Jack DeVine

Here we go again.

President Trump’s tweet tirade ten days ago targeting Representative Elijah Cummings has the entire left in an uproar, all shouting racism and many clamoring for impeachment.

Elijah Cummings is one of the key leaders of the anti-Trump resistance forces. Since 2018 he has chaired the powerful House Oversight Committee, spending every waking moment investigating all matters Trump. Subsequent to the completion of the Mueller investigation (which Cummings has characterized as “excessively narrow”) his committee has continued apace its intrusive investigations of the president, with no letup in sight.

For his part, Trump has been grinding his teeth, snapping occasionally. But, evidently for Trump, the last straw was Cummings’ unseemly and widely publicized derision of Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of Homeland Security, who was testifying before the committee about conditions at our overcrowded southern border.

Trump’s nasty counter-punch – that Cummings’ constituents might be better served if he cleaned up his own house (Baltimore) – was factually defensible but wholly unnecessary. Surely Donald Trump was not the only American offended by the humiliation of a public servant who’s working 24/7 to solve the problems at the border by a grandstanding political leader of the party that is deeply complicit in creating those problems and steadfastly refuses do anything to help.

Both sides responded on cue: Democrats sputtered in faux outrage, while Republicans leapt reflexively to Trump’s defense, providing evidentiary proof that parts of East Baltimore really are rat-infested hellholes.

Democrats defaulted to their all-season, multi-purpose smear: racist! Nonsense. Yes, Cummings is black, and the president is white. But it should be obvious to all that Trump’s attack on Cummings is no more (or no less) racially motivated than are Cummings’ attacks on Trump. Neither is a racist; attributing their catfight to racism simply obscures the larger questions.

The outrage was enough to nudge a few more Democratic members of Congress to jump on the impeachment train – for the first time, more than 50% of House Democrats now favor impeachment. Trump’s supposedly racist attack on Cummings evidently was their last straw, coming as it did right on the heels of the previous last straw, Trump’s nasty tweets about Ilhan Omar and the “Squad.” Or maybe it was the last straw before that one, Trump’s unfulfilled attempt to obstruct a two-year, massively intrusive investigation into a crime that didn’t happen.

Democrats’ continued dabbling with impeachment speaks volumes about their motivation. Impeachment in this case is a punishment searching for a crime. Representative Al Greene of Texas, who kicked off the most recent impeachment drive, first pushed impeachment on the House floor just months after Trump took office.

Trump’s most obvious transgression at that point was defeating Hillary Clinton in the election. Since then, there has been a constant drizzle (and occasional deluge) of impassioned exhortation of the critical importance of impeaching the president, all full of passion and missing only one thing: a meaningful reason to do so.

Representative Jerry Nadler of N.Y said last week that the president had committed impeachable crimes “six ways from Sunday” – but didn’t mention what any of them are.

You might think there would be some embarrassment about demanding that a president be impeached as soon as he takes office and then spending years trying to find something, anything, that might convince Congress and the general public to go along.

Imagine a criminal trial at which the penalty phase is held first – before it was even proven that the accused had committed a crime. Imagine the prosecutor explaining to the jury that “We demand the death penalty!” and then explaining that “We’re hard at work dredging up evidence that the defendant committed an offense serious enough to warrant that punishment – but be patient, we’ll find something for sure …”

All of this craziness misses the central point. Overcrowded detention facilities at the southern border and rat-infested housing in Baltimore are both symptoms of dysfunctional, hyper-partisan government. We already know that both are problems, and we know for sure that a government as capable as ours could deal with both, if we simply had the will to put partisanship aside and get to work. And we know as well that impeachment would just make matters worse.

Our myopic obsession with partisan bickering is worse than a distraction. One of these days it will cause us to miss a true catastrophe that could have been prevented if our two-party government was working first and foremost in the true public interest.