TUCSON, Arizona — The scary part of America's descent down a rabbit hole is less the mad ruler who bellows, “Off with their heads!”, than so many salt-of-the-earth guys like Tony, my friendly plumber, who accepts his denial of damning evidence that he himself produced.
That Ukraine phone call ought to impact like planes leveling the World Trade Center. Far more destructive than a terrorist attack, it shows an American president undermining democracy at a time when emboldened dictators plunder a world faced with mass extinctions.
Yet Tony tunes out impeachment fervor as just more noise from a corrupt liberal media monolith. “Hillary and Obama did the same thing,” he tells me. I don't argue. He's a good guy at heart with an immutable viewpoint: journalists, like plumbers, make a living by stirring up shit.
Donald Trump is gambling that enough people like Tony believe him over their own eyes and ears. History warns us to worry. In the 1500s, a British writer coined a phase that sums up human reality dating back to the Bible: There are none so blind as those who will not see.
In the wider world, allies no longer trust America to do the right thing — or even know what that is. China, Russia and regional powers all over the map are muscling into positions of control. The European Union, bedeviled by its own existential crises, is coming unstuck.
Samantha Power, the Harvard professor and journalist who was Barack Obama's U.N. ambassador, put the Ukraine affair into global perspective in a CNN interview. In sum, she said Trump has crippled America's ability to lead by example.
“The president is blatantly extorting a foreign leader (of) a country that has been invaded by Russia, a country that interfered in our election previously,” she said, “and our president is trying to advance his own political welfare rather than look out for an ally.”
Power added, “The fact that people put that transcript out and thought it would be somehow helpful for the president I think just speaks to how accustomed the people around President Trump have become to this pattern of behavior.”
As impeachment looms, Trump triples down with a tweet storm. He says the mysterious analyst should be hunted down and dealt with summarily. “I'm appalled,” former acting CIA director Michael Morell said. “I mean, he's basically saying that this person should be killed.”
Trump accused Adam Schiff of treason — a capital offense — for joining other House committee leaders in demanding an investigation to hear testimony. If Congress attempts to check and balance his authority, he warned, it could spark civil war.
He no longer bothers to seek dirt on Joe Biden; he simply invents it. “Biden and his son are stone-cold crooked,” he said on Fox News. Even if that were true, against all evidence, it is beside the point. The impeachable crime is involving a foreign country in American elections.
Partisans rallied round like hogs jostling at a trough. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, told Jake Tapper on CNN, “If Democrats want to impeach because Rudy Giuliani talked to a couple of Ukrainians, good luck with that.” After lengthy sparring, Tapper said, “I can't believe you're okay with this.” Jordan smirked and kept at it.
Jordan harped on Hunter Biden's board position at a Ukrainian company. Any “what-about” argument pales next to dubious dealings by Trump offspring. One example: Vanity Fair reported in 2017 how Eric Trump bragged about $100 million in loans for golf resorts. “We don't rely on American banks,” he said. “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
The Washington Post exposed the report in an editorial and, as they did with Watergate, editors sent reporters to dig. Others joined in. Watergate was a domestic affair, spying on Democrats down the road from the White House. “I am not a crook,” Nixon said, but he resigned when it was obvious that he was. Trump's approach is his old standby: So, sue me.
Trump no longer answers to the people he is sworn to serve. His press secretary is a public-relations shill. Daily briefings are now occasional media performances in which Trump ignores questions and rails against newspapers of record that ferret out wrongdoing.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” he told reporters this week with no hint of evidence, “because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine." This is far beyond Lewis Carroll's Wonderland rabbit hole.
In political rallies, Trump mocks the legislative and judicial process designed to keep watch on the presidency. “They're handing out subpoenas like cookies,” he says. “Cookies!” Of course, they are — with reason. And Trump obstructs justice yet further by ignoring them.
Americans — who call their single-nation baseball classic the World Series — obsess on what the impeachment showdown means at home. Meantime, few notice smoldering crises that risk bursting into flame all over the map.
Beyond Iran, North Korea and Israel-Palestine, two old foes with nuclear arsenals - India and Pakistan -- face off over Kashmir. Russia, like China, is trying to recolonize much of Africa. Slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia mirror devastation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Trump is hardly responsible for all of these conflagrations, but rather than helping to extinguish them, he is fanning the flames. Dereliction of duty ranks high among his impeachable offenses.
That treacherous self-serving phone call should be enough for an open-and-shut case. But it may not be. Even with so much evidence in plain sight, polls suggest about 45 percent of Americans oppose even an inquiry into whether there are grounds for impeachment.
Maverick Democrats obstruct the process. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib distributes t-shirts emblazoned, “Impeach the M.F.” Clever but not helpful in swaying conservative voters still on the fence.
The Ukraine case supports one clear-cut indictment. Robert Mueller's exhaustive report on Russian meddling directs congressional prosecutors to many more. Although a Republican Senate won't convict, trial in the House can cut through all of Trump's flimflam smokescreens.
“The impeachment power was built for moments like this one,” constitutional guru Laurence Tribe wrote in the Guardian (link below). “It exists to guard against would-be tyrants who sacrifice democracy and sell out national security...especially when they embroil foreign nations in that corrupt effect.”
The House must act quickly and decisively, with a broad range of testimony to shed light on the full extent of Trump's depredations, Tribe added. That would focus wavering voters before elections next year. But don't count on Tony the plumber.