I haven’t blogged here since the aftermath of the 2018 midterm election. If you’ll forgive the possible narcissism, I’ll tell you why. Then I’ll examine two of the reasons in the context of our current politics. President Trump’s name will come up, as it also does in a separate, simultaneous post about impeachment and due process.
One reason for my long silence is, I’ve been writing other things:
- several posts on local issues and elections at afelection.info, which involved many hours of work;
- occasional posts on non-political topics at bendablelight.com, where I write about books, religion, high school bands, etc., but not a lot lately about anything; and
- some fiction, including some (local) award-winning short fiction and my first novel, which is now ready for beta readers.
I’ve also been busy at work.
My supply of mental and physical energy is not increasing with age.
And sometimes life gets complicated, despite my efforts to simplify.
But it’s more than all that, which brings me to our topic.
I haven’t been ignoring national politics. I consume about as much content as before, from across the political spectrum. I’ve outlined and even drafted a few blog posts along the way. I still discuss issues with friends, family members, and acquaintances of various political stripes, in person and online. But I’ve left blog posts unfinished and unposted, and I’ve discussed issues with others a lot less than before.
One reason is simply the tenor of the times. In this respect I think President Trump is more a symptom than the disease. At the personal level, the ill feeling that often arises when I offer an opinion, even gently, or ask an honest question, dwarfs any hope of making a small difference on most issues with most people.
Another reason is the President himself (or my attitude toward him). Some of what’s half-written involves him. But every time I sit down to turn notes, thoughts, and partial drafts into a blog post about him, I find something I’d rather do. Like make a dentist appointment or clean out the sink traps. Or pound sand.
I didn’t vote for President Trump. I like some of what he does, but I don’t enjoy defending him, even when he does something substantive and defensible in (for him) a relatively mature, civil, and articulate way. And when I want to write in opposition to his policy or behavior, I find that others have already reported, distorted, exaggerated, and screamed it hysterically from the housetops, before I can open my laptop and log into WordPress.
My resulting long silence is uncharacteristic of me. I’m planning to blog monthly here in 2020, not always about President Trump or the presidential race in general, I hope.
Not Exactly a Zen Thing
There are advantages to sitting back and watching things unfold, rather than jumping in with commentary at every turn. It’s too easy to misjudge the forest when focusing on the trees, and it’s too easy to get caught up in the early hype and spin of stories which turn out far different from the initial reports. And I don’t want to be a small-time play-by-play guy for national politics.
I don’t have the time or energy, for example, to weigh and catalog every this-will-finally-bring-down-the-president bombshell in the New York Times or Washington Post, or its subsequent quiet burial or retraction, or its systematic discrediting. If I had the time and energy, I wouldn’t want to spend much of it carrying water for a president I heartily dislike.
Here’s an example of my quieter-than-usual waiting and watching. I wondered from the beginning why the Russians would want to get Donald Trump elected, when the Obama administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent and the frontrunner in the polls, had been so pliable in Comrade Putin’s hands. It didn’t make sense.
I kept watching, and in the end even the aggressively partisan Robert Mueller team couldn’t make a case for collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
(There was some entertainment along the way. It was fun, sort of, to hear the Left talking about Russia as an enemy, after it sang the opposite tune so smugly in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and most of the 2010s. Remember when candidate Mitt Romney identified Russia as a major threat in 2012, and President Obama and the Democratic media mocked him? Now they think there’s a Russian under every bed in the White House, not to mention Trump Tower.)
This waiting and watching isn’t a zen thing for me. It’s more analytical and less mystical and intuitive than that. And I was partly just lazy or weak-minded, or at least tired. I didn’t plan a one-year sabbatical. I just found at almost every turn that there was something happier to do than comment on national politics, so I watched and waited.
Why Should I Blog?
I’ve asked myself a hundred times or more in the past year or two, and several times in the past few weeks: Why should I trouble myself to blog about national politics in the present environment?
Why not just wait until I dislike politics a little less than I have most days lately, or at least until I’m convinced that my voice won’t be drowned out by name-calling before it’s even heard?
Why not wait until our perverse national tragicomedy begins to look a little more like American government and a little less like drunken, psychotic tantrums?
Will any of that ever happen?
Why not wait either until good people start caring to hear others’ views again, instead of lashing out like bruised, spoiled children, or until I really can no longer bear to be silent?
Might either of those happen soon? I don’t feel like that last one has happened yet.
How Bad It Is
I will attempt to illustrate how toxic and resistant to reason our national discourse has become by considering familiar talking points about impeaching President Trump.
Among my friends and acquaintances are good, intelligent people whom I simply don’t understand any more — and scarcely recognize — when the subject is President Trump. Their talking points are a lot like what I hear and read from many others. They don’t all make every one of the following arguments, and not always in precisely these terms, and not always (but disquietingly often) to these extremes. I am at pains to craft a fair and faithful summary here, but I know it will fit few if any individuals precisely. So if you’re my friend and you’re reading, you may wish to assume I’m talking about someone else.
