So, it’s over – for now at least.
Thursday was the last day of Congressional public hearings on the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
Some things are now clear:
- Whether rising to impeachment levels or not, Donald Trump is in a lot of trouble
- The professional intelligence and diplomatic presentations were something of a revelation in their decorum, non-partisanship and high-level competence – a reality that clearly rose above the cut and thrust nature of the political participation.
- The House will vote for impeachment, leaving the president’s political future decided in the Senate.
- The blurring of the lines between truth and fabrication revealed in the hearings has risen to a level unlike anything in the American experience
- The president’s refusal to allow any of his principal players – Bolton, Mulvaney, Perry, Pompeo – to testify meant that the burden fell on the professionals in Intelligence and the State Department to deliver the truth. This they did with forceful accuracy.
Regardless of whether one is Left or Right, Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, it is now clear that the White House is a train wreck and the things we have learned, impeachable or not, are at the level of gross incompetence and unprofessionalism, with some graft, vanity, espionage and outright lying thrown in.
But there’s just one problem: maybe nobody really cares. Many national polls in the United States in the last week have revealed that Trump’s numbers have gone up during these hearings, while those seeking impeachment have declined by 3-5 percentage points.
And that’s just the problem. After all our griping about politicians and the ineffectiveness of politics in general, we could be learning that the problem is us. In huge numbers, we say that we desire politicians who are courageous, who speak truth, who are willing to break partisan ranks for the sake of principle, but then fail to come out in significant enough numbers to change the political norms by using our collective voice.
America has had it confirmed over and over again that their political leaders are hyper-partisan, capable of monstrous fabrications, willing to defy history by placing the security of their nation at stake, addicted to funds, with some willing to flaunt or break the law outright in pursuit of their private interests. Despite all of that, and all the evidence compiled in open public testimony, Americans are tepid about doing anything about it.
It used to be a democratic given that our political leaders required the public trust in order to govern. That’s not a sure thing anymore. Votes no longer relate to trust and the larger picture in their politics, but to self-interest. In fact, trust in politics in most western nations is dropping like a stone – including in Canada. We say it’s because all politicians are weak and self-serving, but in reality, they are only mirroring what it is that voters ultimately want.
Canadians say they want an end to poverty, effective dealing with climate change, affordable housing and adequate healthcare, but grow timid, at times angry, the moment solutions are put forward involving raising prices at the pumps, targeting taxes at some of our greatest dilemmas, or persuading all Canadians on the need to sacrifice at this important hour. And virtually no one in the corporate community would be willing to share the load if it at all affected the bottom line.
It us now crystal clear that in America, almost everyone understands that their president is repeatedly guilty of putting his personal fortune and interests above the security and welfare of the country itself, and yet the citizenry is proving more willing to give him a pass than hold him to account.
In Canada, voters have delivered a more diverse and minority parliament, saying that they’re tired of the same-old, same-old. But the way ahead isn’t just to vote in someone else each time things don’t work out for us, but to come together as a citizenry and hold the government we already have to account.
What we are talking about here is a new kind of citizenship for a more troubling age. Or as Jean-Jacque Rousseau would put it in his hopes for the Enlightenment:
“There can be no patriotism without liberty; no liberty without virtue; no virtue without citizens. Create citizens and you will have everything you need; without them you will have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the State downwards.”
So there we have it: if we are not willing to live by virtue, we surely won’t be governed by it. Politics will always attempt to find power by figuring out what we want. If we don’t want bigger lives, effective communities, more meaning in our public existence, then our politics will be more than willing to comply. The democracy required for this more hectic and darker age is one in which our leaders are willing to follow our more noble aspirations as opposed to our retail ones. This might be our last chance to get this right before democracy itself proves to be no match for the times, since it can no longer produce a citizen or a politician capable of sacrificing for the better angels of their nature.