What to do about the elephant in the room?
I read the news every day. I listen to a ridiculous number of political podcasts and radio programs. I have a near-continuous loop of political commentary running through my brain. And yet since President Trump was elected, I have published almost nothing about him.
There has just been so much – so much to take in, so much to feel, so much to say – that I have had no earthly idea what to do with it all. I’ve had no idea where to begin. The thing feels like a web, a many-legged creature, a patch of brambles on the edge of a wood.
But if one is to write on the issues of the day, one had better well be prepared to take on those elephants.
So I am giving up any notion of addressing this webbish, many-legged, bramble of a subject with anything like adequacy. I am just trying to pare down my thoughts enough to say something.
To put it most plainly: I am grateful for the impeachment inquiry.
I am a conservative. (I’m even technically still a Republican.) I know of no Democratic candidate that I could vote for in good conscience. And yet I feel no loyalty whatsoever to President Trump, to the Republican party, or to their narrative.
What I care about in all of this – in all this intrigue, in all this talk of corruption – is not a person or a party. I care about the Constitution. I care about the rule of law. I care about ethics and integrity and the public trust.
I care about light.
I believe that democracies can only function properly if citizens, regularly and resolutely, shine light on their governments’ inner workings. I believe that credible allegations of corruption should always be investigated. I believe that office-holders (including and especially the president) should be as accountable to the law as anyone else.
I believe that innocent people do not fear the light.
I also care about norms.
Our nation is not held together by magic. It’s not even held together by blood, culture, or religion. Our nation is held together by a set of ideas and our collective willingness to abide by them.
Our system only works because we act like it works.
When someone breaks these norms – when they challenge the notion of checks and balances, when they refuse to cooperate with subpoenas, when they circumvent qualified, vetted, committed professionals in favor of personal friends, when they seek personal gain over national interest – they shake the foundations of our system. They put our rights and liberties at risk.
I care about precedent.
If there is one thing that has surprised me about the way Republican officials have handled the impeachment proceedings (and the Trump presidency more broadly), it is their unwillingness to consider how this precedent will affect future presidencies.
It doesn’t take much imagination to acknowledge that Republicans would have been up in arms if President Obama had conditioned American military aid on a foreign government’s willingness to investigate a Republican rival. It shouldn’t take much more to envision a future Republican Congress’ desire to check a Democratic president.
When that day comes, the Trump presidency will have set the precedent that personal priorities can take the place of U.S. national security interests, that the president can safely consider himself above the law for the duration of his term, that elected officials bear no responsibility to impartially consider the merits of congressional attempts at oversight, and indeed that an administration can outright refuse to cooperate in Congressional investigations.
Today’s Republican elected officials, urged along by vocal elements of today’s Republican base and today’s right-leaning media, are responsible for the future they sow.
We should take great care with where we place our loyalties.
God, country, constitution, democratic ideals, sets of values – these are worth loyalty. But not a person in public life. I am not inclined to put my faith in, or give my loyalty to, any politician. We do not elect kings in this country. We owe our presidents nothing.
It is they who owe loyalty to us.