Yes, we’re in crisis. There is a growing incoherence in the operation of our government, and an unprecedented comingling of the nation’s business and the business of re-electing President Trump.
Suffice to say, our country isn’t always in crisis when the Congress of the United States initiates an impeachment proceeding against a sitting President. There have been efforts to impeach US presidents a number of times that ended in failure to impeach (let alone convict) without an ensuing national crisis. For example, the House of Representatives considered articles of impeachment against Presidents John Tyler, James Buchanan, and Harry Truman all of which failed in the House and caused no crisis for the country. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House (although not convicted by the Senate) and President Richard Nixon resigned when the House Judiciary Committee approved, and referred to the full House, three articles of impeachment. Thus, President Nixon avoided certain impeachment by the full House. The nation was in crisis during the Nixon impeachment because President Nixon was managing a criminal cover-up operation involving the Watergate scandal from the oval office. It became clear that both Democrats and Republicans were prepared to vote impeachment, and many observers believe that when a brave, young, conservative Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Larry Hogan of Maryland, announced his decision to vote for all three articles of impeachment, Nixon knew he was not going to be saved by party loyalty. His fears were confirmed the following day when Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona informed him that he would fare no better in the Senate if the full House voted to impeach.
The Clinton impeachment, following the vote to impeach in the House, proceeded in an orderly manner. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate and completed his Presidency with high approval ratings.
Now comes a formal “impeachment inquiry” by the House of Representatives targeting President Donald Trump. We’re not prepared to judge whether what we consider to be a rather sleazy telephone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rises to the level of an impeachable offense. While the justification for the impeachment of a US President is really whatever the House of Representatives decides is justification, it appears to us that President Trump carefully crafted plausible deniability regarding the motive for his obvious pitch for President Zelensky to launch a corruption investigation involving rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
This impeachment inquiry, however, comes at a time when our nation has drifted into a partisan divide unlike anything in recent memory, and, perhaps, in the country’s history. A cult of personality, a term usually reserved for supporters of despotic leaders of one-party regimes, has emerged in America wherein it seems the President’s supporters will stand with him no matter what. Similarly, many of his opponents will stridently criticize virtually everything he does or says.
A whistleblower who has followed appropriate procedure and communicated his concerns through appropriate channels and prepared a serious report based on allegations brought to him or her, apparently by high-ranking personnel in the White House, has been referred to by President Trump as “almost a spy” with an ominous reminder of what “we used to do with spies.” That was a remarkably inappropriate comment at best, or a remarkably dangerous dog whistle at worst. In either case, they were the words of the President of the United States.
The country has become largely divided into two camps; more like two belligerents facing off under opposing flags than the run-of-the-mill rough and tumble of good old-fashioned American politics. The President regularly refers to the press as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people,” and he petulantly, childishly, ridicules and attacks those who criticize him.
We assume that many accept President Trump’s explanation that he withheld vitally needed and previously approved foreign aid to Ukraine because “other countries were not contributing enough to help defend the former Soviet satellite nation.” Ukraine is staunchly pro-American. They have “bet” on America to the consternation of Russia, and the country lives under constant threat, having already lost a chunk of their nation, Crimea, to Russian aggression. It was tantamount to saying, Germany and others are not giving you the support you deserve and need, so we’re not going to either.
The President, strangely, but clearly, immediately raised issues pertaining to the last presidential election and then-current political opponent Joe Biden when President Zelensky told the President that he was ready to buy those American Javelin anti-tank defensive missiles. President Trump made it clear that he expected President Zelensky to investigate campaign-related issues, which the Ukrainian President agreed to do. He hardly had any choice, it seemed, if he wanted those anti-tank missiles.
“Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” President Trump told President Zelensky, telling him he would be hearing from the President’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr regarding the campaign-related issues.
This is not politics as usual in America. This is strange behavior and, as such, it is historical. The nation is functioning by Presidential whim. The nation is in crisis.