A common feature of many horror stories, whether in books or on screen, is the sense of lingering menace at what is thought to be the end of the story, even after the hero has vanquished the villain. Somehow, despite the best efforts of the hero, Jason, Freddy, Norman Bates, Doctor Lector, and Count Dracula always manage to make comebacks in the sequels. Anyone who feels relieved that the impeachment trial of President Trump is over, that the verdict has been rendered, and that we can now move on fails to understand that regardless of whom you consider to be the heroes and villains of the piece, this is an ongoing American horror story, with menace lingering everywhere, for everyone.
The menace for President Trump is the ongoing threat of Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, and other Democrats to keep investigating him, this time using the putative testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton who, the Democrats believe, will offer more details concerning the President’s attempts to block aid to the Ukraine to extort help in the destruction of the Bidens. No doubt other investigations of other aspects of the Trump Administration will be launched as well. There are no double-jeopardy protections for defendants acquitted in impeachment trials, and no limit to the number of times President Trump himself can be impeached and tried.
The menace for the Democrats is President Trump himself. It’s been frequently repeated that he runs a good chance of winning re-election because of his united base and the strong state of the economy. The latest Gallup poll shows that his public approval rating is at an all-time high for him—49%. Also helping the President is the Iowa caucus fiasco. Political parties which seem disorganized and incompetent in the spring and summer of presidential election years normally lose in November. President Trump’s re-election, while not a foregone conclusion, is nonetheless becoming more probable.
Mitt Romney, who’s either a hero or a villain, depending on one’s point of view, may not be in much immediate danger. He’s independently wealthy, he has four years to go on his current Senate term, and if/when he runs for re-election in 2024 he no doubt will have compiled a solidly Republican voting record which will appeal to most of red Utah’s electorate, notwithstanding his vote to convict and remove President Trump. But several of his fellow senators, whether they be red or purple state Democrats, or blue or purple state Republicans, face greater danger. Democratic senators Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Mancin of West Virginia may be especially vulnerable, given their vote to remove the President despite his great popularity in their ruby red states (of course, had they voted to acquit him, they would have faced the anger and the threat of being primaried by members of their own party). Republican senators Susan Collins and Corey Gardner, from blue Maine and purple Colorado, respectively, faced a similar threat of being primaried by Republicans in their states; having avoided that risk by voting for the President’s acquittal, they will now have to deal with angry Democrats in general elections instead.
And the menace will linger long after President Trump leaves the White House, whether it be in January of 2021, or January of 2025, or some other time in between. Whenever a person or institution takes an action for which he, she, or it suffers no unacceptable penalty, a precedent is set for similar actions in the future. Future presidents, emboldened by President Trump’s acquittal, may be tempted to push the boundaries of acceptable presidential conduct in ways we cannot yet foresee. Future congresses, having now launched impeachment proceedings against sitting presidents 3 times in the last 45 years (as opposed to once in America’s first 185 years of government under our Constitution), may likewise feel emboldened to impeach future presidents more frequently.
And let’s not forget the menace to ourselves—We, the People. No doubt impeachment efforts, past, present, or future, will continue to offer the dangers that will come from the decisions of presidents and congresses to divert attention away from national problem solving in favor of mutual assured destruction.
So, to paraphrase Barbossa in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, we should believe in horror stories. After all, we’re living in one.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.