I have been closely following the TV news coverage of the US congressional hearings on the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump and I am reminded of Harry Belafonte’s song, “Man Piaba,” which goes this way:
“When I was a lad of three-foot-three, certain questions occurred to me;
So I asked my father quite seriously to tell me the story ‘bout the bird and bee.
He stammered and he stuttered pathetically and this is what he said to me:
“He said, ‘The woman piaba and the man piaba and the ton ton call back a lemon grass;
The lily root, gully root, belly root uhmm — and the famous granny’s scratch scratch!’
“It was clear as mud and it covered the ground and the confusion made me head go ‘round;
So I went to ask an old friend of mine, known to the world as Albert Einstein..”
Einstein’s explanation was also “as clear as mud and it covered the ground,” and so was that of Sigmund Freud, whom the curious lad also asked. In frustration, he concludes:
“All good men upon this earth have confused me since my birth.
I’ve been over land and been over sea trying to find the story ‘bout the bird and bee;
Now that I am 93 I don’t give a damn, you see…”
Isn’t it amusing that something as basic as the sexual relations between man and woman (the bird and the bee) should be obfuscated and muddled by “all the good men upon this earth.” It is a fact. Try discussing sex with your curious five-year-old.
But the citizens of the United States — and inevitably the whole world — have no choice but to give a damn about the results of the impeachment hearing on the president of the most powerful country on the planet. America’s economic, military, and social influence is so pervasive that it is said that when the US catches a cold, the world comes down with pneumonia.
In other words, the impeachment of a US president will have a resounding impact on the world. Of course, Trump’s enemies will welcome his ejection from office. But Trump’s voter base won’t give a damn.
The “never-Trumpers” (Trump’s description of those who would like to see him kicked out of office), are painfully aware that although he may be impeached in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, the Republican-dominated Senate, which is mandated to conduct the actual impeachment trial, is not likely to render a verdict that will force him out of the White House. It will take a two-thirds vote of the Senate rolls to impeach, an unlikely occurrence, according to political observers.
During the incumbency of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, the figurative shoe was on the other foot. Clinton was impeached by a Republican-controlled Lower House but was acquitted by the Democrats who were the majority in the Senate.
What is interesting is that when Republican President Richard Nixon faced the possibility of impeachment in an inquiry initiated by House Democrats, it was a delegation of fellow Republicans that delivered the harsh message to Nixon. That persuaded Nixon to resign.
Even more remarkable was the fact that it was a bi-partisan Senate Committee that approved the initial investigation into the Watergate break-in that started the scandal.
That bi-partisanship is non-existent in the current impeachment hearings. President Manuel Quezon’s immortal quote, “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins,” is meaningless to the partisans on Capitol Hill and the White House.
In fact, it was in anticipation of an acquittal of Trump by the Republican-controlled Senate that kept Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many Democrats from pushing sooner for a formal impeachment inquiry. They were also worried that impeaching Trump could result in a voter backlash that could hand Trump a second term in next year’s presidential election, the way Clinton won a second term after being impeached.
The political gamble seemed too risky. Public opinion polls indicate that Trump’s voter base has not been affected by the negative reports about his chaotic governance and only a slight majority of the American public are in favor of impeaching and removing Trump.
Trump’s boast that he could shoot a man in the middle of Manhattan and not lose a single vote among his mesmerized supporters, still rings eerily true in the ears of the Democrats and enlightened Americans.
It took the quid pro quo arm-twisting that Trump allegedly tried to apply on the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, that forced Pelosi to finally accede to the mounting demand by her party caucus for impeachment proceedings to be initiated no matter what the political cost. Trump had made a Mafia-like “offer that couldn’t be refused” to Zelensky, pressuring the Ukranian government to dig up dirt on Trump’s potential rival for the presidency in the 2020 elections.
The impeachment process is being aggressively pursued by the Democrats, in spite of the political risk, because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
The current impeachment hearings are a spectacle of partisanship and obfuscation. The Republicans have gradually altered their defensive posture from denying that there was ever a quid pro quo (in terms of withholding from Ukraine over $400 million in US aid in exchange for dirt on former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden), to “so what if there was a quid pro quo, what’s wrong with that?,” to “okay, assuming there was wrong-doing, it isn’t enough grounds for impeaching a duly elected president.”
The Democrats, on the other hand, have been methodically demolishing the Republican rationalization by presenting witnesses who have attested to Trump’s pressure tactics on the Ukranians. They have also cited the constitutional basis for impeaching Trump, leaving the Republicans and Trump to resort to obfuscation or, in Belafonte’s words, “making the situation clear as mud” and presenting the American public with a “confusion that makes their head go ‘round.”
What is interesting is that the battleground in this high-stakes spectacle is in the minds of the American public. The objective of the Republicans is to confuse the US electorate and leave enough doubts in their minds about the justification for impeaching the president. The Trump apologists are hoping that the doubts will translate into a tolerance for his misdemeanors enough to win him a second term.
Indeed, for the average Americans, impeachment is a step into the unknown. And Trump has been painting all kinds of doomsday scenarios should he be removed from office — even the possibility of a violent upheaval among his supporters.
On the other hand, the objective of the Democrats is to make a compelling case for impeachment based on blatant abuse of power and obstruction of justice, all adding up to high crimes and misdemeanors. They have toyed with the idea of throwing in treason among the articles of impeachment but are not sure that there will be enough grounds for this based on the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia and Vladimir Putin.
The US media and political pundits refer to these tactical and strategic moves by both parties as a “messaging war.”
It is ironic that an icon of the rule of law like America finds itself caught in a situation where the fate of the president — and, perhaps, of the country itself — depends on the ability of contending parties to obfuscate, to muddle the public perception of events and circumstances, and to leave that perception “clear as mud,” thus making the public’s head “go ‘round.”
Frankly this has boiled down into a communications contest — almost a marketing contest of competing brands — demanding the manipulative skills of wordsmiths and legal shysters — the rule of law and the Constitution be damned.
Donald Trump himself is such a skilled manipulator for whom lying comes naturally. Like a cornered beast, he is expected to lie and cheat, unleash foul blows, and throw his most loyal associates under the bus to survive. Indeed, Trump could be a poster boy for Sun Tsu’s Art of War, where the master of warfare advises that an enemy should be allowed an avenue of escape because, if cornered, he will fight to death.
It is a sad testament that even his worst detractors grudgingly concede that, when the smoke of battle has cleared, Trump could still survive like the indestructible cockroach while they themselves will be smarting in defeat.
However, in spite of that dire possibility the impeachment process should still be pursued and consummated. BECAUSE IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.