If Impeachment Happens, How Much Shame Do Republicans Deserve?

A constant concern of the Founding Fathers was the threat of foreign influence on a president. During the period when the freshly signed Constitution was making the rounds among the States as they deliberated the grand document’s ratification, some of the Constitution’s most famous advocates produced a series of essays to support its introduction into general discourse known as The Federalist Papers. No. 68 in the collection, written by Alexander Hamilton, said, "...Cabal, intrigue, and corruption… these most deadly adversaries of republican government… make their approaches… chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?"

The revelations of the past week further emphasized an uncomfortable truth of present-day American life: as a society, as a people, we have failed the legacy of our forefathers and the ideals of this nation by electing Donald Trump to the presidency. That does not mean that we cannot still reclaim that legacy someday by correcting our current political trajectory, but for now, with Trump in the Oval Office, we are solidly off constitutional course. Every moment that he remains in office, we drift farther away. The 2016 election was a shameful moment in American history because we confirmed that we are just as corruptible as the Founding Fathers knew we would be. 

The flailing partisanship of the Republican Party over the course of the past 72 hours is indicative of the moral bankruptcy of the Trump movement. They will say whatever they can in order to save face. So far, not many of the Trump supporters have even accepted that they are in trouble. They do not see the events of the past week as damning; on the contrary, they do not see anything wrong with Trump’s actions in the first place. Most of the GOP does not accept that Trump did something wrong and it might take a while for any significant percentage of them to come around. Some never will of course. The story of those last few hold outs will be one of blind loyalty and folly. The lengths to which Trump supporters will go to justify the President’s poor decisions and obvious untrustworthiness is not just disturbing, it is pathetic and sad. Nobody wins.

Team Trump might be surprised to learn that it is actually not very difficult to avoid involving foreign governments in our elections. But Donald Trump managed to do this several times in one phone call by repeatedly soliciting the help of a foreign power to investigate a political rival as part of a scheme to influence the 2020 election. The transcript must be taken as a primary source document, and flawed as it may be, if it is good enough for CIA, other agencies, and the White House to take it seriously, then it does not matter whether the information it contains is second hand or first hand. It is true, or as we might say in this “post-truth” era, true enough.

Against the compounding allegations that seem to grow worse and worse by the hour, Trump’s supporters have offered only flat dismissals. When pressed about the details of the cascading revelations: the transcript of the conversation with Ukraine’s President, the secret servers where that record and the records of other conversations including some with Russia and Saudi Arabia were inappropriately stored, the nightly megalomaniacal ravings of Trump’s personal lawyer, the suspicious optics of AG William Barr’s involvement, the resignation on Friday of Kurt Volker, Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, etc.; the Trump supporters by and large respond with an exasperated sigh and say, “for the umpteenth time, what about Biden?” It is their only rhetorical move, for now. At the moment, they will not accept that anything is wrong, let alone accept blame.

An interesting thing about this moment is that it exposes the vast gulf between the partisan realities that developed over the past generation and which have now fully matured into a hydra of political turmoil. It is harder than ever for both sides to communicate with each other. On each side, there is a near-total lack of understanding of the other. High-level political operatives and even pundits are having a hard time articulating the thinking behind the other side’s positions on impeachment and the Ukrainian call. The Democrats cannot understand why the GOP is so blind to Trump’s duplicity, while the Republicans cannot understand why the Democrats cannot just enjoy how well the economy is doing. Crucially, both sides believe the other side is hell-bent on destroying America. Both sides also know that the only way to heal the divide is to open up the lines of communication, re-learn how to talk to each other, and come up with a few compromises. Anyone who is so cynical that they cannot see that compromise is a real possibility need look no further than Andrew Yang’s surging candidacy. Yang appeals to both Trump supporters and liberals, as do other candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. However, one major downside of the start of Impeachment proceedings is the damage it will do to the partisan divide. The gulf will widen further before it shrinks unless one of the candidates can fill the gap.

Life in this alternate timeline is not without its small ironies. The USA and the UK are tracking each other in their twin national meltdowns. Just as the UK descends toward the next breaking point, the US enters into impeachment proceedings in earnest. Looking across the pond can be instructive for both nations to some degree. Though the situations are very different, there is a deep sense of shame coming from many sections of both societies. As an outsider looking into UK politics at the moment, I can see several trending sentiments: zero trust in government, deep feelings of betrayal, and not much room for compassion and forgiveness across parties. Perhaps now, going into the heat of the October finale, such compassion is the hardest thing to muster. But there will be future seasons, and compassion now will be remembered later on. 

Just like Brexit, impeachment will lead to rancor and suffering no matter how it plays out. If we can remember compassion over the next few months, our peoples will be better for it. It would be a great mistake to propel the growing cycle of retribution between the parties. Nothing good can come from it. Therefore, as the giddy excitement of the start of the impeachment process gives way to smug outrage, which it inevitably will if it has not already, the Democrats should try to push back on some of the deeper feelings of despair that come from watching one’s democracy shake to its foundations lest those desperations lead to hate. Instead, they should hold firmly to justice and their vision of a republic free from corruption and foreign influences, while also showing kindness and humility wherever possible. If some as yet unforeseen chain of events leads to Trump’s resignation or removal from office, let the GOP save face, even. Through their treatment of the Republicans, Democrats can help America answer a cultural question that needs revisiting every generation or so: is it possible for Americans to love their political enemies?

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