Bill Schneider Interview: "If Democrats Win Control of the House, I Don't Think It'll Take Them Very Long to Impeach This President"
Image attributed to Bill Schneider
Bill Schneider, a leading US political analyst, is a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and has been a visiting professor at UCLA, Brandeis University and Boston College. He is co-author, with Martin Lipset, of The Confidence Gap. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Politico, Reuters, National Journal and NBC News Think.
Schneider was CNN’s senior political analyst from 1990 to 2009. In his latest book, Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable, he delivers a work of incisive history and fresh reporting about the tumultuous American landscape today. The keen analysis in Standoff contains sharp and revealing observations, not just from the author’s personal experiences covering politics, but also from the people he met and interviewed, ranging from a Catholic prelate to a Hollywood star, patrons of an inner-city barbershop and NASCAR fans.
“I don’t think [Trump will] ever resign unless there’s something discovered that is so discriminating that he has no choice.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bill, why did you write Standoff?
Bill Schneider: I wrote it off and on for many years. I was at CNN for about 20 years, so I did interviews, a whole lot of columns and publishing features, and I decided that it was time to put all of it together and see what I could make of it. Since my work covering politics goes all the way back to the 1960s, I decided to write a book that talks about what’s happened to this country since the 1960s, or what I like to say, “How did we get from Camelot to the Game of Thrones?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What happened in the 1960s?
Bill Schneider: The 1960s was an era of tremendous change. You had women, gays, African Americans and Hispanics for the first time becoming politically conscious, developing positions and entering the political scene at the same time as something less widely noted, which was that you had a voracious backlash among religious Americans, among conservatives, among white male voters. You had a tremendous reaction against the change that people saw in the United States.
Right now, we’re at a showdown between the Old America, which never accepted those changes and the New America which represents a different vision, a vision based on diversity and inclusion. The problem is that there’s a major constituency out there, mainly white working class class voters to include a lot of men, who feel as if they don’t count in diversity and that inclusion does not include them. They feel disrespected. They erupted in 2016 by voting for Donald Trump.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): But simply put, didn’t diversity and inclusion actually get thrown out the window when Trump was elected president?
Bill Schneider: Under Trump’s administration, it certainly has. Democrats are still committed to that, however, and they think it’s a winning issue for them in 2018, perhaps again in 2020.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Religion seems to forever be imbedded in American politics.
Bill Schneider: Donald Trump is not known to be religious, but yet he gets overwhelming support from the Religious Right. What Americans don’t really understand is that we’re the most religious country in the world. That’s because of the way we were settled. We were settled by a lot of groups seeking religious freedom. They didn’t want to live under an established church, the Catholic Church in France, the Church of England. They felt oppressed by those churches, and they came to the United States to set up their own religious systems insisting there’d be no interference by the government or the state. So that’s always been important.
If the most religious people from Europe came here to seek religious freedom, then they are going to preserve their religious devotion through the generations. And that has happened. That’s really at the heart of the cleavage in the Unites States, and that’s one reason we can’t get over the 60s. Europeans had some of the same experiences in the 60s. They got over it. We still have it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Perhaps my favorite line of the entire book may be, “Ungovernability is a blessing when you have a megalomaniacal president.”
Bill Schneider: What I was talking about was that we have a system of government that was intended to be weak because it was written by the founding fathers in the 18thcentury after a confrontation with a tyrant who abused his authority. In the view of the founding fathers, a strong government was undesirable because it would be subject to abuse. It could be subject to tyranny, and they wanted to protect Americans from a tyrannical government.
The first Constitution created a government that was so weak that it didn’t last. That was the Articles of Confederation. The point is that the same Constitution that protects Americans from tyranny and abuse from government also is protecting us from a megalomaniac, which is the word I use to describe Donald Trump.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that every person in Congress is an independent entrepreneur, something most people don’t even think about.
Bill Schneider: Members of Congress are not foot soldiers in a party’s army. That’s what members of Parliament in other countries are. They’re there to support a party and a government. What we’re seeing right now is that Congress, in some ways, are a check on President Trump. He doesn’t like them. I’m sure President Trump says to some of his advisers every day, “Why can’t I fire Congress? They get in my way all the time.” That’s because our constitutional order set them up to do that.
When I say they’re independent entrepreneurs, that means that even if they’re in the president’s party, like the Republicans are right now, they will support the president if it’s in their interest, and they’ll oppose him if it’s in their interest. Congress won’t fund the border wall that the president wants because they think it’ll provoke a reaction among their constituents. They’re in business for themselves.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were a member of the CNN political team that won a Peabody for the 2008 election coverage. What are some of your memories from that presidential election night, and did you predict a winner?
Bill Schneider: (laughs) Well, I believe in the Yogi Berra adage which says, “Never make predictions especially about the future.” Look what happened in 2016. Everybody, including James Comey, predicted that Hillary Clinton would be president. I avoid predictions because in politics things can change instantly. When Trump won, no one expected him to win. The fact that it was so unexpected gave him some authority that he would not have had otherwise.
In 2008, what I remember about McCain and Obama was that it was a time of a terrible financial crash, voters desperately wanted change, and the big surprise was they wanted change so badly they were willing to elect the first African-American president and to re-elect him in 2012. That was remarkable. I remember going on the air on election night and pointing out that I grew up in the segregated South. I grew up in Virginia, and it was then segregated. I can say now what I’m sure millions of Americans are saying, “I never thought I’d live to see the day.” And we did.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes. I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, two weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus.
