The media hinted that the knives were out the moment Donald Trump was acquitted and that’s just how it played out. There’s no need to go over the bloodletting that has now infused the White House with that “revenge is sweet” demeanour; it’s incessantly on our news feeds and doesn’t require a retelling here.
But what is interesting is what the Republican Party will do now. Everything at present is pre-impeachment or post-impeachment and, strangely, after weeks of hearings which showed the seedier practices of this president and discouraged Republicans no end, the party faithful (as opposed to the Trump faithful) is now in a place of great uncertainty.
The reason is simple: the occupant of the Oval Office not only believes he has been vindicated but is now ready to rule more autocratically than when he was under the cloud of the impeachment controversy. He feels he’s in the clear, showing no sense of remorse or humility at what he had put his party and the country through. He is a leader unleashed and no one can truly predict what’s about to descend on our neighbour.
But back to the Republican Party for a minute, where a number of politicians and party apparatus figures have been quietly speaking about their doubts with the overall mess of what has been left of the party. It no longer resembles its historical identity. To those who hoped Trump would be chastened by the impeachment revelations, it has now become clear that civility, humility, cooperation for the sake of the country, have been consigned to the ash heap and that a terrible reckoning is coming. There will be no break between the inpeachment’s conclusion and the federal election – everything will be a full-court press and it will prove exhausting.
Behind the scenes, some Republicans have been confessing their dread, while others are licking their chops. The former understand that they can say nothing of their doubts for fear of losing their election, while the latter have every intention of voicing their sureties for the same reason of winning. Somehow, some party supporters express the rationale that the secret is to endure and rebuild the party when Trump is at last gone. One is at a loss to respond to such a presumption. The electorate could well have other ideas. Their fate is joined to Trump – they rose to power together, defied common decency and law together, and, together, could ultimately be swept away in the historic tidal wave of denunciations that will eventually prevail.
And yet they continue, failing to learn the wisdom of Vaclav Havel:
“Politicians soon learn how easy it is to justify staying in power even as they give up bits of their soul in the process. It is easier than they think to get morally tainted.”
The problem with Republican rationale is that they aren’t taking into consideration the cancer they are embedding in democracy itself and that it might actually rip away the very the ability for the country to claw its way back to some level of sanity. In this midst of all that American braggadocio, everyone has overlooked just how fragile and vulnerable government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” really is. It was never the nation’s ability to create wealth that proved to be its secret for success, but its strength at delivering freedom and liberty based on the inherent rights of every citizen.
America’s founders would surely have known that their experimental creation would never endure under a king or a despot. Despite the odds, they collectively believed that the practice of decency, mutual respect, shared opportunity, under the rule of law, would prove enough to prevail, and they were right.
Perhaps until now, that is. They always knew that there would be those seeking absolute power and to guard against that fate they developed a nation of standards and laws for public and private life. As founder John Adams framed it: “”We are a nation of laws, not men.”
Is that still true? As we witness laws being abrogated and vengeance on steroids, it has become clear that devious leaders have enshrined themselves over the very laws that once brought down earlier administrations, parties and presidents. As the Atlantic recently put it: “Our democracy was founded on optimism about human nature. Amid the Trumpian wreckage, that looks like a bad bet.” Surely the founders would have envisioned that possibility and been terrified by it.
The CBC’s Aaron Wherry has carefully reminded us that this is a road Canada has, so far, refused to travel. Yet, he cautions us to refrain from an attitude of smugness and it’s likely we all know why. It’s not as though our politics isn’t without its unprincipled power seekers who seek a lane for their ascendancy through dividing Canada even further. These must be cautious days, lest we lose our hegemony in the face of all that anger. Quoting Havel once more: “Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”