with him to posterity.
Trump’s defenders also claim that this impeachment is revenge for the Democrats losing the election; that they never got over Hillary Clinton’s defeat. But that’s where they’re mistaking a fundamental difference between those who follow Trump and those who follow the law. Trump’s entire life is geared towards revenge: getting back at the people who didn’t take him seriously as a businessman and harboring hatred for those who by their very nature attract good people and inspire them to do good things for others. His hatred of Barack Obama is palpable; everything he’s done in office has been to tear down what President Obama achieved, and to take back what he believes rightfully belongs to the white guys. Trump has never done anything in his life to elevate himself, either financially or politically, without tearing down or cheating someone else on the way. To him, he cannot rise without destruction, and the landscape and jails are littered with the desiccated remains of those who tried to stop him or, paradoxically, enabled him. But this time both the Constitution and his betters caught up with him, and for committing acts that to him have been normal practice all his life: coerce, extort, and bury the evidence. He’s proudly admitted to it: we have the tapes and the witnesses. And for once, the justice system has marked him. There is no settlement offer that he can weasel out of, and even if the Senate does acquit him, the indictment still stands. It is not revenge; it is justice. The Republicans and Trump, however, cannot distinguish between the two.
So no, it’s not enough just to impeach Trump. But it’s close.