70 Days in Impeachment Purgatory

The impeachment hearings have been nothing if not dramatic. Marie Yovanovitch quietly admitting she was intimidated when the president attacked her mid-hearing. Alexander Vindman assuring his father that he would be ok, no matter who he testified against. Gordon Sondland going on record to say that there was a quid quo pro, that the president ordered it, and that everyone knew about it.

But a dramatic buildup doesn’t preclude an anticlimax. And isn’t that where we’re heading? Hasn’t that been where we’ve been heading the whole time?

Look, there’s value in impeaching this president. And there is (however small) a possibility that this process could remove him from office. The Senate could vote by secret ballot, Republicans could choose not to run for reelection en masse, the public could swing hard against him even in deep red states. Sure. Why not.

But mainly, it’s symbolic value. This entire process—from the whistleblower report to the secret depositions to the public melodrama playing out on national TV—has been a statement. That there are some sort of consequences for misbehavior, even if you’re rich, white, and the commander-in-chief. That you have to pay some price when you sell out the national interest.

And it may be as little as forcing the president to send his lieutenants in to defend him. It may just be the knowledge that he’s stressed about this, or that he might hesitate (for even half a moment) the next time he’s pleading for a foreign nation to save his election chances. But it is something, and that matters.

But where does that symbolic value leave us? We all know what happens next. Witnesses lay out the case, Republicans claim Ukraine was behind the Kennedy assassination, the House votes to impeach and 53 Senators acquit. There’s no point in stopping the proceedings, but there’s no real, practical purpose in keeping them going.

We are, in other words, in impeachment purgatory.

It’s this strange no-man’s land where every day the evidence gets stronger, and the odds of removal stay the same. The two are unrelated, completely separate entities operating in different planes of existence.

In the first plane, there is a parade of career diplomats coming forward under oath to declare time and again that the president directed an extortion scheme at a U.S. ally for his political gain. In the second plane, there is a parade of senators coming forward to declare that no one knows what happened and it’s impossible to find out—for their own political gain.

To watch the nightly news has become surreal. Each evening some somber news anchor reads out the litany of charges that Executive Branch officials leveled publicly against their boss that day. It feels compelling and compounding, with evidence mounting from every direction. But there is always the unspoken element—that none of it matters—looming off screen.

I guess that’s really what our time in Impeachment Purgatory comes down to: Does any of this matter? Is it worth fighting the good fight, even if you know how it ends? And if not, where do we go from here?

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