Trump will be worse in 2020

jules witcover

WASHINGTON — As some hopeful Americans look to the new year with expectations for a fresh start from a dismal and divisive 2019, there is evidence already that they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Just prior to New Year’s Eve, President Donald Trump demonstrated that he intends to keep up his mantra that his impeachment by the House of Representatives is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

Remaining in place are his orders that key White House and Trump administration officials defy and ignore House subpoenas for their testimony sought by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In delaying delivery of the House articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, Pelosi has called for acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to tell what they know about the Ukraine affair at the heart of Trump’s impeachment — a highly unlikely outcome.

Instead, the president has repeated his far-fetched allegations that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as accusations of corruption on the part of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, formerly a highly paid board member of a giant Ukraine energy firm. Both Biden’s have denied allegations of wrongdoing, but the son’s decision to take the post with no known experience in the energy field is an obvious optic vulnerability,

The other day, Joe Biden created a flurry of criticism by first saying he would not honor a Senate subpoena to testify in the Trump impeachment trial, on grounds it was a mere diversionary tactic, and that he had no knowledge of the allegations against Trump.

He soon backtracked, saying he would not defy the subpoena but that he had nothing of factual substance to say about the allegations.

From all this, it is evident that the president will continue to hold his ground against the impeachment charges. He hopes that doing so will further stiffen the spines of his Senate GOP defenders, who already have indicated they will stand by him and vote to acquit him after when the trial concludes.

A question remains, however, how the impeachment and the near-unanimous party opposition of Republican senators will affect the party itself.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has noted that all senators are required by the Constitution to take a specific “Oath of Affirmation” that implies each will provide a fair and just trial. The Democrats have looked askance at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s open observation that he intends to work hand in glove with the Trump White House in conducting the impeachment trial.

With the wide expectation that nearly all Senate Republicans will vote to acquit Trump no matter what new testimony may reveal, his prospective second term would remain under a cloud that Democrats could exploit and embellish as the 2020 presidential campaign goes forward.

For that reason alone, the eventual identity of the Democratic nominee and his or her ability to make the most politically of that cloud could be decisive in the election.

Unless he undergoes some radical and unexpected transformation from the brash, divisive bull-in-a-china-shop style that has marked his first-term behavior and alters his erratic foreign policy, America appears to be heading toward even more stormy weather for at least another year.

The Trump formula of racial, ethnic and social upheaval of his first three years shows no sign of diminishing as he continues his political formula of riling up the American public.

The continued stirring of animosities among its rival political camps by our carnival-barker leader guarantees more domestic turmoil and foreign chaos, at the ultimate cost of our hard-earned and once widely respected democratic experiment.

As a great and noble nation, we find ourselves at a critical crossroads as Trump’s raucous and hate-mongering campaign rallies continue to feed serial lies to his adoring faithful.

So the political decisions of 2020 may well determine whether some version of our self-government will survive through and after the new year.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.