December 19, 1998 the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for having lied under oath about an extramarital affair with the intern Monica Lewinsky. This week, on the 18th of December, the Democratic-led House of Representatives will get ready to vote on the impeachment of Donald J. Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, after he declined to cooperate with the inquiry against him.
The evidence against Trump is overwhelming: he used his power to pressure a vulnerable allied nation, Ukraine, to produce compromising information against his political rival, Joe Biden, in exchange for freeing up $400 million in foreign aid. When the quid pro quo is revealed by an official, the White House releases the funds, but the scheme was already obvious to everyone, confirmed even by Trump himself.
Twenty-one years ago I covered the process against Clinton when I was the Washington Correspondent for the daily newspaper La Opinión. The transformation of the political landscape in our society, particularly the Republican Party, is vast.
When this past week the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representative approved the two articles on impeachment against Trump, just listening to the litany of Republican arguments in defense of the indefensible conduct of Trump provoked a mixture of repulsion and sadness in me.
Anyone with a half a brain would understand perfectly that politics has always been a dirty game. But when the truth is so clear that it sparkles, it makes you sick to witness the sad spectacle of a bunch of Trump lackeys contorting to convince us that the truth is not true, that verified facts are not verified facts, that testimony that corroborates what happened, such as text messages and declarations from Trump himself, are a mere optical and auditory illusion. Or worse still, that maybe the conduct isn’t great but, as White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “get over it.”
Trump’s Republican Party, since 2016, is the same one that shamelessly lashes out against the truth, has justified the list of improper and even illegal acts by this president, from sexual harassment allegations and hush money to porn actresses to the impedement of investigations against him for seeking foreign assistance to win elections, as he did in 2016 with Russia and this year with Ukraine.
That Republican Party is the same one that lit Clinton on fire for lying under oath about a sexual relationship. Just compare the two cases. I remember clearly the sinners throwing rocks at Clinton despite having their own skeletons in the closet. Don’t forget that two Republicans, first Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and then Bob Livingston, who was to succeeded him after Gingrich’s resignation, were eventually shamed because they led the process against Clinton despite having their own infidelities and extramarital relations.
The evangelicals who beat their chests with the Bible, who usually adjust as they see fit, attacked Clinton without shame, but now defend Trump up and down.
Because it seems that Clinton’s womanizing weighed more for these groups than the corrupt conduct of a president who disdains the Constitution, and plays with national security in order to solicit help from foreign nations during the elections because, it seems, he is afraid to compete cleanly.
During the impeachment of Clinton, there were Democrats who condemned him and who supported the impeachment process. Now with Trump, the Republicans constitute a solid block of support and no one is abandoning ship, even if that means denying the facts or disseminating discredited conspiracy theories pushed by Russia.
I never thought I would witness something like this: conservative Republicans who wrap themselves up in the flag and claim to be more patriotic than George Washington, doing Russia’s dirty work for the puppet of Vladamir Putin, Trump, who controls the base of the party and, with it, the future of these legislators.
Because obviously Trump will not be convicted in any trial that the Republican-majority Senate conducts. It is already decided, because the Republicans do not consider this their constitutional duty, and although the facts merit impeachment, political opportunism and servitude matter more for these characters.
Clinton was not convicted in the Senate either. In fact, his approval ratings shot up after the House of Representatives voted to impeach him, although he always enjoyed high approval numbers, rising as high as 73%, something that Trump could only dream of achieving.
In contrast to Trump, Clinton was not facing reelection. In fact, in 2000 the Republican George W. Bush would be declared president by a Supreme Court decision after the controversial 2000 election against Democrat Al Gore.
Twenty-one years have passed since Clinton’s impeachment. Now the differences between the two parties are more abysmal than ever, a division that permeates our society. What was once fodder for scandal now simply raises yawns. Our information sources have changed, giving way to an immediacy that is a double-edged sword because it unleashes an unparalleled torrent of disinformation, which is what Trump has used to solidify the support of his base.
I ask myself, have all of those changes of a generation affected our capacity to discern; to become indignant at what is wrong; if the constant bombardment of violence and falsehoods has desensitized us to the point that nothing matters anymore, even the corrupt conduct of a president like Trump.
The litmus test, without a doubt, will be the next election, where we will find out if an electorate fed up with the chaos, corruption, and cruelty of this administration will put an end to it, or if scant electoral participation, especially in key states, will give Trump another victory in the anachronistic Electoral College and, with it, another four years of this insanity.