A Road Forward?

Impeachment now seems likely. I understood Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance. In this, timing is extremely important. Pull the trigger too soon and you run the risk of handing him more power. By the same token, wait too long and you risk normalizing this situation by implying that while it has been unpleasant, nothing seriously destructive happened, which everyone knows is not true.

And by Everyone, I mean everyone, even his supporters. After all, destruction is what they signed on for. If they had not wanted him to rip things apart, they would have backed someone else they knew wouldn’t. But pretty much from the beginning the point of this presidency has been destruction. His supporters have long been convinced that the republic is off the rails and very drastic measures must be taken to “fix” it, which include destroying institutions they have come to hate because they’ve been told by their chosen spokesmen that this is so. The republic is in peril because of policies leading us to the brink of losing our special identity, our place in history. It has gone on too long to be ameliorated by simple “adjustments.” Something has to be broken.

For those now opposed to him, the destruction is plain to see and it is a bad thing. But the fundamental belief in the corrective genius of our institutions has kept many of us from pulling the trigger on impeachment because that, too, will be a tearing.

Arguably, it’s past time.

But it’s been past time now for 40 years. Longer, probably. The danger just now is that we reduce all our troubles to a pinpoint named Donald J. Trump and, once successfully dealt with, march blithely forward on the assumption that we have Solved Our Problems.

A significant segment of the American public has been persuaded over the last four decades that in order to maintain our position in the world, our wealthy class must be made secure. Not just secure, but virtually sacrosanct, because our enemies have all struck at their own wealthy people. The Soviet Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China, their satellites, all stripped away individual wealth as an essential part of their program for world domination. Obviously there must be something about individual wealth that is threatening to them. Not only that, but something about it that keeps countries from becoming just like them.  Therefore we must render all aid and assistance to our wealthy class in order to preserve our unique status as savior of civilization. Within that has been the implicit promise that anyone or all of us may one day join that class. There have been examples, especially in the tech industries. We see this in newish fields, where people migrate between economic strata because the rules are temporarily in flux. Otherwise, economic migration most dramatically happens when someone wins the lottery. Not a particularly reliable way of upward mobility and a scam that sucks even more wealth from those who can least afford it. (Let’s face it, the Lottery is gambling, and as we should all know, the House always wins.)

In fact, I would argue that it’s this “lottery mentality” that has put us here. A single winning ticket, one roll of the dice, lightning strikes, and we’re all winners. Elect the Right One and all our problems (more or less) can be solved. Except this is politics and the future of the country, not a gaming table and the loss of a week’s wages.

The people who chose to stay home in 2016 succumbed to some version of this, I believe. Whatever their thinking, clearly they felt the only election that mattered was for the presidency. Which meant they refrained from congressional, state, and whatever local elections may have been on the ballot. It seemed not to have occurred to them that they could have simply not voted for the top slot but then run down the rest of the ticket and maybe—maybe—have done something worthwhile in congress or in state legislatures. Believing that electing a president may solve all problems shows a serious lack of understanding, certainly no attention to the larger picture, and zero foresight.

But that election is over. We now see the consequences of apathy and desperation in starker terms than ever before.

Talk of impeachment has been growing. It has been there practically since the election, and for a long time it has been put off, first because the Republicans held majorities in both houses, then because Nanci Pelosi was playing a cautious game, knowing that moving prematurely could backfire.

There are two major factors in this. The first is his hardcore supporters, who exhibit all the surface credulity of dedicated cultists. Reason seems to have no purchase among them. The second is the core ideologues of the Republican Party, who are well-versed in the gamesmanship of party politics, who see the president as their last opportunity to see their program into being. If they abandon him, they lose.

Between these two groups there is the potential for even more breaking of our institutions. A premature move to impeach might have strengthened the resolve of both groups and combined them into an extralegal effort to preserve the president out of fear of losing the gains presumably made by his election, gains which on their face are contradictory, confused, and contrary to our stated principles as a nation.

