The Irish Times view on the Trump impeachment: a dangerous moment

Democrats must resist engaging with Trump on his own terms

President Donald Trump talks to repoTrump’s behaviour is outrageous, at times comical. But this is a serious and dangerous moment for America. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

President Donald Trump talks to repoTrump’s behaviour is outrageous, at times comical. But this is a serious and dangerous moment for America. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

 

US Speaker Nancy Pelosi took some persuading before finally agreeing to initiate impeachment inquiries against Donald Trump. She was keenly aware of the risks the Democrats would run in moving against the president just as general election season was about to begin. It can’t have helped that Republicans were so bullish about the prospect, alive as they were to the potential of a hyper-partisan impeachment battle to rally the Trump base just in time for the 2020 election.

These are very early days in the process; Pelosi’s scepticism could yet be vindicated, and the attempt could quite easily end up rebounding to Trump’s advantage. And yet, after a remarkable week, it is Democrats, not Republicans, who have more reason to feel satisfied. Trump has already admitted to the offence the Democrats regard as grounds for impeachment, his wild and erratic behaviour suggests he is rattled, and polls show rising public support for impeachment.

Trump’s behaviour is outrageous, at times comical. But this is a serious and dangerous moment for America

This fight will dominate the final year of the Trump presidency. Unlike Bill Clinton, who sought constantly during his own impeachment proceedings to shift the focus back to his policy agenda, Trump is already obsessively, furiously engaged in the battle. His response has swerved from feigned indifference and hubris to self-pity and anger. The charges against him are a “hoax”, the Democrats’ investigation is “the greatest witch-hunt in the history of our country”, the whistleblower who reported his alleged wrongdoing is “a fake whistleblower” and the deep state is in the process of mounting “a coup”.

At first, the White House and the Republicans denied outright the claim that Trump had offered to release US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden. But when the White House released an account of a conversation between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, it showed Trump asking his counterpart for “a favour” just after the issue of US defence aid came up in the conversation. Within days, in what was perhaps the first example of a US president self-impeaching, Trump dropped the denials altogether and openly admitted to having leaned on Kiev to investigate Biden and his son. He then proceeded to call on both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.

Trump’s behaviour is outrageous, at times comical. But this is a serious and dangerous moment for America. Democrats should resist engaging with Trump on his own terms. The more extreme and incendiary he becomes, the more Pelosi and her colleagues must go about their business with the rigour, urgency and care required. Where it may lead, nobody can guess.

But we may soon have an answer to a question that has always hung over the current White House: can the republic’s institutions contain a president who believes he is above the law?

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