The essence of democracy is free speech, and the essence of free speech is assertion. For instance:
And so on — as Senate Republicans (see Assertion 6, above) counterpose their own set of assertions to Democratic claims (see Assertion 5, from the New York Times on January 20) as to the need for impeachment of President Donald Trump.
This is democracy, all right — a shriveled and diminished species of democracy, hardly connectable to national needs and requirements. The show will go on for an indeterminate number of days, ending with senatorial refusal, on a party-line vote, to order Trump’s removal from the presidency.
Indulging in my democratic right to assertion, I assert that the impeachment of Donald Trump is the biggest waste of national time conceivable. The U.S. House has given us a sideshow attempt to throw the president out of office, putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of rearranging the federal government for nine or 10 months prior to the national election scheduled according to the Constitution. What national good would this accomplish? We’re evidently supposed to figure that out for ourselves. The throw-him-out Democrats don’t lay out the details. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because …
Because the Democratic majority in charge of the House sees, in the Times’ words, “a threat to democracy” — without anyone having gone to the trouble of figuring out and sharing the precise nature of that “threat.”
How large a threat can it be, what with Speaker Nancy Pelosi postponing for three weeks the delivery of the impeachment resolution to the Senate, allowing extra time for democracy to tremble in the face of the imputed threat? Which threat the Senate isn’t going to do anything to stop on account of the president’s party’s control of that same Senate the House hopes will heave him down the White House steps — the good of this whole exercise being …
Well, whatever. Here we sit, reduced as a nation to enjoyment of what the Romans called “panem et circenses” — bread and circuses, with the Roman setting of the U.S. Senate chamber standing in for the Colosseum.
What the Democrats need to supply their vast audience with is the very commodity they see as nonessential: some reasonable explanation as to why we’re setting aside everything else to watch a political movie the outcome of which we know already.
Speculation suggests that the impeachers do have one hope — that undecided voters will leave the movie remembering them as arrayed against Evil, lances pointed and pennons afloat. It’s far likelier, I would say, that viewers will remember best the scene with hapless, overloaded nags spilling their riders in the mud, and with them the notion of impeachment as some romantic spectacle.
This thing, this mess, isn’t at bottom about the disorderly Trump — and, yes, he is disorderly. Very. The mess I speak of flows from the disorder of an era that elevates disorderly people to positions of leadership. It flows from the failure of moral standards long seen as essential to self-government — honor, dignity, loyalty, respect for those of a different cast of mind, tongue, or physiognomy. All such obligations are incumbent on Republicans and Democrats alike — on Southerners and Yankees; on gays and straights; on men and women.
How do we awaken and reinvigorate those standards? Through teaching? Through daily example? Surely those are the relevant questions for a body truly solicitous of its responsibilities to the welfare of a democratic people?
I am privileged to have been addressed on this point by others — well-beloved family members included — whose political viewpoints contrast at particular points with my own. I honor their care for the norms of democracy: the rooted moral ideals that unite rather than divide us. How about those norms, those ideals for debate? No show-offs invited. No fake knights in armor.
We’ll see. We have a lot to see.
William Murchison is writing a book on moral reconstruction in the 21st century. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.
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