What has been important all along is to make sure the culpability of all the players is as clear as the incompetence and malice of the figure at the center. If all the blame is centered on the president, as if he alone is responsible for the wreckage, the problems that allowed him to sit in the oval office could conceivably be overlooked. We like single-issue politics, we prefer neat packages of blame, and we relish monolithic solutions.  None of these traits must be allowed to dominate the process. Our current situation has been over four decades in the making and is comprised of the efforts of many people for many ends. We have at hand a conspiracy of effect more than anything else, simply because all these players have come together for different reasons and have taken advantage of a moment of confluence to get all the various things they want. Performing prophylaxis so this sort of mess cannot happen again will require that we hold all the various elements up for judgment and enact laws to hobble those who would butcher our ideals in the name of personal achievement.

The difficulty for some is that at the locus is a serious misreading of our national identity and a profound failure to understand our operating assumptions.

(Ironically, an old prejudice has resurfaced in the form of the proper electorate. The Founders famously—or perhaps not—distrusted democracy because many of them believed the hoi polloi incapable of the proper judgment to actively participate via the vote in our government. The very people they may have had in mind at the time are the ones who have demonstrated, to greater or lesser extent, an apparent inability to exercise responsible judgment and it is this group more than any other that has been used to spearhead an assault on the very institutions the Founders believed they should not be allowed to access.)

I think it not unreasonable to say that in no way was Donald Trump ever going to be a reliable advocate for the country. He is, depending on the given day, a poor advocate even for himself. We knew this. We could see it. It didn’t seem to matter.

I will not here rehearse all the reasons to want him removed from office. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, he has reduced this country to a joke internationally and he has come perilously close to destroying the very idea of the rule of law.

One example: the recently collapsed talks with the Taliban.  The central flaw was that they had left the legitimate government of Afghanistan out. How do you conduct peace talks with an aggressor without even apprising the people who would be most affected by any outcome that might be reached? This is an example—one of many—of his self-assumed deal-making ability, which any perusal of his career shows to be a virtual total failure. More than that, the arrogance and complete lack of regard for anyone is apparent. This was a bad idea—even his own advisors thought so—pitifully attempted and poorly handled.

His entire administration thus far has been one of these after another.

What must be decided—by what mechanism, I’m not sure—is who we believe ourselves to be and what steps must be taken to become that. Because right now we are adrift. In such circumstances, an impeachment proceeding has the potential to be a disaster because of the lack of common identity.

That said, I no longer believe we have much choice. The wrack and ruin of our institutions is reaching such a point that we must move to stop it. But it must not be isolated to a single point. Trump remains a symptom more than cause. If he is to go, his enablers must also go. But along with them must be a recognition that we have slid into a quagmire of paralyzing doubt in so many ways.

Symptom? I argued before that he was ineffectively opposed by the GOP because he did not represent any significant departure from anything in their program. He added a level of obnoxious nakedness to the basic message, which had by then become “anything the federal government does that it not tied directly to military preparedness and tax relief for the wealthy is anathema.”  It appears they have concluded that a successful country is one that makes its self-appointed “champions” rich.

There is, obviously, a deeper problem, and it has to do with a self-impression of Americanness that is almost comic when simply described. It is, as best I can determine, the notion that tough guys never complain, never criticize, and never let anyone tell them what to do or show them they are wrong. Which translates to a profound aversion to be told anything that does not conform to already-held beliefs and opinions and seeing the teller as some kind of enemy of Americanism. Hence, climate change is a challenge to our self-image, not because it’s wrong so much but that it’s a complaint. Social justice issues are derided because they are criticisms and fail to take into account how “wonderful” we are as as nation. Worst of all, those who are, essentially, “victims” who doing the criticizing and complaining have simply decided to take advantage of “our” good offices and won’t do the necessary work to climb out of their situation. Like the “rest” of us.

(Of course, the people who believe this are themselves the worst kind of complainers.)

Being told that all these attitudes rest upon myth, bad information, and a failure to understand how systems work to thwart personal or group goals and efforts is a species of Intellectualism, which has always abraded a significant element of America, which has been deeply anti-intellectual almost since the Founding, and proudly so. In the past they have managed to foul the works to some extent, but with the advent of social media and the proliferation of alternative narrative sources (cable, satellite, podcasts) this characteristic has swollen to hazardous proportions.

