Whether Trump is impeached or remains in office, Putin has already won
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse December 29, 2017
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
AMMAN — Those wishing for impeachment might get more than they wished for, and either way, America may be irreparably damaged.
Disclaimer: this is a fictional, hypothetical situation
Sometime in April of 2019…
The House vote to impeach President Donald Trump set off a firestorm in American politics not seen since at least the 1960s and perhaps even the Civil War and Reconstruction era.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into all things Trump-Russia ended on August 10th, 2018. In the process, nearly two-dozen Trump associates—from lower “unofficial” campaign officials to senior Administration officials—had been charged with various crimes, from lying to federal investigators to money laundering, some resulting in stiff prison sentences. Mueller uncovered enough information that made it clear people very close to Trump had attempted to collude with Russia, then lied about it and attempted to obstruct justice. While specific evidence making it clear that Trump had himself colluded did not emerge, clear evidence that he had attempted to obstruct justice did.
And yet, this information only came out in and drabs leaked to the press, as the Republicans in Congress who received the report decided to sit on its details and not release them to the public, ignoring the recommendation of charges by the Special Counsel and signed off on by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Just a few months before the midterms, the actions of the Congressional Republicans, combined with the juicy leaks to the press about some of what they were hiding, set off an uproar that allowed a November Democratic sweep of all House Republicans on the West Coast—alone accounting for nearly 20 seats—as well the flipping a number of seats in East Coast liberal areas, including suburban districts in places like Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and even a few rural districts in places like Maine and Maryland. A few of the key Republicans who deliberately kept Mueller’s findings from the public were voted out of office, too, the so-called “Resistance” pouring inordinate amounts of resources into their races, and Republicans overall—facing many more tight races than expected across the country and with the donor class demoralized—were unable to match the intensity of their rivals in those marquee races.
Even allowing for all this, the Democrats were unable to take back the House, but they had eroded the GOP House advantage to just a handful of seats and managed to score a 50-50 tie in the Senate.
The public had spoken, a voting coalition that included conservatives in many liberal states who had united with “the Resistance” to stand against the blatant Republican obstructionism in the Trump-Russia investigation, sending send a clear message as the 116th Congress took power in 2019. It was obvious that the GOP would find it much more difficult to get away with its blatant obstructionism, and the House Judiciary Committee with only a few GOP defections was able to pass a vote allowing the contents of the Special Counsel’s detailed findings to be made public late in January, though with some redactions.
Then in mid-February, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan reluctantly agreed to allow the House Judiciary Committee to take up discussion of impeachment articles that had been introduced by Democrats months ago.
The evidence was clear and overwhelming, and the committee—with just a few Republican defections—was able to vote in March to recommended several articles of impeachment for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
A right-wing media assault led by former Trump advisor (and still confidante) Steve Bannon from his perch at Breitbart News had already begun once Speaker Ryan had allowed impeachment to be taken up by the Judiciary Committee, but it went into overdrive once the House debate on impeachment began. The vast majority of the well over 200 GOP House members stayed loyal to the President, but all that was required to reach a majority were a handful of Republican defectors—some of the few remaining Republicans from states like New York and New Jersey, ironically, Trump’s backyard—and the House voted to impeach both Trump and Pence on April 9th, 2019, in a vote that featured two fistfights on the House floor.
The vote’s symbolism—154 years after General Lee’s surrender of “Confederate” rebel forces at Appomattox in Virginia—was not lost on Trump’s supporters, who used it as a galvanizing call. The day of the vote, hundreds of protests and counter-protests all over the country were held, violence breaking out in many; a good number of the protests against impeachment were organized by alt-right groups as armed open carry protests, and were often men by Antifa folks ready for a fight. Dozens of protesters, counter-protesters, and even some law-enforcement officials were wounded and, all told, there were 14 fatalities, the worst political violence in America since the 1992 Los Angeles riots and, before that, since the unrest of the 1960s and 1970s.
That same day, Russia launched offensives (with soldiers in unmarked uniforms) in Moldova and in Ukraine, taking the capitals of each and removing what Putin, in a speech televised live nationally in Russia, called “criminal regimes installed by the West.” Russian jets also buzzed U.S. planes in Syria, the Black Sea, and over the Baltic states, where aggressive Russian activities resulted in several air defense missiles being fired in Latvian airspace at Russian jets that nevertheless maneuvered safely back to Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave.
North Korean forces fired several test missiles into Japanese waters but also shot down a U.S. spy plane with newly equipped anti-air missiles purchased from Russia, taking the American pilot prisoner.
Iran—reacting to the U.S. decision nearly a year earlier to ignore the nuclear deal reached under the Obama Administration and to unilaterally reimpose sanctions, as well as fearing war from a bellicose American government—conducted the first nuclear test in that nation’s history in the middle of the night, even catching Israel’s Mossad by surprise.
ISIS also conducted attacks on several American embassies in the Middle East, killing dozens (though mostly local bystanders and local military), and al-Qaeda even managed several attacks in Afghanistan and against the U.S. embassy in Pakistan, though no Americans were killed in either attack.
The next day, Mike Pence resigned as Vice President, and Congress made it clear that it would not vote on anyone Trump would nominate as a successor until (at least) the Senate had decided its verdict.
Even before the Senate began its proceedings, cries among rightists that the country was being stolen from them, that liberals and the “Deep State” were conspiring to thwart the will of the voters and to illegally overturn a valid presidential election, had been mounting. Vigilantes in Texas and Arizona assaulted migrant workers, seriously injuring a dozen, claiming that liberals were trying to get them to illegally vote after Trump tweeted concerns about illegal voting helping change the balance of power in the new Congress amid an unprecedented Twitter storm the day of his impeachment.
