The networks’ gavel-to-gavel coverage of every fuming, repetitive speech — on the theory that they were all “historic” — bored rather than informed. Many switched off. The Republicans have a point in claiming that President Trump’s Ukraine shenanigans may not have warranted impeachment. 

True, they were shabby, inappropriate misuses of presidential leverage for a “domestic political errand” (Fiona Hill’s words), but did they rise to the level of impeachment? They seem minor compared to what else Trump stands accused of: Russian electoral help, personal financial trickery, hush money for ladies, jeopardizing world trade, weakening the country by alienating allies, shifting authorized funds to build his wall. But it’s hard to get solid evidence for these serious charges.

Should Bill Clinton have been impeached in 1998 for lying about a sexual dalliance? Probably not. Granted, he dissembled under oath. But the Republicans’ ire was not over his moral gaps. It might as well have been unpaid traffic tickets. It was pure partisan hatred of Clinton, and any infraction was a good one. The Republicans knew they lacked Senate votes, and several, including Maine’s Susan Collins, voted to acquit.

The Trump impeachers share the same rage against a president of the other party, never mind the precise charge. Ukrainegate works because the House could get records and testimony that he personally offered the clumsy bribe. With Russian cybermanipulation — a serious charge because it will repeat in 2020 — Trump will always say he knew nothing about it. 

And the Democrats know they need the votes of two dozen Republican senators to reach 67 to convict. Why then bother to impeach? Because it’s still useful. The Democrats keep gathering public evidence of White House wrongdoing for next November. They paint Repbulican legislators as Trump fanatics unworthy of re-election. 

In both the Clinton and Trump cases, rage is in command. Facts, reason and probity fall by the wayside. Nietzsche said something like reason is just a cloak the will-to-power invents for its own ends. Senate acquittal is virtually guaranteed, barring surprises — new witnesses, documents, recordings. Then, as during Nixon’s near-impeachment, senatorial opinion could change in days.

For example, Russian defector Oleg Smolenkov — probably now in a CIA safe house near  Washington — could testify before Congress and raise a few eyebrows. Smolenkov, whom the Agency “exfiltrated” with his family in 2017, was a high Kremlin aide who claims to have witnessed Putin’s orders for “active measures” in our 2016 election. Putin dismisses him as a minor clerk, but the U.S. intel community believes him. 

Trump angrily claims “no collusion” with Russia, but other evidence and witnesses — especially former National Security Advisor John Bolton — could indicate there was. That could persuade Republican senators or a few percent of the electorate in key swing states to switch the votes.

Trying for this long shot, Democrats seek a fulsome Senate debate with new witnesses, whereas the Republicans wish no new witnesses and a quick vote. Perfunctory Senate acquittal will push House Democrats to continue committee hearings and court cases well into next year on Trumpian misbehavior, aimed not at impeachment but at November’s election. 

Chief Justice Roberts will preside over the Senate trial and may play a decisive and innovative role. He may remind Republican senators that trials require evidence. A quick vote without hearing from witnesses — best in person, but at least by deposition or previous testimony — would be a pretend trial. Justice Roberts, proud of his independence, will influence the trial’s length and witness list.

Interesting how, next to Twitter and television, books have become major weapons. So far, few books flatter Trump, and those that come out next year could sway a few percent against Trump. Bolton hints that his forthcoming book will reveal Trump’s foreign-policy mistakes and contradictions. Interventionist Bolton never fit Trump’s erratic decision-making. 

The real importance of continued House inquiries is to motivate citizens and cyberdefenders to take Russian interference in 2020 as a serious threat. Voters must learn to doubt “news” on social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook must be held accountable for “inauthentic posts.” Newspapers and TV could run daily “Don’t Believe It” columns to warn of manipulation. We must fight political cyberscams at least as strongly as we fight criminal ones. 

Improbable Senate conviction would leave the underlying Russia problem untouched. If Vice President Pence were to run, he would get the same kind of devious help that Trump got. We need cyberdefenses sufficient to detect and disable foreign intrusions and name the intruders. Russia has been cybermanipulating us for five years. Make this stop.

So, is impeachment a meaningless exercise? It permanently tarnishes Trump’s reputation, painful for a narcissistic demagogue. It makes Trump nervous and angry, alerting voters to his instability. It draws attention to misuse of presidential power, letting future presidents know they’re being watched. An impeachment from time to time helps keep the system healthy. We may need more of them.