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The Fog Of Impeachment

To remind you: I’m not sure where I stand on impeachment. I’m waiting to see the facts, and trying to see what the facts are despite the blizzard of spin from the White House and the Democrats. I find myself more or less where Erick Erickson is today. Excerpts:

There are vast parts of me that wish President Trump would just go away. I dislike the chaos. I am tired of it. I think he is self-destructive. I think his tweets do more harm than good. I think he is more divisive than he should be. I think he has been dogmatic on policies that will be economically harmful. I think he has emboldened some awful elements of our society. I think a small portion of his supporters are nasty people who relish conspiracies to explain the world because they’d otherwise have to admit they failed at life and they suddenly feel at large and in charge. I think he relies on a bunch of huckster, grifters, and blue haired charlatans who give him advice because they want to stand in his shadow but not necessarily help him succeed. I think if he said tomorrow that he had made America great again and was passing things off to Pence, we would be in a better place. I am sympathetic to the Republicans who have told me they are tired of the drama and want to move on.

But then I think about this video and I remind myself this is a two way street. The reality is that the offerings from this presidency are largely normal even if the President’s behavior is not. But more so, this is not just about the President. The media has been relentlessly amplifying chaos, division, and more. We’re in a satanic feedback loop of jackassery in Washington fueled with a bunch of thin skinned people and the President is not the cause of it. If President Pence were there instead of President Trump, we’d have the media attacking him for his wife’s career choice and pushing fake racist attacks on him. Oh wait! They already are.

More:

I take seriously that there is real truth. I think we have an obligation to find it. I am willing to take the subtweets from friends because I don’t agree with their twisting of truth and pushing of conspiracy. I don’t think I am getting the truth from either side. There are a handful of reporters who I trust way more than most of the voices defending the President. There are too many conservatives weaving conspiracy theories and too many reporters decrying things as conspiracy that are not.

I’ll move slowly. I will pay attention to the voices of credible, diligent journalists and mature, responsible voices including, yes, the Attorney General. If I think the President has committed an impeachable offense, I’ll wrest myself off the bull in the china shop into the shards of glass and broken china. But I’m not there. I don’t know that I will get there. And I don’t think the media and Democrats have enough good will with people to convince most people even if they were to convince me. The President should stay off Twitter, but he can do so assured he is blessed with idiots for enemies. And he can keep himself up at night knowing Rudy is an idiot too.

Yesterday I was at the gym, on an elliptical machine, and couldn’t watch Netflix on my phone. So I had to watch the crappy cable channels on the machine’s TV. I toggled back and forth between Fox News and MSNBC, both of which were talking about nothing but impeachment. It was dizzying. I thought at the end that I cannot trust fully what I’m hearing on either channel. It’s nothing but confusion, and there are no reliable information brokers anywhere. I read the newspapers too, and listen to public radio, and I simply do not really trust anybody to tell me the truth in a neutral way. Do you?

Did you see this grave piece that former TAC editor Dan McCarthy wrote for The Spectator? It raises a deeper concern about the impeachment issue. I haven’t seen this talked about anywhere else. Excerpts:

All impeachments are partisan, but this one is in doubly bad faith: it has no chance of succeeding in removing Trump, and it has no chance of acquitting him in a way that will strengthen faith in the country’s institutions.

The only outcome possible is to confirm for Democrats and Republicans alike the idea that 2020 is a regime-change moment, for reasons that go far beyond Trump.

McCarthy surveys US politics since Nixon, and makes a case that after the Cold War, the stable national consensus — one that held even through Watergate — began to break apart. He sees Trump’s 2016 election as a radical repudiation of the Establishment, both the GOP Establishment (which Trump beat in the primaries), and the entire US Establishment, represented by Hillary Clinton. McCarthy writes:

That’s why this impeachment attempt is radically different from the Nixon or Clinton episodes. There is no consensus to save this time; there is only an anti-consensus waiting to be radicalized.

More:

The old saying is that if you strike at a king, be sure to kill him. In this case, the regime is striking not a king but at the very idea that an elected official can challenge the establishment. This risks revealing just how weak the country’s ruling class really is: if 40 percent of the country remains with Trump through the ordeal of impeachment, that will show that 40 percent is anti-regime — revolutions are made with less. And that 40 percent would be a floor, not a ceiling; a starting point for a future anti-regime movement.

Read it all. 

McCarthy believes that for the sake of stability, the Democrats should allow the 2020 election to be the referendum on Trump, not an impeachment trial. Have you thought about it like this? Until reading the McCarthy piece, I had not.

