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How would you feel if Trump had apologized for his behavior toward Ukraine?

If Trump had admitted that he had improperly pressured President Zelenskiy, apologized and asked to be forgiven, I might be on the side of censuring Trump but not removing him from office.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, President Donald Trump
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy listening during a bilateral meeting with President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 25.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

David Brooks, the smart, decent, humble, moderately conservative New York Times columnist, speaking about the impeachment trial in the Senate on the weekly (Mark) “Shields and Brooks” segment of the “PBS NewsHour,” captured (for me at least) one of the things that drives me nuts about the current Oval Office incumbent — namely his insistence on his own perfection in the face of constant evidence of his imperfection.

President Donald Trump, in case you haven’t heard, held up military aid to a struggling U.S. ally, Ukraine, to pressure Ukraine into announcing a bogus investigation of Joe Biden. (Yeah, I know, you’ve heard about it.)

This extortion scheme was bad. Very bad. Perhaps worth impeaching and removing Trump. I would vote to convict Trump for this abuse of his office, and for the contempt of Congress he has shown by the additional coverup activities and assorted lies and his insistence that every Republican elected official toe the line — on pain of political execution and at the cost of their dignity, their honor and their soul — that Trump did absolutely nothing wrong and that the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was “perfect.”

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But here’s what Brooks said on PBS:

This is an interesting counterfactual. Suppose they (Senate Republicans) had a president who was a reasonable human being who could say: “I messed up. I apologize. I’ll make it up to Ukraine. But it’s not worth removing me over.”

That was sort of the Clinton approach during his impeachment process.

But Trump has laid down the law, that it’s going to be all or nothing, and that requires a massive denial of reality on the part of all Republicans.

I agree with Brooks. I have shocked some of my liberal friends by saying that if Trump had admitted that he had improperly pressured Zelenskiy, apologized and asked to be forgiven, I might be on the side of censuring Trump but not removing him from office.

Perhaps not, but I would at least see that as a reasonable alternative to the extreme option of removing a president less than a year before the electorate has the option of removing him.

If Trump had done that somewhat less of a dangerous megalo- and ego-maniac thing, acknowledged that he had made a mistake and apologized for it, the idea of leaving his fate up to the voters in 2020 would seem more reasonable.

Brooks didn’t specify this, but, to me, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that he abused his power, coupled with his (almost completely successful) insistence that all Republicans repeat the ridiculous claim of “perfection,” is more frightening than the original act itself.

The phone call was not “perfect.” It was, in fact, an abuse of the leverage he held over a small, embattled, struggling new democracy and its very admirable young president.

I suppose most politicians lie a bit, or at least dissemble and posture and shave the truth around the edges. That’s not great; it’s a minor disgrace, but it’s normal and survivable for a democracy.

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But lying more often than you tell the truth is not normal, and then insisting (successfully!) that every member of one of America’s two major political parties support your lie, repeat your lies, agree that your lies were truths and that your utterances were “perfect” is much, much worse, and much, much more dangerous.