Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the December 17 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.
Let’s face it, Trump fatigue is real.
If you’re American, you can vote next year to kick the US President out – or keep him. But the rest of the world has no say in what happens next to the tweeter in chief who barged into everyone’s lives and hijacked their news bulletins with Ukraine-this and impeachment-that.
Everyone knows how it ends in the short term: The Republican lawmakers who control the Senate are already boasting that they will acquit Donald Trump of his impeachment charges. So why not stop watching this esoteric, American political process? Here are a few reasons:
Trump is not going to see his brush with political mortality as a lucky escape. Taking it as vindication for his wild political persona, he’s likely to become more impulsive, vindictive and destructive of political convention than ever. World, watch out.
Facts no longer matter: Trump defenders ignore a thick record of evidence, so the President is almost certain to get away with a seemingly obvious abuse of power. When a strongman leader in the US can shirk accountability, it sets an ominous example for the rest of the democratic world.
Trump apparently tried to coerce a weak US ally, Ukraine, to dig up dirt on a domestic political rival with aid paid for by US taxpayer cash. If Republican senators vote to acquit Trump of impeachable offenses next year, they will effectively make a statement that such conduct is permissible. A future president might take note and put the squeeze on more vulnerable small nations.
Impeachment has alienated the halves of an already hopelessly divided America, and eroded confidence in democratic institutions and processes. Strangely enough, that’s Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal in a nutshell.
At least it’s not Brexit. Impeachment is about as accessible as that other long-running political psychodrama across the Atlantic Both are likely to be over at the end of January. But Brexit will be far from done … just wait for the labyrinthine negotiations between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Europe over a new trade deal to begin.
A world of ‘fake news’
Meanwhile, China is borrowing two of Trump’s favorite words to bat away uncomfortable accusations – this time, dismissing Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil’s social media postings about the treatment of Muslims in Western China as “fake news.” The term has taken on a life of its own, as governments around the world use it to attack both real misinformation and unpopular truths …
- In November, China’s Xinjiang regional government said reports of repression in the area stemmed from “western anti-China forces” that “fabricated fake news.”
- In the Philippines, hardline president Rodrigo Duterte has criticized independent media outlet Rappler as “fake news” as his government threatens the company and its founder with lawsuits.
- Singapore’s “fake news” law came into force in October, criminalizing false statements deemed to threaten national security, “public tranquility” or the “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries.
- Indonesian President Joko Widodo told CNN in July that he intended after re-election to unite the country’s population and battle “hoaxes and fake news that influenced the mind of the people.”
- A spokesman for Hungary’s nationalist opposition Jobbik party told CNN in 2018, “At the moment armed guards are protecting an institution producing fake news…” as parliamentarians attempted to storm the headquarters of Hungarian state broadcaster MTVA.
- Egyptian journalists critical of the government were reportedly arrested on allegations of publishing “fake news” in 2018.
- The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria in 2018 as just “the latest fake news.”
- Rightwing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said during a visit to the White House in March last year that the two countries shared a stance “against the gender ideology of the politically correct and fake news”.
‘He does this out of love, believe me’
In comments to the New Yorker published Monday, Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani tied the firing of a US Ambassador to Ukraine to his efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s potential 2020 rival Joe Biden. “I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way,” he said. “She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.”
Asked on Monday how much he knew about Giuliani’s work in Ukraine, Trump responded, “Not too much.” He went on to describe the former New York mayor as a “great crime fighter” who “does it out of love.”
“He’s a great person who loves our country and he does this out of love, believe me. He does it out of love. He sees what goes on. He sees what’s happening. He sees all of the hoax that happens when they talk about impeachment hoax or the Russian collusion delusion and he sees it,” Trump said. The pair met on Friday.
‘You can lose a lot with bad translation’
As China and the US step away from the economic precipice with a trade truce, Trump is busily teasing a “Phase 1” deal which could commit China to large-scale agricultural purchases. But nothing’s final yet – Trump told a roundtable of governors and lawmakers Monday that translating the deal’s terms was actually “the biggest thing” ahead.
“It’s actually translation is the biggest thing – the deal is finished but the translation is very important. I said make sure you have the right translators cause you can lose a lot with bad translation. So we’re working on getting that done,” he said. That comes right off the heels of a weekend row with Mexico over what exactly US “inspectors” would do on its side of the border.
‘It’s certainly not unusual to have a witness in an impeachment trial.’
Republican leader Mitch McConnell has privately made clear that he does not want witnesses to be part of the Senate trial. But in a January 1999 interview with then-CNN anchor Larry King during Bill Clinton’s impeachment drama, the senator from Kentucky cited past impeachments of presidents and judges to argue in favor of witnesses: “There’ve been 15 impeachments in the history of this country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other 13 impeachments there were witnesses. It’s not unusual to have a witness in a trial. It’s certainly not unusual to have a witness in an impeachment trial.”