Beware the paranoid style of Donald Trump's politics
I know it's not easy to sort out the alleged conspiracies and counter-conspiracies involved in the House impeachment inquiry, but hang in there.
Most important in my humble view is this: When House Democrats voted in near-unanimity to adopt rules for public impeachment hearings, they effectively locked their party into an argument for the 2020 campaign that President Donald Trump is unfit to hold his office.
Trump's Republican allies have begun to counter with a position that, ironically, worked for former President Bill Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial, which failed to convict him: Even if the president is guilty of misbehavior, which Republicans have not quite conceded about Trump, it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.
To make their case, House Democrats are focusing on Trump's now-notorious July 25 telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. During that chat, Trump infamously asked for "a favor." He wanted investigations of supposed ties between Democrats and Ukraine during the 2016 campaign, and of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who held a well-paying board seat at Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, despite his notable lack of any experience with the industry.
One of the easier questions, it seems to me, is, was there a "quid pro quo" in the phone call?
"No quid pro quo!" is a new base-rallying Trump mantra. But the phrase translates to "a favor for a favor," which clearly describes what Trump was after, as he discussed the release of military aid to Ukraine, already approved by Congress but delayed by Trump.
Does turning foreign policy into a probe for possible dirt on a likely presidential opponent, which Biden was at the time, constitute an abuse of power? Extortion? A high crime or misdemeanor?
No, says Trump, who prefers to call it simply "perfect," whatever that is supposed to mean.
Beyond the flood of denials and populist propaganda -- some fact-based, some not so much -- pumped out by Trump's machine, I'm intrigued by something else at play here from Trump's playbook: his paranoid style of politics.
That's a reference to Richard Hofstadter's classic 1964 essay and book, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Written in the era of Sens. Barry Goldwater and Joseph McCarthy, for whom Trump's mentor, the red-baiting attorney Roy Cohn worked, it describes a lot of the old Cold War-era politics based on fear, anger, resentment and suspicions that Trump in the internet age has truly raised to a high art.