If McCarthy is correct, we are in critical trouble as a country. Let’s assume that Donald Trump did everything the Democrats allege that he did, and it is the kind of conduct that can legitimately be described as impeachable. McCarthy is saying that the country’s institutions might well be too weak to survive an impeachment proceeding. I think he’s probably right about that. His column says, “Are we really sure we want to stress-test the system? Because we probably won’t like what we find out about it.”

But look: the fact that we can legitimately wonder whether or not the system would survive that sort of stress test is pretty damn scary. If that is a serious concern, does that not in itself give us the answer?

We know from opinion polling that Americans today, and over the past few years, have relatively little confidence in the nation’s institutions, aside from the military. Political institutions and the media are near the bottom. This entire impeachment process is taking place within the institutions of politics and the media — two of the least-trusted institutions in American life. Impeach Trump or don’t impeach Trump — whatever happens, does anybody think that American institutions, and the American system, will emerge from this stronger? That people will be more confident that the system works?

I know I won’t — and I say that no matter what the outcome. The system was supposed to keep people like Trump out. But the failures of the system called forth a Donald Trump figure. And now it might not survive him. As Ray Bradbury Shakespeare put it, “Something wicked this way comes…. .”

UPDATE: Sobering comment from a reader:

I really liked and appreciated the McCarthy article. I certainly have a deep sense of foreboding about what the future holds for this country. It seems clear that there is a gathering storm. When it will break, what form it will take and what direction it will go, I won’t even hazard to guess. But as an amateur student of history, it certainly seems clear to me that our country cannot continue on this path indefinitely. Something will happen that will either create a new consensus (which I think is unlikely because we are so divided on fundamental values), or that will just drive us apart irreparably.

And I say this as a big believer in traditional American ideals, in the Constitution, and in the overall goodness of the American people. But I’m 34 years old, and I have felt deeply in my own life the loss of confidence in institutions that McCarthy describes.

For me, this loss of confidence began with the war in Iraq, continued with the disastrous rollout of Obamacare (which has tripled my own health care costs), and has intensified as I’ve watched D.C. descend into a circus of petty scandal and spiteful partisanship over the Obama and Trump presidencies. In my own life, I’ve interacted with many people suffering from broken homes, broken families, and severe drug addictions and mental illness. These issues are severely impacting the lives of my fellow Americans but are seldom, or never, acknowledged or discussed in the discourse of the elites reflected in media and politics.

I watched the big Goodyear tire factory in my hometown close in the early 2000s, after China was admitted to the WTO, and heard teachers in the schools around that factory discuss how the schools and families have decayed after those jobs left the community. I saw the financial crisis of 2009, how the government bailed out Wall Street but hung ordinary Americans out to dry as they lost their jobs and homes. I then watched those same financiers subsequently make millions and billions in the stock market boom that followed (much of it pumped up by the Federal Reserve), while ordinary Americans struggled to get back on their feet.

I’ve watched as universities burden young people with immense levels of debt while failing to impart broad-based liberal educations or competent skills; instead, they proselytize with the gospel of intersectionality and loathing of America and Western civilization.

The final nails in the coffin were Drag Queen Story Hours and transgender ideology. All elite institutions, from the academy to public schools to the medical profession to government, immediately accepted transgender ideology and pushed it on the public and those entrusted to their care, pumping the bodies of poor confused young children with hormones and performing irreversible medical procedures. The explicit sexualization of children in Drag Queen Story Hours has been lionized and celebrated as a milestone.

And it is a milestone, for it represents the final apotheosis of our elite classes and institutions, when they crossed the line from mere incompetence and petty self-interest to true evil and maliciousness. I could go on and on and talk about the revolving door between government and business, or the usurpation by the Supreme Court of various issues that properly belongs in the democratic sphere, that should be decided by the people and their representatives, but you get the idea. My faith in elite institutions has been eroding my entire adult life.

I was raised in a good home by good parents and a strong family, many of whom served in World War 2, and I was taught to be a patriotic American, to love our country and appreciate our way of life and our freedoms. I still consider myself to be a patriotic American. But today, as a 34 year old with a 6 month old daughter, I have absolutely no trust or faith whatsoever in the federal government, the courts, public schools, higher education, the medical profession, or even religious institutions (although I am a committed and practicing Catholic). So I absolutely get the point McCarthy is driving at.

Our political and media elites are absolutely clueless about the people and the country they supposedly rule, they are oblivious to how tenuous their own hold on power is, and whether it’s impeachment or race or transgender ideology, they are truly blind to how dangerous the forces they are playing with are. No matter what the facts, this impeachment process will be maximally damaging to whatever integrity is left to our public institutions, and it will further radicalize our politics. It is indeed playing with fire.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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