The Wolf Who Cried, "Oh, Boy!"

Why Pelosi's plan for "self-impeachment" is failing.

One thing that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership has consistently overlooked is how it helps Trump when they do not take action in response to his transgressions.

I don't just mean in the sense that he doesn't have to deal with the consequences of one of his aides or lawyers being jailed for contempt (much less impeachment). That would be a neutral outcome. I mean that each and every time they allow him and his proxies to get away with something, Trump comes off better for it.

We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf, where villagers who were sick of coming to the aid of a shepherd boy who thought it funny to cry "Wolf! Wolf!" eventually stopped answering, leaving the boy and/or his flock to be eaten when at last a wolf came for real.

In this case, the wolf is real, but the village elders who arrive are signaling each time that the wolf is not a threat. Maybe he's not hungry, maybe he's not as close as the shepherd thinks, maybe reports of wolf attacks on sheep herds are greatly exaggerated.

Each time the elders pooh-pooh the shepherd's report, the effect is the same as if it had been a false alarm: the rest of the villagers are left annoyed and distrustful towards future ones.

Trump's defense always starts out with "that didn't happen" and invariably ends up with "so what if it did, it's no big deal." And the response from congressional Democrats led by Speaker Pelosi are backing that up, again and again.

I suppose the Farmer and the Viper is in some ways the flipside of the Boy Who Cried Wolf: in that tale, the danger is real, but ignored out of pity. The farmer's motives are good, and the morals traditionally ascribed to the tale have some unfortunate implications about good and evil as inherent traits: do not expect a reward from the wicked, Phaedrus writes. In a more recent telling (in an episode of Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, there is a more uplifting message. The farmer, heroine Tandy Bowen insists, is the hero of the story and was right to save the viper (though maybe a bit careless about it.)

Trump himself likes to quote this story, or at least a song based on it, in one of his most mythically charged acts of projection. He applies it, of course, to immigrants. Our neighbors, coming to the United States out of hope for what we can offer and fear of what lies behind them.

Trump is, in mythic terms, the viper in that story, and the wolf in the other, and the scorpion who wants to cross the river, and the fox who offers a gingerbread man a way across it. Anyone who trusts him is a fool. Anyone who puts themselves in a position where he has power over them is his future victim.

But what Pelosi signals through her inaction and equivocation is that the danger is false. The woods are clear, the viper is a harmless garden snake, the fox is just a gig driver trying to make a living, the scorpion has places to be.

When a powerful person's crimes are proclaimed by his lawyer as being innocent or incidental or not at all a big deal and the people in power tasked with judging his actions refuse to take action, they aren't just letting him get away with those crimes.

They are effectively covering them up. Giuliani says Trump is innocent, Pelosi hems and haws but will not bring impeachment, and everyone in Trumpland proclaims that Giuliani must be right because if there were anything to the charges, someone would do something.

That kind of logic is persuasive to the people in the Mild Moderate Middle, especially when it happens again and again and again.

In Pelosi's mind, the case for voting Trump out is getting stronger with each misdeed. He "impeaches himself" as the crimes stack up. Surely, by November 2020, the weight of them will be undeniable.

But to anyone who is watching the drama and trying to make up their minds, what is stacking up is cases in which Trump's critics say he has dishonored the office and disqualified himself from the presidency, and in which subsequent events fail to bear that out.

This, in part, is why it seems like the transgressions can get all the more blatant over time and yet still nothing happens: the obviousness of Trump's crimes are being counterbalanced by the "evidence" that the charges against him are embellished and exaggerated, if not outright made up.

Every day that Pelosi fails to impeach Trump, she impeaches his accusers, and endorses his innocence.

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