In one day, several apparently spontaneous assaults on congressmen and senators in town halls being held across the country before the Senate’s trial resulted three failed assaults but also in two dead congressmen, one seriously wounded senator, and one slightly wounded senator (the seriously wounded senator the result of an attack by an Antifa extremist, the lone leftist among the assaulters). All town halls were subsequently canceled and Congress began to operate amid unprecedented security, with the special election to replace the murdered congressmen operating in a state of fear and rage.
Meanwhile, many alt-right groups were organizing a combined armed march on Washington, to begin in Northern Virginia the day the Senate trial of Trump—who was showing no signs of backing down and had ordered military units to protect him in the White House—was to begin. They had weeks to organize, and well over 100,000 arms-bearing Trump supporters—including some full militia groups—gathered during the days before the Senate trial was to start. Since it was illegal for armed protests to happen in when the groups tried to march across the Potomac over several bridges into Washington, they were blocked by authorities; rather than cooler heads prevailing, gunshots rang out and pitched battles occurred on the bridges. The shots could be heard from the Senate floor as the trial commenced. When Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis acted to deploy units to restore order, Trump abruptly removed him from office that day, and the militia groups and civilian law enforcement, each sustaining wounded and dead, settled into a stalemate as Washington went on lockdown. Protesters protesting the march were also shot, and of protesters, inspired by a defiantly unhinged Trump and the first wave of protesters who refused to back down, began to organize. Throughout the country, federal government installations were attacked by militias, which in some cases took over smaller facilities and took hostages. More deaths occurred during these developments, and protesters of all stripes took to the streets that evening, with scuffles and deaths reported in a wide range of locations.
Many governors reacted to the shocking events by imposing state-wide curfews and calling in the National Guard. In many instances, the National Guard had to use force to restore order after overwhelmed local law enforcement officials were unable to do so.
By the next morning, from the Memorial Bridge connecting Arlington and Washington to Austin’s Texas State Capitol and many other locations, over 200 Americans were dead, more wounded. The fighting in the U.S. had sent world markets into their worst plunges since the 2008 financial crises, and many governments halted trading. Governors in West Virginia, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, North and South Dakota, and Kentucky called for secession, as did dozens of state lawmakers elsewhere.
By this time, Israel had already carried out military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, and Iran had retaliated by firing missiles that hit Tel Aviv and had killed several hundred Israelis, while Hezbollah missiles from Lebanon had killed scored of Israelis and Israel’s retaliatory strikes in Lebanon and in Syria against Hezbollah-stationed units there killed over 1,000 people. Israeli jets had ended up in dogfights with Russian jets while American planes just looked on, though the Russian and Israeli leaders were said to be reducing tensions, all this occurring without any mediation
On the Korean Peninsula, several border incidents resulted in several dozen U.S., South Korean, and North Korean dead, with fears of war gripping East Asia and Kim Jong-un threatening nuclear attacks on Seoul, Tokyo, Honolulu, and Los Angeles.
When the UN convened the Security Council, none of the other representatives knew if America’s ambassador spoke for the U.S. Government anymore (even more so than before).
The Senate, fearing what a prolonged trial would lead to and with some surprising defections from Republicans who were taken aback by the national violence, got exactly 66 votes to remove Trump from office.
The President, suffering from a mental breakdown, then said that he refused to acknowledge the result and called on his supporters to “fight to take the country back.” With Mattis gone, chaos reigned at the Pentagon as individual local unit commanders took it upon themselves to assist local law enforcement officials in beating back the armed pro-Trump militias converging on Washington; fatalities crossed the 1,000 mark and continued to rise rapidly in this second day of increasing violence, and members of the Secret Service, as well as the military units that had been ordered to the White House by Trump, felt torn.
With violence erupting across the country and law and order breaking down in some areas (even though most Americans remained safe), with the Senate having convicted a President of High Crimes and Misdemeanors for the first time in American history (one who was still defiantly occupying the White House), and with several million angry Trump supporters—many armed—converging on Washington, the U.S. was faced with a constitutional crisis that went far beyond Nixon and even the Civil War. Whatever would happen in the coming hours, days, weeks, and months, there was serious doubt that such a polarized and wounded nation could come back to “normal order” anytime soon. It seemed clear that Trump would be gone soon, and Paul Ryan in as president, but how could he govern? And how could the violent fury that had been unleashed and the calls for secession be contained?
Vladimir Putin sat in in bed in his presidential palace, breaking his usual abstemiousness by sipping vodka with one of his mistresses lying naked on top of him, and gleefully watched the Breitbart News Network (BNN) coverage of the fighting on the Memorial Bridge. “You Americans were so arrogant thinking you had ‘won’ the Cold War,” he said aloud, his mistress chuckling. “Who is winning now?” he asked and downed the entire rest of his glass before turning his attention to his mistress, gunshots in America providing the mood music for his date night.
It is impossible to know if or when Donald Trump will be impeached. But if he were, none of the events described above are so far out of the realm of possibility that they can be regarded as mere fantasy. Whatever events do transpire, it is far more likely that impeachment would only further divide the nation rather than bring it together, the same as the prospects for a continued Trump presidency. It seems, then, that for the foreseeable future, we are the Divided—not United—States of America.
With or without Trump in office for a full term, Putin has already won.
Disclaimer: the author does not hope for, nor does he encourage, any of the violent acts depicted in these hypothetical scenarios
September 21st, 2019 note: I absolutely think as a matter of principle, Trump should be impeached. But in practical terms, it’s not so simple, and bad timing or moving without enough support could hurt Democrats, empower Trump, and even help Trump go after his political enemies. So I’m with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I trust her judgment and if it can work she’ll know the time to strike if it presents itself or if it will be better to hold off. After all, there are a lot of possible side-effects to consider…
© 2017 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome
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