And so on. But is Trump truly the guilty party?
In my view, he’s the wrong, or at least an incomplete, answer to this particular whodunit.
Had the perpetrator been Individual 1 — and only Individual 1 — our dearly departed victim might still be alive, if perhaps wounded. The real answer is more of a Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-type conclusion: We all did it.
Unindicted co-conspirators in this heartless murder include Republican lawmakers. They have been led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), who tolerated massacres of civil rights, of rule of law and of other democratic values and institutions, so long as the party got its federal judges or tax cuts.
They got lots of help from their colleagues. Even when those colleagues were on record as disapproving of the exact kinds of anti-democratic actions Trump acknowledges taking.
Fast-forward to today. Now that the hypothetical appears to have come true, they’ve mostly fallen silent. Or worse: They’ve urged the Justice Department to investigate the political rival whom Trump sought a foreign power’s help in sullying, former vice president Joe Biden.
At best, you have Romney tweeting that “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme.” Except that “if” is superfluous, given that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani acknowledged this way back in May.
Trump’s lickspittle Cabinet officials are also implicated in the Trump-coordinated assault on democracy.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave multiple interviews in which he suggested that Biden is the real party responsible for interfering in U.S. elections. (Umm, what?) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who has elsewhere praised Trump’s “perfect genes” — likewise dismissed as “speculation” reporting that Trump directed Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden. Even though Trump then appeared to confirm that “speculation” (and then reversed himself again on Monday).
Even former defense secretary Jim Mattis, out with a new book on leadership, ducked a question about whether it would be wrong for a president, any president, to ask foreign leaders to investigate political opponents.
Meanwhile, the media has also dropped the ball.
I don’t just mean Trump’s preferred propaganda outlet, Fox News. The rest of us have allowed the president to serve as our assignment editor. We spread his smears for him, and too often shy from coverage of any threat to democracy more technical than a tweet. At best, we ask Democrats what would, at last, count as an impeachable offense — but rarely direct such inquiries at Republicans, who, you know, actually stand in the way of a fair impeachment trial.
Democrats share some blame, too, feckless as they’ve been. They dragged their feet in demanding critical documents, including Trump’s tax returns. They failed to competently question petulant and obstructive witnesses such as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. And they frequently seem more interested in attacking one another than holding Trump to account.
Given all this, can you really blame voters, disillusioned and disappointed as they are, for tuning out the onslaught on American democracy — and thereby contributing to its demise? Add them to the list anyway.
Yes, Trump has repeatedly, egregiously abused his power. He fired an arrow at the heart of our most cherished norms and institutions. But it took the rest of us to ensure that he hit his target.