“I never had sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky”, sounds a bit like a 2017 tweet. Recall that the grounds for Clinton’s impeachment had to have been that his conduct constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors”.
What if he had unwittingly committed treason, another of the impeachment-worthy offenses? (Recall that bribery is the other.) Would not knowing, for example, that he had given “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States—part of the Constitutional definition of treason—have meant he was innocent of treason?
What Clinton did undoubtedly delighted the Kremlin. Did it rise to the giving “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States level spelled out in the Constitution? Was there intent to provide aid and comfort? If so, the Senate may have failed when it did not convict Clinton based on potential treason. As with so many other things, the Constitution’s authors did not define what might be included in giving “aid and comfort”.
Fast forward about twenty years. Candidate Trump harped incessantly about the “crooked media”, dishonest journalists, and “fake news”. Those attacks came from a man who, rightly or not, had a lot of credibility once he became the republican nominee. They have continued since the inauguration, and, as President, his credibility has arguably risen.
What difference does it make whether the comments of the President discredit the media? Keep in mind that his comments never cease, and the media was believed by Thomas Jefferson to be indispensable to a democracy. One has to assume that most who understand what it takes to make a democracy work would agree on the importance of a free press to a functioning republic, hence the protection of press freedom included in the very First Amendment.
Dangerous attacks on the judiciary have waned, but President Trump’s baseless allegations and outrageous assertions about election fraud continue relatively unabated. Anyone who has paid a modicum of attention—and is not a serial denier– knows it. Does anyone with an understanding of republican government think it doesn’t matter? Today, Mr. Trump has the influence of the office he sought as a candidate.
Public confidence in their sources of information is essential in a democracy. Once the bulk of the American public loses confidence in those it must depend on for information upon which to act and no longer trusts the outcome of elections—thinks that they may not be legitimate, and cannot be accepted—the grand republican (representative democratic) experiment is in trouble.
There is no doubt that relentless attacks on the foundations of our republic by the President of the United States are pleasing to Vladimir Putin, who once was the world’s disinformation champion. Is it possible that President Trump fails to grasp the significance to our democracy of a President’s relentless expression of distrust in the institutions essential to its existence? Perhaps the most positive conclusion one can hope for is that he does not, i.e. the President did not intend to provide aid and comfort to the Russians.