Brinkley: American ‘Democracy Is Broken’ If Dems Don’t Get Their Way in Senate Trial

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According to CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, we can kiss American democracy goodbye if Senate Democrats don’t get their way with the Trump impeachment trial. 

That was the message he delivered Thursday afternoon when to eager co-hosts Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper, stating that presidents will now act as “an outlaw” and “democracy” will be “broken” if Senate Democrats aren’t able to take over the trial with a slew of witnesses, but then remove Trump from office.

 

 

With that in mind, Tapper wondered:

If ultimately what happens is that President Trump is not removed from office from the Senate trial, which is pretty much what every expects since it's a tall order to get 67 senators, what does that mean for future U.S. presidents and their handling of foreign policy and their asking other countries to look into whatever they want? 

Brinkley insisted without pushback that an acquittal would mean that America will now allow presidents to exist “as an outlaw” with Trump being the first more along “that swirl” of Billy the Kid and Al Capone than his actual predecessors.

Brinkley added that Trump will “be...acting in a demagogic way and as acting in a dictatorial way trying to smash the foreign policy establishment, diss our intelligence gatherers, operating in a whole new way of an imperial presidency that we couldn't have imagined, so, it’s very important that Donald Trump was held accountable” by the House.

He then dropped the nutty conclusion:

But I'm afraid if no witnesses come forward after what we've heard about what transpired in the Ukraine and stalking of an ambassador, and none of this gets heard, I feel it's going to make a lot of people think our democracy is broken and that the American presidency, the executive branch is trying to run shotgun over both the judicial branch and certainly over the legislative branch. 

Of course, there was nothing from Blitzer and/or Tapper about how his single worldview doesn’t represent or speak for our constitutional republic, but when one is CNN, such diversity of thought is but an inconvenience.

Earlier in his appearance, he seemed to need a thesaurus like many of his CNN colleagues in words to describe Thursday (click “expand”):

Well, yes, Jake, and yeah, I think you used the right word, the gravity of the day. I've been watching, and you can feel how solemn it is. The fact that as you guys recently said, it's a time to kind of show up and shut up, and so we've been able to watch the choreography going on today, and it's been impressive and it reminds you that we are in for quite a ride coming up. When this was happening in Congress, the impeachment of Donald Trump, it made sense to be talking about Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Papers and Andrew Johnson, but I think right now we need to hone in for at least the weekend to think about William Jefferson Clinton. The fact that Bill Clinton delivered that famous State of the Union address like he did in the middle of impeachment and was able to give him a bounce, but Clinton did it in a magnanimous way. Donald Trump’s [sic] will be giving a State of the Union on February 4th that's almost an act of war against Democrats[.]

(....)

I never thought I'd say that I miss Tom Daschle and Trent Lott. They had comedy and civility and were able to kind of work through the Clinton impeachment. I don't know what we're going to encounter here, but Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer do not seem to be on the same page in any way, shape, and form, and that's because the king daddy battle is for these witnesses, and it's going to be happening quick and fast, and at all costs, the Democrats need to get to hear from Parnas and Giuliani and the rest and maybe the whistle-blower will come and talk in private quarters, maybe Hunter Biden will show. We’ll have to see. I doubt that the Democrats are going to put witnesses like that forward.

To see the relevant CNN transcript from January 16 below, click “expand.”

CNN’s Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump
January 16, 2020
2:36 p.m. Eastern

JAKE TAPPER: Professor Brinkley, put this in historic terms for us. This is a very significant day. 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, yes, Jake, and yeah, I think you used the right word, the gravity of the day. I've been watching, and you can feel how solemn it is. The fact that as you guys recently said, it's a time to kind of show up and shut up, and so we've been able to watch the choreography going on today, and it's been impressive and it reminds you that we are in for quite a ride coming up. When this was happening in Congress, the impeachment of Donald Trump, it made sense to be talking about Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Papers and Andrew Johnson, but I think right now we need to hone in for at least the weekend to think about William Jefferson Clinton. The fact that Bill Clinton delivered that famous State of the Union address like he did in the middle of impeachment and was able to give him a bounce, but Clinton did it in a magnanimous way. Donald Trump’s [sic] will be giving a State of the Union on February 4th that's almost an act of war against Democrats, and also, as you've been commenting, William Rehnquist did an above average, maybe even an excellent job presiding over the Bill Clinton trial, so I believe Roberts is a student of Rehnquist, and we're going to see him make sure that this doesn't get showy or weird, that the Republicans respect Roberts and the Democrats do too. But the big difference is about the Starr Report, and you know, with the Starr Report did a lot of the homework for the Clinton impeachment trial. There were a few witnesses on video as has been mentioned on your show, but by and large, you know, there was never going to be a Monica Lewinsky showing up. Clinton was already sort of — we already knew the outcome. In this case, we pretty much know there are not going to be 67 senators that are going to try to, you know, get Trump out of office, but we don't know if four or five Republicans led by the Mitt Romney gang are going to demand that we have witnesses. [BLITZER INTERRUPTS FOR BERNIE]