Bill Schneider: That was a very important development. That was one of those things I describe in the book called “a consciousness-raising moment.” When she refused to give up her seat on the bus and got arrested, it raised the consciousness of millions of southern whites who had convinced themselves that segregation was working. There were no complaints. Things were working out. The rigid segregationist system seemed to be comfortable for everybody, and suddenly they realized there were a lot of African-Americans who weren’t satisfied with this. They were outraged. They were humiliated, and they wouldn’t stand for it.
That was a moment of changing consciousness among millions of voters across the country, and of course, it was the beginning of an upheaval that has completely changed the social and political system in the American South.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You wrote an article in August of last year called, “The Fall of the House of Trump.” Do you believe Trump will resign the presidency if the Mueller investigation gets too close for his comfort?
Bill Schneider: I don’t think he’ll ever resign unless there’s something discovered that is so discriminating that he has no choice. Unless the evidence comes out along the lines of the Nixon tapes in Watergate, I don’t think he’ll ever resign. It would be an admission of failure, which he’ll never do.
He could face impeachment. If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives at the end of this year, I don’t think it’ll take them very long to impeach this president. I think it’ll be unlikely that he’ll be convicted because Democrats will never have a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but I do think impeachment is a possibility. Trump’s response to that will be that he’ll rally his base, which is what he’s doing right now, and fight to the bitter end. And he really has a base. It’s about a quarter of the country and mostly white, working-class men, but he’s got a base.
You’ve got to have a base in politics. Your base are the people who are with you when you’re wrong. Reagan had a base through Iran-Contra that stood up for him. Clinton had a base during the impeachment episode, and Trump has a base that will stand with him no matter what.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Not resigning will certainly differentiate Trump from Nixon, as comparisons have been drawn perhaps ever since Trump took the oath of office.
Bill Schneider: That is true. Trump’s a fighter. He talks about himself as a counterpuncher like, “You punch me; I punch you back.” Look what he’s doing now with the Mueller investigation. They’re investigating him, so what’s he saying? “We’re going to investigate you!” He tried to get Congress and others involved in investigating what he called an “FBI spy,” saying one was implanted in his campaign in 2016, without any evidence at all. This president has a somewhat distant relationship from the truth.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What, if anything, will help to close this current widening gap between the two political parties?
Bill Schneider: A student asked me, “Professor, is this as divided as we’ve ever been in this country?” I say, “Young man, we did once have a Civil War.” Hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the Civil War. We’re nowhere close to that right now. But we have a president that does something that no previous president has ever done. He governs by dividing. It’s us vs. them. That is alongside a constitutional system that enables opponents to block things from happening, and that’s why we have gridlock in the country. Trump divides, and then he sets people against him, but the courts protect the Dreamers and interfere with his travel ban and Congress won’t fund the wall. There are all kinds of ways to block things from happening.
The answer to your question, I believe, is what is has always been. What the country needs to experience is some sort of a crisis. When we have a crisis, the country works very well. All those divisions and checks and balances fall away. It has happened innumerable times in the past few decades. 9/11 was a recent crisis and so was the financial crash, Watergate, the Vietnam War. If the US faces some kind of crisis, we get legislation passed, and Americans put their partisanship aside and say, “We’ve got to do something to solve this issue.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What should be the Democrats message in 2020?
Bill Schneider: I think the message will be something very simple like, “Stop Trump.” But they have to be a little cautious about that. If Democrats run the campaign this year on a pledge to impeach President Trump, that will rally Republicans and Trump supporters. They will come out in huge numbers to protect their president just as Democrats did in 1998 when they unexpectedly gained seats in the House of Representatives because they were so angered by the Republicans insisting they were going to impeach President Clinton, which they did two months after the election, that there was a backlash.
The worst case, I think, is if Democrats say, “Elect me. I’m going to vote to impeach President Trump.” That’s just going to drive up support on the other side. If Democrats take over the House, I think they will lean towards impeachment, but they can’t run on that issue.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you do these days, Bill, other than writing books?
Bill Schneider: I left CNN in 2009, and since then, I’ve been teaching at George Mason University in Virginia, and at the moment, I’m a visiting professor at the western school of public policy at UCLA in California. So basically I’m semi-retired because I only teach just part-time. But I find it very fulfilling.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So now you can tell me what you do for fun (laughs).
Bill Schneider: (laughs) What I do for fun? Politics is my entire life. While I enjoy things like going to theater and movies, I’m not much of a sports enthusiast, but there are a number of things I enjoy doing. I enjoy something that’s maybe going out of style, and that’s reading. I read newspapers every day. I read books. I like history. Reading is my favorite form of entertainment.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any ideas for another book?
Bill Schneider: Not at this time. Of course, every day I read the newspaper and jot down ideas. I want to see what happens in the next several years after this year’s mid-term and what’s likely to shape up for 2020 because I think Democrats need to find a voice. Somebody has to catch fire in the Democratic Party. We don’t know who it’s going to be. This is a very wide open campaign. Joe Biden is a little older than me, and he’s part of the Obama administration, which means if you vote for him, you’re going to go back to the past. Many voters don’t want to do that. They want to go forward.
Democrats need to do market research and find something the voters want that they’re not getting from this president. There are lots of things that are possibilities. Somebody has to catch fire on the campaign trail, and I’ll be watching that very carefully.
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