When news on the radio news starts these days, the top item is about the impending impeachment of the U.S. President by the House. Every day for weeks now, I immediately think: ok but what’s the actual news? Anything interesting going on out there?
I know this is wrong. I’m as civic-minded as the next guy. I’m against corruption. I’m for holding politicians accountable. Government should be good, morally upright, true blue. For this reason, I know that I’m supposed to find impeachment to be engaging, ominous, and fraught with significance for the future of our constitutional republic. Of course this is extremely important for our lives. Of course!
But maybe….maybe it is all kind of boring. For some reason, the whole affair is starting to take on the character of elevator music.
The trouble is that there are some things that everyone knows. Everyone knows how this ends. The Senate will stop the impeachment, and then the president will use this to amp up the drama for his re-election and energize his base as never before. That this whole thing will backfire to his benefit is as sure as sunrise. The Democrats these days are about as strategic as Wile E. Coyote and equally persistent in trying out their newest trick that will again end with a puff of dust emerging the ground below the cliff.
Everyone knows that the House Democrats and the entire party have been in an existential meltdown of fury, shock, and horror ever since election night 2016. The results were not supposed to be as they were, which everyone knew because nearly every living soul in the mainstream press assured us that Trump would flame out and die a disgraceful political death that night.
Everyone knows that the center-left has sought impeachment from that moment on. This Ukrainian business – even if the substance of every accusation is true – is the convenient excuse that they needed to do what they swore to do that night. The maudlin performances and pearl clutching in the House of Representatives are so much theater.
Everyone knows, further, that the president is not happy unless he is muscling people, defeating enemies, winning the game that he sets up, exacting tribute, establishing his dominance in the room and the world stage, capturing all the headlines and so on. That he reminded the Ukrainian president of the foreign aid the country gets prior to pressing him on information concerning his political enemies isn’t even slightly surprising. We are way past shock on this front.
Trump believes the entire US economy is his private achievement; that he also believes that the US Treasury is his for advancing his political interests follows too. Nor does anyone believe that tying aid to political ends is somehow unprecedented in American political life.
We only pretend to be taken aback. Actually, we know that this is only a small peek into what really goes on in these circles.
Finally, here is the core of what everyone knows. Everyone knows that the real-life business of government is shady, backstabbing, underhanded, duplicitous, dogs-eating-dogs, and fundamentally rotten. Both sides. All sides.
This impeachment, in particular, has a cast of characters out of the darkest corners of American life. We’ve got a salivating media hungry for readers, a gaggle of permanent bureaucrats wanting to drive out the interloping president, an opposition party consumed in fear and loathing, and vast partisan interests excited about how much money they can raise from the naive who join political tribes and cough up money to see their tribe win the day.
The impeachment angle here is particularly exciting to some because it recalls the last great moment in American political history in which many people were genuinely shocked at White House hijinks. The press was respected and loved. That a president could be impeached was genuinely alarming. When Nixon finally waved goodbye, it was a watershed moment in American history – or so people believed.
I have some faint memories of all of this. My grandparents and parents huddled around the television. The testimony was riveting. What did he know and when did he know it? Where are the tapes? How deep does the coverup extend? It was like a great movie.
To be sure, my parents were convinced that Nixon was being railroaded by partisan attacks. He was technically guilty, they would admit, but what he did was not an actual crime; it was all politics going down. But then again, my parents were rebels. I took their message to my second grade class and I was the only person in my entire grade that had doubts about the impeachment.
The real point is that everyone cared intensely. It was a huge deal. Remember that in these times, two-thirds of Americans professed respect for the Presidency and the political system. That Watergate exposed the underside was something of a shock to everyone, even Nixon partisans.
There is a parallel with how the center-left wanted Nixon to die the death and how Trump is being treated today. Nixon was in the House during the amazing 1948 Hiss-Chambers testimony before the UnAmerican Activities Committee and used the occasion to launch his political career. Here was the witch hunt of the day, and they found real witches. The left never forgave him for this. They swore revenge and eventually got it. In a similar way, Trump was not supposed to win the presidency in 2016. He will pay the price someday, swore the multitudinous members of the Washington clerisy.
The big difference between then and now is that back then, government seemed really important. It was fighting the cold war. It was stabilizing the economy, so they said. The best and brightest were drawn to Washington like moths to a flame. Today, not so much. The last time government did anything notably spectacular was the moon shot. What’s happened since? It has raised taxes, inflated the money supply, got the country embroiled in endless stupid wars, and hectored and jailed people for smoking plants. Most political news is either trivial or depressing, and the media has been massively diversified and the mainstream discredited.
Today is a different world from that which produced Watergate. What was once an ominous moment in 1974 has become the incredibly uneventful impeachment in 2019 – an impeachment completely consistent with the reputational status of state today, which is a shadow of its former self. Post-impeachment, the situation in the United States that produced President Trump will still exist, namely the massive public dissatisfaction with the status quo. That is unimpeachable.