by Garry Kasparov
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It was foolish to hope that Donald Trump would be cowed into better behavior by the start of impeachment hearings last Wednesday. His type never admits wrongdoing, never apologizes, never changes for the better. Instead, they smear their accusers, attack the witnesses, and cause as much chaos as possible to distract from the growing pile of evidence against them.
Along the way, they drag their supporters down to their level, obliging them to twist the truth and contort their morals to defend the indefensible.
Thanks to the live feed of the hearings from the Longworth House Office Building, those with strong stomachs can watch this performative debasement in real-time. Just listen to the Republican congressmen during the hearings as they reel off denials, fabrications and distractions while never attempting to refute the core of the allegations against their master.
And how could they, since Trump’s lawyers, officials and Trump himself have already admitted to it all?
There is no limit to the possible number of lies and only one truth, so it’s easy for the facts to be lost in the rising tide of falsehoods. Instead of falling into the trap of refuting every conspiracy theory and slander, the best remedy is to keep repeating the truth, as often as necessary, like taking a medicine.
So, once more for the record: Trump withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine in order to extort Ukraine’s president into helping smear Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival. That’s it. Game over. Everything else — how it served Vladimir Putin’s interests in undermining Ukraine and deflecting Russian guilt for hacking the 2016 U.S. election — no matter how damning it may be, is just treasonous icing on the impeachable cake.
The U.S. eventually released the aid, which the White House had no authority to delay, only after the whistleblower blew the whistle. This is not a defense. There’s no such thing as “attempted extortion.” The threat is the crime, regardless of whether it was successful. This wasn’t diplomatic hardball, or anything between nations. It was Trump abusing the authority of the United States to help his reelection.
This may still sound like small potatoes, even if it’s a greater offense than, say, what President Nixon did leading to his resignation over Watergate. Is it really worth impeaching a president over shaking down a country most Americans can’t find on a map?
As for using reelection as proof of innocence, Mason blew that out of the water by pointing out that this would only encourage a president to “repeat his guilt,” by abusing his powers further to guarantee his reelection.
Faced with this, Trump and his allies in Congress have declared war on the system itself, essentially saying that Trump can do whatever he likes, the law be damned. What is at stake here is also far more important than Watergate because the threat is to the rule of law, to either hold the highest office in the land accountable or to treat the president as an infallible Sun King.
Doubt everything, the Republicans are saying, except for the word of Trump. What he says is always true, even if he contradicts himself tomorrow, as he so often does. This isn’t the position of a political party, but that of a cult of fanatics bowing down to a false idol.
GOP claims that the various witnesses don’t have first-hand knowledge of Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors are a bizarre joke when the White House is blocking key figures from testifying. If I have to choose, I’ll take the word of people speaking in public under oath over those shooting from ambush, cowering and tweeting.
The GOP techniques on display are quite familiar to me, having spent so much of my life inside the propaganda bubbles of the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia. It was therefore ironic to see the GOP accusing the Democrats of “Soviet-style” hearings when it’s the Republicans who are taking cues from the KGB playbook.
Obscuring the truth is one objective, but the larger goal is to create so much doubt and hostility that people become exhausted and stick to one or two news sources that make them feel comfortable.
In America, that means directing Trump’s followers to Fox News, which has become bad enough to evoke memories of the Soviet Pravda (“Truth”) newspaper and nightly news where the Communist Party could do no wrong.
As the joke went, there were three TV channels in the USSR. Channel 1 was Brezhnev, Channel 2 was Brezhnev, and Channel 3 was a KGB guy warning you to stop changing channels. That’s what the Republicans are doing now in a desperate attempt to keep voters from hearing the truth. Don’t look with your eyes or listen with your ears, comrades, just turn back to Channel 1!
But even if you can fool some of the people all of the time, the relentless moving of the goalposts has to be wearing thin.
First Trump didn’t do it. Then, even if he did it, nobody can prove it. Well, you can prove it, but it’s not so bad. Okay, it’s bad, but the proof is second-hand. The goalposts shift by the hour, a moving target that cannot be hit.
Now there’s plenty of first-hand evidence even with the White House trying to stop key figures from testifying. All the Republicans have left is blind loyalty and slandering the messengers of so much bad news for the Dear Leader.
Unfortunately for Trump and the GOP, “the best defense is a good offense” applies better to chess than it does to the law. Just ask Trump’s campaign chief, Paul Manafort, or Trump’s adviser, Roger Stone, who is also off to a prison cell after being convicted on all counts on Friday.
That nearly everyone around Trump turns out to be a criminal is a coincidence nearly on the scale of how many of their crimes come back to Russian connections. It’s good to know that when you follow a false prophet, Jesus’s dictum “the truth will set you free” does not apply. Instead, the truth gets you sent to jail.
Trump’s ability to drag people down to his level of the swamp is mirrored on the international front. He attacks traditional allies while befriending thugs and autocrats. He spreads corruption, keen to make other leaders as complicit as he is in order to gain leverage over them. These are the practices Putin uses to spin his web in the free world and it’s a sad day when these same habits are preferred by the president of the United States.
The day the hearings began, Trump hosted Turkish leader Recep Erdogan at the White House, honoring the autocrat who recently began slaughtering the U.S.-allied Kurds in Northern Syria after Trump abandoned them.
“I’m a big fan of the president,” Trump said, without explanation. Two days earlier, Trump made the even more bizarre statement that Erdogan “has a great relationship with the Kurds,” which is like saying an alligator has a great relationship with baby ducks.
Just hours after several Republican senators met with Erdogan, Trump’s staunch defender Lindsey Graham blocked a Senate resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, a measure that recently passed the House by a vote of 405-11. Perhaps Graham considers it politically incorrect to condemn a past genocide when Turkey is now keen to commit another with tacit U.S. approval.
Such immoral lunacy is why impeachment is not only valid, but urgent. This is not a partisan matter, which is why the Renew Democracy Initiative recently moved to support the impeachment inquiry. The American people deserve the opportunity to pick a side between corruption and the rule of law, between democracy and autocracy, between the truth and deception. We already know which side Trump has taken in each case. Now his Republican defenders should be forced to do the same, to pick a side in full view of the voting public.
“Facts are stubborn things,” wrote John Adams. And we must be no less stubborn in defending those facts. If Trump is so infallible, he and his defenders should have no qualms about having him deliver the truth not on Twitter, not at a rally, but under oath.
Kasparov is the chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative and of the NY-based Human Rights Foundation.