Where Does This Leave Us?

Alan Zendell, May 19th, 2017

The Watergate burglary occurred in May of 1972, and by the following January, seven conspirators had either entered guilty pleas or been convicted. In the ensuing months, investigative reporting led by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post uncovered incriminating evidence that the White House, and President Nixon in particular, had engineered a cover-up and paid the conspirators to take the fall for the operation. When Nixon resigned in August of 1974, his administration had been virtually in stasis for more than a full year. The growing evidence against Nixon and his people had paralyzed the government.

Rumors of President Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky surfaced in 1997, and the resulting storm surge rose until Clinton’s famous denial, “I never had sex with that woman,” the following January. The scandal had already dogged the White House for months, and another full year passed before Clinton’s impeachment by the House and subsequent acquittal of criminal charges by the Senate. The result was that Clinton’s presidency was rendered impotent for the last two-and-a-half years of his administration.

The point is that whether you support Donald Trump or believe he has committed impeachable offenses, as things stand now, it’s a virtual certainty that his credibility and effectiveness as president have been crippled, at least temporarily. This is a very serious matter for the country no matter which side you’re on. Trump is about to depart on his first major international trip. Given his well publicized antics and the fact that the majority of Americans believe he has no respect for the truth, what are foreign leaders to think?

He cannot claim any moral high ground when he meets with the Saudi royal family and the Palestinians, and the chaos in the White House has left the Israelis hoping that his visit to Jerusalem doesn’t end in some kind of diplomatic disaster.  It’s an open question how our NATO allies will receive him when it’s not clear that his own government is behind him, and then there’s the video seen ’round the world of Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov mocking Trump over those secrets he allegedly revealed.

As events play out, this may all blow over eventually, but what we know of previous White House scandals makes it highly likely that that can’t happen before the 2018 Congressional election season is upon us. If you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the Republican legislative agenda to be written into law, you’re probably wringing your hands. If you hate the Republican agenda, you’re rejoicing.

The House passed its health care bill by a hair with the full weight of the president twisting arms in the background, but that was when he still had a shred of credibility. Senate Republicans said clearly that effective presidential leadership will be essential to get anything resembling that bill through their chamber, and the Republicans surely realize their hopes for tax reform in this Congress are now on life support.

As the 2018 election approaches, how many Republican legislators whose seats are in jeopardy are likely to be intimidated by this president? What capital does he have left to buy their votes? I almost feel sorry for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell – ummmm, no, that’s not true. But if I were inclined to, I’d have to remind myself that they’ve both been among Trump’s major enablers. Their deafening silence has allowed this crisis to explode out of proportion, though it’s not clear that they could have prevented it even if they’d had the backbone to speak out.

I’m not unhappy that the Republican legislative agenda appears doomed. As more Americans realize it’s the same selfish, elitist attempt to enhance corporate wealth at the expense of everything else that the right wing has always pushed, I expect the country to breathe a huge sigh of relief. The latest addition is an attempt to reduce funding for public schools to provide more for charter and private schools. Why not scuttle that tax cut and have enough money for both?

Having lived through this twice already, I HATE seeing the country in this kind of turmoil again, but maybe it’s for the best. Maybe these are just birthing pains for that populist revolution the country seemed to want so badly. Maybe with time to reflect on the mess we’re in and the reasons we got here, the Congress that’s sworn in in 2019 will be one that can work together to fix it.

We could get a glimpse of that future in Georgia, next month.

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