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His announcement that he will not be voting to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial has lasting implications for the country and the world.
Behold the arbiter of your future.
This is the Senator who has decided that there is no need to call witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump—a man who used his powers as president in a deliberate attempt to subvert the electoral process with the assistance of a foreign government. Lamar Alexander, a 79-year-old white man from Tennessee, has unilaterally determined that Donald Trump's crimes are not worthy of punishment from the only body with the capacity to hold him accountable. As a result, by the time you read this, Donald Trump will likely have already been acquitted and the impeachment will be over.
Alexander's claim—according to the statement released Thursday night—is that Trump's misdeeds have already been proven, and there's no need for the public spectacle of witnesses attesting to those misdeeds on national TV. He asserts that, while withholding military aide from Ukraine until they publicly announce an investigation into your political opponent may be a bad look, it doesn't rise to the "Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense." And it is not the Senate's role "to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate."
There is some truth to this statement, but it's a small truth that helps to conceal a much bigger lie. Granted, there are varying legal opinions on what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors," and there was essentially zero chance that the Senate's Republican majority was ever going to vote to remove Donald Trump from office. So why bother going through the motions of a legitimate impeachment trial—allowing new evidence and witness testimony? The answer lies in another portion of Alexander's statement: "Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with 'the consent of the governed,' not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide." This, despite the fact that more than 70% of Americans wanted the impeachment trial to include witnesses.
And how should the people decide if there are facts and perspectives being deliberately withheld? That has been the explicit goal in Mitch McConnell's handling of the impeachment trial. Presumably, he knows what the Watergate hearings did to Richard Nixon's approval rating. Nixon resigned because the American people were exposed to who he truly was, and they turned against him. If not for those hearings, he would have remained popular. Likewise, according to a recent poll, 65% of Republicans consider Trump's interactions with Ukraine "normal presidential behavior." Consent is not truly consent if it is not informed.
Pew Research Center
So while Lamar Alexander may be convinced that Trump acted inappropriately, without the spectacle of witness testimony, that is not the message many Americans are going to receive. They will hear that Trump has been exonerated. That impeachment was a nothing-burger and a distraction. And they probably won't read John Bolton's damning book. And Lamar Alexander knows that.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump will give his State of the Union address and will have ample opportunity to move the national conversation past his multiple deliberate attempt to interfere with the democratic process and to obstruct the various efforts to expose him—including instructions to "take out" a troublesome diplomat. Normal presidential behavior? He was trying to cheat in the election, and apparently—as long as your political party controls the majority in the senate—that's allowed.
Senator Alexander has cleared the way for the American people to carry on with normal life without truly confronting the corruption that defines Donald Trump's interactions with the world and everyone around him. He has made it increasingly likely that Donald Trump will continue to use the immense powers of the presidency to pursue personal and political ends at the expense of global stability, our democratic institutions, and a sustainable future. Lamar Alexander—along with 50 of his colleagues—will soon have effectively rubber-stamped election rigging.
But in his statement there is no indication that this choice has any significant ramifications. He is willingly obscuring the real stakes, partly out of party loyalty, and partly because his age makes those stakes abstract. He will be dead soon. Maybe not this year or the next, or even twenty years from now, but in comparison to the young membership of the Sunrise Movement—for instance—his thinking is fundamentally and frighteningly short-term.
If Donald Trump wins re-election in November, it will likely be the outcome of various efforts to leave Americans misinformed and disenfranchised and will almost certainly result in the United States fully abdicating our duty to address climate change—the "Chinese hoax"—with the urgent and intensive action it requires. And there will be many people to blame, but few who were as well-positioned to alter this horrific course of events as Senator Lamar Alexander.
So congratulations, sir. In your waning years you managed to ensure that American democracy and a livable climate are on their way out too. Way to go.
The sordid history of Trump's NatSec advisor.
Picture the most gung-ho Warhawk in modern history, a man who's made a career out of calling for military invasions of foreign countries, forced regime changes, ends to peace treaties.
Do you imagine a hardened war veteran with military accolades who's seen the cost of war and knows its price? Or a nationalist who's fine throwing human life away from the safety of his armchair, despite doing everything in his power to avoid going off to war himself as a youth? If you picture the latter, you've got Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton.
John Bolton did serve in the National Guard and Army Reserve. But he did so in order to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War, essentially biding his time stateside out of fear of real battle. "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost," wrote John Bolton in his 25th college reunion book.
Speaking from a position of privilege might be Bolton's greatest asset, though. Those who have seen war generally speak about it in more tempered measures, while Bolton reached his position through pushing extremes.
Throughout his long career, Bolton has worked under multiple right-wing administrations, from Reagan to W. Bush to Trump. During this time, he's advocated again and again for war, pushing for a U.S. invasion of Iraq dating back to shortly after the first Gulf War, calling for the "end of North Korea," and advocating to terminate the Iran Nuclear Deal. He has also expressed strong nationalistic views against the concept of the United Nations, stating, "There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along."
John Bolton's greatest supporters tend to be similarly-minded radicals like Dick Cheney and Donald Trump, while his detractors tend to be anyone more moderate. Even fellow Republicans denounce Bolton. Condoleezza Rice resisted Cheney's efforts to make Bolton her deputy when she was secretary of state, instead passing him off as a UN ambassador. During the nomination hearing for that job, conservative Republican intelligence official Carl Ford described him as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" who "abuses his authority with little people." Even George W. Bush would later say he regretted Bolton's appointment, allegedly saying he didn't "consider Bolton credible."
And yet Bolton was named the national security advisor to Donald Trump, a fellow draft dodger with a known disregard for human life. To Trump, it didn't matter that Bolton was reviled by the international community. It didn't matter that Bolton was considered radical, largely disrespected even within his own party. For Trump, Bolton was the right man for the job. It remains to be seen whether he will do a better job as a witness.