Pretty much every American lacking a cemetery address understands the purpose of the rhetoric of the House Judiciary Committee’s report this week on impeachment: “betrayed the nation,” “threat to the Constitution,” “engaged in a pattern of misconduct.” And so on.
It is how prosecutors talk, knowing the need to throw the kitchen sink at the accused, hoping to hit him with, at the very least, the soap dispenser. Likewise, every American above ground will have noticed that the president himself lays on a mean rhetorical bullwhip, his intemperance being a major reason for the whole impeachment foofaraw.
Many, without parsing the language of the Judiciary Committee report, agree in general that Donald Trump should be tossed from the top of the Washington Monument, sans parachute. In my estimation, he won’t be unless he confesses proudly, in so many words, “I slipped Zelensky a C-note to lie about Biden.” Which, of course, he won’t. I think. And then we’ll be past this stuff — the biggest waste of public time since the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction.
I am guessing it will be years before we understand fully the dimensions of the immense, immersive moment in our affairs when a TV reality star volunteered to lead the country in a different direction — and we took him up on it. The world at large is presently burying us in analyses of this hinge moment. The world, not just the United States.
The Mother Country — Britain — is part of it. Witness Boris Johnson and the triumph of the Conservative Party: suddenly rendered not very conservative at all, with its plan of exit from the European Union.
Analyses of the British elections resemble analyses of the U.S. election of 2016. We’re tired, supposedly, of the global elite running everything, identifying causes and solutions the majority find sterile or irrelevant. The defection, in Britain, of Labour Party strongholds to the Conservative Party looks like testimony of the same sort as bears on Trump’s stewardship.
We don’t like the people running things, in other words, and they don’t like us — the real people. We don’t mind the money the rich have accumulated so much as we mind the way they try to run things.
I call this a hinge moment because we are seemingly moving away — slowly, unevenly — from where we’ve been for a while to … well, we don’t know quite yet. There’s no master plan, but the dynamics of the thing indicate a classic power struggle: Johnson and the Brexiteers versus the globally minded. Trump and MAGA versus the business elites and the universities; comparative modesty against hauteur and high-and-mightiness.
Just here the thing starts to come together. Kind of. Humans do this sort of thing every so often. Something new happens in life, altering existing relationships. In this novel environment, everybody knows exactly what should be done, and why gainsayers and opponents are wrong! Morally wrong! And should be impeached, if not guillotined.
Do you know what this is a great moment for? Lots of things but one in particular: the recovery, in the Christian churches, of the enduring elements of religious faith: confession, redemption, salvation, and so on, according to ancient understandings that trample fashionable anxieties. A spiritual center is what the present age aches for and should work to recover.
The churches have not latterly been doing well, having come up, in the last century, with the notion of social reform as the incontestable religious ideal: the church as community service agency rather than testator to the authority of its Lord.
We read constantly these days about the “nones” — adherents to no religion save in some vapid “spiritual” sense. With the decline of religious conviction goes certainty, goes any sense of authentic place in community, goes community adherence.
What comes with it? Well — an increase in pointless squabbles for one thing; bad-tempered attacks on the differently minded or motivated; furious efforts at disassociation from the unconvinced; repudiation, often enough, of community and family.
Anything else come with it? Impeachments? Political warfare as a way of life? I wouldn’t be startled to hear just that. Nor, I fancy, should anyone else.
William Murchison’s latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.
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