(....)

2:39 p.m. Eastern

WOLF BLITZER: Doug Brinkley, we interrupted you, but go ahead. You were making an important point. 

BRINKLEY: Well, I was just trying to make that comparison, differences between what happened to Bill Clinton and what's happening to Donald Trump here and, you know, Bernie Sanders immediately took the microphone right now, and that's a big difference. I mean, we are running a 2020 presidential campaign, and Bill Clinton was at the end of his second term, and it affected politics in the sense that Bill Clinton got — once he wore the “I,” Al Gore tried to avoid being seen with Bill Clinton a lot. Most scholars feel that was a mistake, that Gore should have wrapped his arms around the Clinton economy. So impeachment during Clinton it stigmatized the President. We'll have to see whether Donald Trump gets stigmatized to what happens here, whether in the summer people are going to look at Donald Trump or in the fall as an impeached President running for re-election, or are they going to say this is just a lot of politics as usual and my final point would be that I never thought I'd say that I miss Tom Daschle and Trent Lott. They had comedy and civility and were able to kind of work through the Clinton impeachment. I don't know what we're going to encounter here, but Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer do not seem to be on the same page in any way, shape, and form, and that's because the king daddy battle is for these witnesses, and it's going to be happening quick and fast, and at all costs, the Democrats need to get to hear from Parnas and Giuliani and the rest and maybe the whistle-blower will come and talk in private quarters, maybe Hunter Biden will show. We’ll have to see. I doubt that the Democrats are going to put witnesses like that forward.

TAPPER: They might not put them forward, but it might be not be up to them ultimately if there's a ruling on witnesses. Professor Brinkley, let me ask you. We were discussing earlier in the broadcast 21 years ago in one day, the very first objection made by democratic senator Tom Harkin he objected to the idea that the Republican House impeachment managers during the Clinton impeachment referred to the Senate as jurors and one of the reasons he objected was because, obviously, they're more than jurors. They get to decide what evidence they see, what evidence they don't see with majority votes, but beyond that, Harkin's point was this is not just like a jury makes a decision about the fate of one man. This jury or 100 judges, if you will, will decide what standards are acceptable for the behavior of a U.S. President as they did with Bill Clinton. If ultimately what happens is that President Trump is not removed from office from the Senate trial, which is pretty much what every expects since it's a tall order to get 67 senators, what does that mean for future U.S. presidents and their handling of foreign policy and their asking other countries to look into whatever they want? 

BRINKLEY: It means that the country has a president who operates as an outlaw, and you know, we always are trying to compare presidents to each other, but we haven't had an outlaw president before, and that's what you have with Donald Trump and incidentally outlaws in American history get their fans, Billy the Kid or Al Capone, Donald Trump may be in that swirl, but he's not going to be seen by a lot — he’s going to be as acting in a demagogic way and acting as in a dictatorial way trying to smash the foreign policy establishment, diss our intelligence gatherers, operating in a whole new way of an imperial presidency that we couldn't have imagined. So, it’s very important that Donald Trump was held accountable. He has been as Nancy Pelosi said, he is wearing the “I” in history. He has been punished. But I'm afraid if no witnesses come forward after what we've heard about what transpired in the Ukraine and stalking of an ambassador, and none of this gets heard, I feel it's going to make a lot of people think our democracy is broken and that the American presidency, the executive branch is trying to run shotgun over both the judicial branch and certainly over the legislative branch. 

TAPPER: Alright, Professor Douglas Brinkley Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

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