Trump took advantage of a deep conviction, generally unstated and almost always unexamined, that a “true American” is somehow born perfect and all modifications are foreign contaminants. Which is why it seems not to bother his supporters when he reaches out to people like Putin to assist him, because they do not see it so much as Trump allowing foreign involvement as Trump “making” the Russians (or whoever) do what he wants.

As an American should.

This has to be dealt with.  There is no good way to do it other than constructing a new narrative. Because this is a narrative in the first place. A story.

The question is, what is that story?

Well, basically, that Americans are innately good and wise and anyone criticizing us simply knows no better or is actively opposed to us. And that the enterprise of tolerance and inclusiveness has sapped our strength and mocked our principles by diluting those qualities of innate goodness and wisdom.  As a corollary, anything not innate—that is, learned, especially from “outside” sources—is to be viewed with suspicion and people who advocate such learning are not to be trusted.

In this case, it manifests very simply but with complex consequences as: Do Not Make Me Question Myself. I am an American and I am organically complete. Make me question others, question nature, question life even, but do not make me question myself. Only god has the right to do that and he’s not here.

A current example of how this plays out is the absurd reaction among certain people to Greta Thunberg. A sixteen-year-old girl challenges the world to fix itself before it is consumed by its own greed and in this country there are people who hang her effigy, attempt to “put her in her place” because she is young and female, dig up all manner of ridiculous comparisons in history to discredit her and undermine any legitimacy she has or that her message contains. Smear her, tease her, insult her, try to force her back into some box they think she belongs. Why? Because her message requires that we question ourselves and the reasons we reject her message.

But instead of challenging the message they attack her. Because it doesn’t matter whether she is right or wrong, she is requiring that we question ourselves and maybe, just maybe, re-evaluate what it is we’re doing, what we’re supporting. A certain kind of American is very bad at that kind of self-examination.

(We can see this very clearly in the apparent contradiction of christians supporting Trump. It may be argued that he is completely contrary to a christian ethic, but in my opinion critics have it the wrong way around: in this mindset, Americans are by definition christian, so anything they countenance is, by definition, christian, actual theological dogma notwithstanding.)

It is, in my opinion, that kind of American that is exemplified by Trump.

There is absolutely nothing defensible about that kind of obdurate, proud ignorance.

As we move forward with impeachment, we must bear in mind the underlying problem that he is in office by virtue of fraud and the support of people who refuse to accept that things must change if we are to not only survive but thrive. He enjoys the support of people who cannot muster cogent arguments against the things they do not agree with so almost always default to attacking the characters of those advocating such positions, and—this should be undeniable—if you cannot address the message other than attacking the messenger, you have no counterargument and should, if you have any self-respect at all, either say that you simply do not like the facts being presented or recuse yourself from the debate until to you know something.

We are facing a moment in history wherein it may be that we will define human dignity for decades to come.  What it is and whether it merits defending.  If anyone doubts for a moment where Trump stands on that question, his recent abandonment of the Kurds in Syria should serve as demonstration. Even his steadfast congressional supporters are flinching at this. They know it’s wrong. Their problem is, they have hitched their politic fortunes to his coattails and know that as he falls, so will they. They have a choice to go out with a modicum of dignity or become part of the wreckage that will be their legacy.

I’ve watched, along with probably the majority of Americans, this unfolding calamity with deep bewilderment. While I can see what has happened, it baffles me that we have been so unwilling, collectively, to stop it.  Maybe one of our national characteristics is that we allow things to go until they are unendurable or broken before acting, and it’s possible there is some kind of utility in this. But this is not the America I grew up expecting. I was raised to be part of a country that valued fact as well as truth, did not flinch from self-examination, and willingly extended tolerance and the benefits of learning openly. Granted, none of this was as I thought when I was a child or even an adolescent, but these were the virtues, and that we continue to work toward them seemed to excuse much. In the last forty years I’ve watched us retreat from fact, become complacent with success, and jealous of our gains, to the point of repudiating some of our most important stated ideals.

We must keep in mind that Trump is not the cause of our divisions. He is the beneficiary of them and those divisions have been long in the making. When he is gone, we have rebuilding to do, and we must do so with the view that we are not the end product of civilization. We were never that. If the world is to survive, we must end the worship of the powerful and the fear of change.

Impeachment is only the beginning. We have some building to do.