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The Chaos Candidate

Impeachment will change everything. And no one knows how.
September 25, 2019
The Chaos Candidate
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jeb(!) was right. Donald Trump’s pitch to the American people in 2016 was that he would destabilize the status quo and change American politics as we know it.

Mission accomplished.

With the opening of an impeachment inquiry against Trump we have entered a new political reality and it is likely to be marked by total, utter chaos.

Anyone who tells you that ackshually impeachment is good for Actor X is bluffing. We have no idea where this impeachment inquiry will go. What other information will be divulged. How the various parties will react. Or what the downstream effects will be.

Just consider, right off the top, some of the known-unknowns:

  • Will impeachment result in an eventual leadership fight within the House Democratic caucus and bring an end to the Pelosi era?
  • How will it alter the dynamics of the Democratic primary race?
  • Will the Dems rally around Biden, or use Trump’s attacks to take subtle shots at him?
  • Will it spur disaffection amongst GOP primary voters who already have three alternatives to Trump?
  • Will the political uncertainty have any effect on the economy?
  • How does it influence the thinking of America’s adversaries? For example, does it alter China’s thinking about the ongoing trade war?
  • Will it increase the vulnerability of already-exposed Republican senators who are up for reelection this cycle? Remember: The GOP is defending 20 seats.

Forget the first-order effects: These are all second- and third-order questions and nobody has the slightest idea how they’ll work out.

This is chaos. And it’s not even maximum chaos: Imagine what it will be like if some foreign adversary decides to use this unstable moment to test America. Never forget that Trump has destabilized our political system during a period of peace and prosperity.

Time after time during Trump’s administration, people have warned that this is not normal.

It’s not normal for a president to:

  • Laugh when one of his supporters suggests shooting migrants.
  • Conduct policy via Twitter.
  • Unilaterally decide to meet with the world’s worst dictator without getting anything in return.
  • Have a high rate of turnover in key administration positions.
  • Ask one of his former campaign managers to pass notes to his attorney general.
  • Have another of the president’s former campaign managers wind up in jail.
  • Claim that he’s never known a lawyer who takes notes.
  • State that he’d welcome the interference of a foreign power in an American election.
  • Specifically invite foreign action against his likely political rival.

There are literally dozens and dozens of items that can be added to this brief sampling. For many of them, if you are well-disposed to Trump you might argue that they represent positive changes to the status quo.

Maybe presidents should use Twitter as their primary instrument of communication. Maybe having an entrenched staff is bad. Maybe it’s helpful to take meetings with every world leader who will have you.

But there is a price to be paid for destabilizing the status quo—even when the net effect is positive. That price increases geometrically when you destabilize everything—both the good and the bad—all at once. Because that is not mere “destabilization.” It’s chaos.

In any stable system—no matter how sub-optimal it may be—there is a price for creating chaos.

We are about to start getting a look at the bill.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.