Impeachment and the Siren Song of Authoritarianism

I watched this morning as Nancy Pelosi called for the crafting of impeachment articles in the House of Representatives. As I dressed Austin for preschool I thought about how heavy my heart was. There is no joy in this day although I have been calling for Trump’s impeachment for two years now. There is nothing good about being right about something like this. There is no jubilation as I watch my country be ripped apart by a conman and the people I love abused by their leader. There is a small glimmer of hope that perhaps truth and justice will win out. There is the quiet confidence that in troubled and confusing times that I see the truth as clearly as anyone does. But there is no giddy anticipation, no savoring of sweet revenge, no cackling of hateful and maniacal laughter. Only a very empty sadness as I think back to 2015 and a stage full of competent and qualified candidates for the Republican primary and the illusions I still had back then about a prosperous and peaceful decade under capable Republican leadership. The disastrous Trump train has left the wreckage of those hopes in its wake.

“This is the happiest day of your life!!!” she spat at me with her face contorted in rage.  Pondering on my feelings about impeachment, my mind returned to the year 2000. My sister had finally decided to leave her abusive husband and I had come to help her move out of her house.  Her fury hit me like a slap in the face. I thought of how inaccurate her assessment was. The emotions I felt were complex and hardly happy. I was relieved that perhaps the abusive man my sister chose to marry might be out of my life; that maybe the nightmare of his abuse of me and the people I love might be over; but this was far from the fulfillment of my highest dreams of happiness.  If I remember right, after she said those words, she would go back to him. It is common for abused spouses to return several times before finally getting away. I have turned over my sister’s angry words in my mind many times in the years since she said them.

I’ve thought many times about what I really wanted for me and my sister; what would really make me happy.  I thought of her happily married with children, enjoying close and intimate relationships with me and our parents, having her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs met.  Seeing that for my sister would make for the happiest day of my life. Unfortunately, life has not turned out so well for her. The hopes and dreams of a life full of the blessings of all good things seem like a knife to the heart when compared with the broken reality.  They were illusions, just like Trump’s Republican primary challengers, they lie diminished in the shadows of the sad reality.

And now our President has abused his office.  He has targeted Americans he has sworn an oath to protect.  He has used his powerful office entrusted to him under sacred oath in an attempted smear campaign of his political opponent using a foreign government as a tool.  The facts are clear although Trump’s political allies seem determined to muddy the water. They know that neither incompetence nor lack of good judgement can excuse this.  If allowed to stand this behavior will be repeated by future elected officials of both parties. The abuse of power to interfere in an election is impossible to defend in good faith.  It strikes at the heart of our system. Trump must be removed if the Republic is to be saved.

And yet, as I listened to Nancy Pelosi speak of “our founders” and the “commitment to the constitution” I’m sure I’m not the only one to find some dissonance in the notes of her speech within the larger composition of her life.  She and others of her political persuasion have been more apt to criticise the founders, imply that they were limited in their vision, and condemn them as racists. Is it any wonder that many view her words through a lens of cynicism?  Can people of good faith look at these words as anything more than political rhetoric, useful for the moment, but meaningless and empty? Perhaps I’m a fool, but I dare to hope that they are heartfelt words. I’m not so cynical and tribal that I can’t look into the face of a Democratic politician and see a patriot looking back at me whether or not the image is reality or wishful thinking.

Whether the Democrats and whatever Republicans in the Senate that still retain scraps of their conscience can manage to remove this President remains to be seen.  If not, his impeachment may do more harm than good. Beyond this President’s fate lies the larger problems that gave birth to his presidency. Problems like cynicism, lack of trust, disinformation, weakened democratic alliances, and a poor national identity.  America is a nation of ideas. We are bound together by the strength of our vision and hope, not through blood and soil. Disinformation dissolves the glue that holds our nation together. We must do better at instilling within our electorate, a firm commitment to the constitution and those who founded our nation.  At moments like these when the siren song of authoritarian power calls, it may be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.

It is not too late for Democrats and Republicans to return to the principles of freedom that function as the foundation of every good thing we enjoy in this country.  Those principles are not unique to this country, but this country has managed to bring them into practice more perfectly than any other. That makes us exceptional. Being exceptional means that we have an obligation to lead the world and help those less fortunate nations and people to have the same blessings and privileges that we enjoy within the own context of their unique cultures and traditions.  We must respect and honor other nations while also understanding that we are uniquely privileged and blessed.

We must not lead with arrogance and abusive language and behavior.  We never praise cruel dictators nor lust after their untethered power as Trump has done.  We know that such unrestrained concentration of power leads only to despotism. We lead with firm resolve and clear vision.  We seek to form mutually beneficial alliances with other countries in which all parties benefit. We look at the mistakes and shortcomings of our nation’s past not with shame, but with hope that with historical perspective and self-reflection, that we can better realize the values we have always held sacred in this remarkable country.

America, that beautiful shining city on a hill; a republic, if we can keep it.  I have never seen you in such danger. I have never feared so much for your future.  Even if you fall, you will never really die. As long as I live, I will keep you alive in my heart.  Perhaps if God is willing, I will see the rise of freedom again in my lifetime. Perhaps the dark tide of authoritarianism will abate.  Until then, my prayers ascend constantly to my God and my Savior to have mercy on us and bring us to our senses. May Him who is mighty to save bring us back from certain destruction.

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