Home/Rod Dreher/Trump Impeached: The Death Of Outrage

Trump Impeached: The Death Of Outrage

At least one citizen was outraged over impeachment tonight (CNN screenshot)

So, it has happened, like we knew it would. Donald Trump is only the third American president to be impeached. I think there cannot be many of us who didn’t know when he was inaugurated that sooner or later, this day would come. Character is destiny. It was for Bill Clinton, and it is for Donald Trump.

Here’s part of The New York Times‘s coverage:

Really? The nation is convulsing? Maybe they’re convulsing on East 43rd Street, and in Times Square, and in the green rooms of the cable networks, but I’m not seeing any convulsions where I live, in Louisiana. Are you convulsing? Maybe the nation really is convulsing, and I’m too sinful to see it.

“Finding it alarming how impossible it is to take any of this seriously,” tweeted a friend just now. She lives in New York, and is absolutely positively not a Trump fan. But I share her sentiment. Let me see if I can explain why.

I remember where I was when the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton: sitting on the couch in my East 58th Street apartment, watching live on CNN. The word “impeachment” was one of my earliest political memories. I was six years old when Watergate broke. I remember that strange word, redolent of the fruit tree in our backyard. I knew it had something to do with the president, and that impeachment, despite the ripe loveliness held in place by those stiff Latinate skewers, was a very bad thing.

I suppose that for anybody with even the slightest memory of Watergate, the idea of impeachment carried with it a sense of dread. If you were a kid and saw your dad take his pistol in his hand when he saw a prowler lurking in the nighttime shadows outside, but also saw him put it back in his top drawer, unfired, because the police showed up just in time, well, you might not ever look at that gun in the same way. He could have used it, if the prowler had pushed him to. I think that’s how I saw impeachment, leading up to Clinton’s moment of reckoning.

The thing is, by the time we arrived at Clinton’s impeachment, everybody knew that he was as guilty as hell of perjuring himself, and obstructing justice in an effort to hide his shame. Donald Trump’s actual guilt in the Ukraine matter is in dispute, but what’s really not a matter of serious contention is that the president brought this onto himself by his extraordinarily reckless behavior. As usual with Donald Trump, he creates messes for himself that a person with a normal sense of self-discipline would never dream of doing. Come on, what kind of lunatic gets on the phone with the Ukrainian president on the day after dodging the Mueller bullet, and even gives the appearance of quidding the distribution of military aid for the big fat quo of investigating his chief political rival?

Anyway, when the hammer came down on Bill Clinton (21 years ago tomorrow, in fact), it felt right. Justice had been served. Two months later, the GOP-run Senate would acquit Clinton of the charges. He served out the rest of his term, and went on to become very rich, a globalist grifter of great renown. One day, he will die peacefully in bed. His bed, one hopes. Life went on.

In 1998, on the verge of the start of impeachment proceedings, Bill Bennett, who — young people, listen! — was a famous Republican moralist of the time, published a bestseller titled, The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.  In it, Bennett wrote that “on Bill Clinton’s behalf, in his defense, many bad ideas are being put into widespread circulation.

It is said that private character has virtually no impact on governing character; that what matters
above all is a healthy economy; that moral authority is defined solely by how well a president deals
with public policy matters; that America needs to become more European (read: more
“sophisticated”) in its attitude toward sex; that lies about sex, even under oath, don’t really matter;
that we shouldn’t be “judgmental”; that it is inappropriate to make preliminary judgments about the
president’s conduct because he hasn’t been found guilty in a court of law; and so forth.

If these arguments take root in American soil — if they become the coin of the public realm — we
will have validated them, and we will come to rue the day we did. These arguments define us down;
they assume a lower common denominator of behavior and leadership than we Americans ought to
accept. And if we do accept it, we will have committed an unthinking act of moral and intellectual
disarmament. In the realm of American ideals and the great tradition of public debate, the high
ground will have been lost. And when we need to rely again on this high ground — as surely we
will need to — we will find it drained of its compelling moral power. In that sense, then, the
arguments invoked by Bill Clinton and his defenders represent an assault on American ideals, even
if you assume the president did nothing improper. So the arguments need to be challenged.

I believe these arguments are also a threat to our understanding of American self-government. It
demands active participation in, and finally, reasoned judgments on, important civic matters.
“Judgment” is a word that is out of favor these days, but it remains a cornerstone of democratic
self-government. It is what enables us to hold ourselves, and our leaders, to high standards. It is
how we distinguish between right and wrong, noble and base, honor and dishonor. We cannot
ignore that responsibility, or foist it on others. It is the price — sometimes the exacting price — of
citizenship in a democracy. The most popular arguments made by the president’s supporters invite
us to abandon that participation, those standards, and the practice of making those distinctions.

That was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

How quaint it is to read “American ideals” in connection with the behavior of a president. Back then, I was disappointed and even disgusted that Clinton was acquitted by the Senate, and that most Americans agreed with that result. Death of outrage indeed! Now, though, I concede that was probably the prudent call. To reverse the results of a presidential election is a big, big deal. In retrospect, Clinton’s crime appears more minor than it did at the time. Still, when you think about how certain Republican types are beclowning themselves defending Donald Trump, I remind you that these words were actually written in 1998 by Nina Burleigh, once a writer for Time magazine, about Bill Clinton: “I’d be happy to give him a blow job just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”

We’ve all been through a lot since then, haven’t we? We’ve lived through a time when the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been revealed, again and again, to have been festooned with stone-cold liars who secretly oversaw a national clerical gay sex network that had its own special pederast auxiliary preying on Catholic children. And look, kids, I’m old enough to remember that time a Republican president after Clinton got us into a catastrophic war of choice in the Middle East. I can even recall how elites of both parties, under both the Clinton and subsequent Bush administrations, bent over for Wall Street and ended up causing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Why, I even recall just last week, when the Washington Post published formerly secret government documents showing that from early on in the Afghanistan War — which is still going on, 18 years later — the US civilian and military leadership knew that it was a mess, and that it was likely unwinnable.

It was a hell of a series of stories. How much outrage have you seen about it? None. Outrage is dead, haven’t you heard?

I hate that we have such a lowlife as the American president. But do you know what else I hate? That the Democratic Party went crazy over the last 20 years. That it’s for open borders. That the Democratic Party is for writing into federal civil rights law the destruction of one of the most fundamental building blocks of human civilization: the gender binary. I hate that the Democrats are so drunk on identity politics that a Democratic-run government would create a legal and policy framework in which my own sons would be considered public enemies because of the color of their skin, their sex, and depending on the context, their religion.

Truly, I find all that more outrageous and threatening than what this outer borough yahoo we elected in 2016 says and does. Really, I do. Even though I’m pretty sure Trump deserves it, I’m not convulsing over what happened tonight. I don’t really care. I suppose that’s what decadence and cynicism does to a guy. There is nothing that the House of Representatives can do to Trump that convicts his low character more than what he has done every day or so in the presidency. I hope he is not convicted by the Senate, because it is imprudent to remove a president so close to the next election. Let the American people decide Trump’s fate.

Meanwhile, did you hear today’s news that they can’t find the security camera footage from the hallway outside Jeffrey Epstein’s cell on the night of his first suicide attempt — this, even though lawyers asked the state to impound the footage only two days after it was recorded? Just up and disappeared. Funny how that happens, innit?

UPDATE:Washington Post Congressional correspondents having a ball tonight:

She updated:

Er, right.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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