Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Impeachment and Our Government by Cult

That something so serious has been made into a charade, a foregone conclusion, does not speak highly of our republic.
Donald Trump

Barbara commented on it earlier, cable news has played it ad nauseam, but I still can’t get over those remarks by Congressman Barry Loudermilk during the House impeachment debate yesterday. To wit: “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus, than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”

And then Mike Pence denied him three times.

Loudermilk speaks this way because, for all the yawping about how classical liberalism is ruining the country, there’s barely a scintilla of actual liberality left in our government. That is to say, open minds, free inquiry, pursuing the truth where it may lead, holding the powerful to account. Yes, there were a few last night who bucked the party rod. Justin Amash, who left the GOP, voted to impeach. Jeff Van Drew and two other Democrats voted no. Tulsi Gabbard voted present.

But that was about it. A presidential impeachment, one of the most important powers assigned to Congress, was instead turned into a kind of mad-lib where everyone had their blanks filled in by their respective parties. So now it’s on to the Senate where the result is already predetermined. Might Mitch McConnell set aside party fealty and instead conduct a fair trial, do a service to both Constitution and institution? Fat chance. “I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell said. “This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision.”

He’s technically correct, of course, and certainly the House’s decision to impeach the president, rushed before Christmas and without the exercise of many of the congressional tools that might have shed more light on the matter, was political as well. But McConnell doesn’t mean “political” in the old-fashioned sense. He doesn’t mean “those things that concern the polis,” the careful public maintenance necessary for a city to survive. He means “political” in the newfangled, Godzilla-versus-Mothra sense, wherein two mega-cults duke it out for the supremacy of their godheads, the needs of the nation and pesky “proceduralism” be damned. Barack Obama was the Messiah. Donald Trump is Jesus spurned. “Put not your trust in princes” has given way to a polity that puts its trust in little else. The Founders’ warnings about factionalism seem almost quaint by comparison.

Even the media has been corrupted by this dichotomy. One of the most frustrating things about impeachment has been the thorough lack of independent news coverage. The New York Times has its foregone conclusion and shapes its narratives accordingly; so does Fox News. The cults have their loyal amanuenses. And so the towering issues of impeachment are vitiated into chum for the tribes, while the national debt continues to accumulate, the higher education system remains a calamity, American agriculture goes unreformed, and the military-industrial complex whirs on.

And that right there is the most infuriating thing about our governance by clashing titans: in turning everything into an opera, it leaves not nearly enough room for the problem solving our country badly needs. The result isn’t classical liberalism or libertarianism or theocracy or progressivism; it’s a kind of arthritic conservatism, one that clings deadeningly to the status quo if only because our elected leaders are too distracted (and too weak) to change it, with power effectively ceded to the administrative state. This isn’t healthy in a republic. It also isn’t how most people look at politics; hence the frustration.