Washington • During a meeting with Donald Trump at Trump Tower in June 2016, with the opéra bouffe builder improbably heading toward the nomination despite a skeletal campaign crew on a floor below, I asked when he would pivot.
We all assumed he would have to pivot, that he would have to stop his belittling Twitter rants, that he would have to cease attacking fellow Republicans like John McCain, that he would have to get more in line with the traditional stances of his party, that he would have to be less of a barbarian at the gates of D.C.
He crossed his arms, pursed his lips and shook his head — a child refusing vegetables.
How naive he was, I thought to myself. But I was the naive one. Trump has forced the world to pivot to him.
The state of the union is upside down and inside out and sauerkraut. Trump has changed literally everything in the last three years, transforming and coarsening the game. On Friday night, he became, arguably, the most brutishly powerful Republican of all time. Never has a leader had such a stranglehold on his party, subsuming it with one gulp.
As the Senate voted 51-49 to smother the impeachment inquiry, guided by the dark hand of Mitch McConnell, it felt like the world’s greatest deliberative body had been hollowed out, diminished.
McConnell let Mitt Romney and Susan Collins vote to allow documents and witnesses such as John Bolton, knowing two could strain at the leash safely.
The rest of the senators fell into line as sycophantic clones of Mike Pence. The impeachment trial amounted to one side being earnest and one pretending to be. It was exactly what Nancy Pelosi feared would happen before she was reluctantly drawn into the show trial.
“Now the State of the Union is going to be the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man coming down the street and standing in the rubble of what’s left of the Congress,” keened one Democrat on Friday night. “The Republican Party has now lost whatever control they could exert over this president, any oversight they could have. It’s gone. The state of the union is there is no union. How can there be when one side is petrified of their Godzilla?”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., dismissed Republicans as “a cult of personality” around Trump.
“This trial in so many ways crystallized the completely diametrically opposed threats that Democrats and Republicans see to the country,” Murphy told Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times. “We perceive Donald Trump and his corruption to be an existential threat to the country. They perceive the deep state and the liberal media to be an existential threat to the country.
“That dichotomy, that contrast, has been growing over the last three years, but this trial really crystallized that difference. We were just speaking different languages, fundamentally different languages when it came to what this trial was about. They thought it was about the deep state and the media conspiracy. We thought it was about the president’s crimes.”
I feel like I have spent my career watching the same depressing dynamic that unspooled Friday night: Democrats trying, sometimes ineptly, to play fair, and Republicans ruthlessly trying to win.
I watched it with the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. I watched it in the 2000 recount with Bush versus Gore. I watched it with the push by W., Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to go to war in Iraq. I watched it with the pantomime of Merrick Garland.
Democrats are warning Republicans that they will be judged harshly by history. But in the meantime, the triumphant Republicans get to make history. And a lot of the history that Republicans have made is frightening: the endless, futile wars, the obliviousness to climate change, the stamp on the judiciary.
As Carl Hulse of The Times writes in his book, “Confirmation Bias,” about the Garland fiasco: “The success in naming judges was the signal achievement of Trump’s first two years. In the coming years, those judges will be among the members of the federal bench called to rule on Trump’s policies and practices in cases arising from challenges initiated by increasingly confrontational Democrats and other legal adversaries around the nation. Mitch McConnell made a snap decision one night in 2016. The consequences will reverberate for decades.”
For hours Friday, the House managers made their vain final arguments. Pressing for Bolton’s testimony, Val Demings implored Republican senators: Aren’t you worried that, if left in office, Trump will harm America’s national security, seek to corrupt the upcoming election and undermine our democracy to further his own personal gain? Don’t you want to hear the witnesses and see the documents that would give the full story and make this a fair trial rather than a mock one?
“This is the American way and this is the American story,” Demings told the Republican senators as they looked back at her, impassive or impatient.
But, of course, they didn’t want that. As he voted against witnesses and documents, Lamar Alexander, McConnell’s pal, said Trump did something inappropriate but they just did not accept that it was impeachable, and they did not want to tear up ballots and “pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”
So why not shut it down and cover it up? The books were cooked from the start.
As with so many other pivotal moments in modern history, Republicans wanted to win, not look for the truth. And history, God help us, is written by the winners.
Maureen Dowd is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.