They are convinced that President Trump must be convicted and removed by the Senate in the current proceeding, not because the the articles of impeachment charge him with grave offenses (they don’t), or because he’s clearly guilty of them (the evidence is shaky at best), but for other reasons. (He must be guilty of plenty of things, provable or not, because we know he’s a scoundrel.)
He’s a rapist, they say, or at least an abuser of women, or at the very least a conspicuous disrespecter of women. But since we can’t seem to charge him with that, we should convict him of the charges at hand, true or not, criminal or not, no matter how trivial they are or how weak and irrelevant the evidence.
He should be impeached and removed, I’m told, because we know he stole the 2016 election, with the help of the Russians — even though we now know there’s no case there — and because he’ll do the same in 2020 if he’s not removed. We know he’ll do it in 2020 because he did it in 2016 — except that he didn’t.
He should be removed, some of my friends say, because he’s a racist. We know he’s a racist because he said that white supremacists are good people. But he didn’t say that; he said that there are good people on both sides of the debate over whether to remove or keep historic statues in the South. We know he’s a racist because he called all Mexican immigrants — or was it all Mexicans or all Latinx people everywhere, or all immigrants from anywhere? — rapists and murderers. But he didn’t. He spoke of certain specific, relatively few criminals who crossed our southern border illegally — and committed rape and murder.
We know he must be removed, they argue, because he said that Article II of the US Constitution gives him the power to do anything he wants, like the despotic monarch we know he yearns to be — but he didn’t say that either. He said he can do what he wants specifically in the matter of firing a special counsel — whom, in the end, he did not fire, though the law really does allow it.
He should be removed, I am assured, because he asked the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s illegal e-mail server in search of tens of thousands of emails she destroyed. In other words, he asked them to interfere in the 2016 election. But that was pretty clearly a joke — “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find [them]” — and, as I recall, it came after the server had been taken offline and its hard drives destroyed, to prevent them from being used as evidence — by which time it could no longer be hacked by the Russians or anyone else.
By and large these friends have never seemed rabid in their partisanship before, and they’ve been more than willing in the past to entertain others’ contrary views and engage in intelligent discussion. They’re smart and seasoned enough to have at least a basic sensitivity to overt manipulation of this sort. But where President Trump is concerned, they’re helpless to keep any degree of critical detachment.
And it’s not just my centrist, liberal, and leftist friends. Some friends to my right will brook no criticism of President Trump. They’re as eager as the friends to my left to believe things that just don’t make sense — and to question my sanity, my humanity, my Christianity, my patriotism, and anything else they can think of, when they see that my support of President Trump is qualified at best and nowhere near full-throated.
Maybe Donald Trump is unfit to be president. I think he’s despicable in some ways. (This offends the Right.) But he was duly elected, and I don’t agree that we’re justified in doing whatever it takes, dismantling any institution, fabricating rampant falsehoods, and neglecting other important concerns, just to discredit him and get him out of office. (This offends the Left.) If he’s such a crook, find real evidence of real crimes and use that to indict him. Don’t make things up, just because you don’t like him. (This offends both.)
I understand that lots of people disagree. I also know that twisting people’s words in order to destroy them politically (or worse) is a long and dishonorable tradition among humans. Notably, this is how the Left and the far Right both work, along with a lot of unfortunate personal and professional relationships. They rush to judgment, but far worse, they lie as early, as often, as stubbornly, and as loudly as possible, because, as someone said, a lie can be halfway around the world while the truth is still lacing its boots.
Most of us used to be better than this. We are better than this. We have to be better than this. Good, sensible, intelligent Americans have to remember how to be good, sensible, intelligent Americans again, even in the Trump years, even about President Trump himself. Too much is at stake.
Meanwhile, is it any wonder I’ve been asking myself, Why blog about politics?
The answer which tips the balance for me and has me blogging again, as you see, is personal, but I’ll tell you anyway.
I was raised to believe that a citizen of the United States owes certain duties to the nation’s past, present, and future. I’m grateful that I’ve never been drafted into the military to perform my duty at the peril of my own and others’ lives. But there is also a duty to have an ongoing voice — an informed, reasoned, responsible voice, insofar as I can manage that — in the discussions and debates which we believe help to preserve and shape our freedom.
As much as I dislike defending President Trump, and as much as I’m not needed to criticize him, I am inclined to defend our institutions, insofar as they safeguard our freedoms. I’m conservative in several respects, including this one: I often worry more about our processes and institutions than I do about the people who populate them at any given moment.
Thus I do not propose abolishing or even packing the Supreme Court, when I don’t like its rulings on crucial matters. I don’t disparage the Electoral College when I despise a sitting president’s policies. I don’t wink at large-scale voter fraud or intimidation, as if any means were appropriate to serve my political ends. I don’t suggest amending the Constitution — as some have favored recently — to change the threshold for the Senate’s removal of an impeached president from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority, just because a president I dislike will survive the existing threshold but might not survive the lower one. And I don’t advocate remaking or replacing the United States Constitution, just because some of the Founders and the founding generations were slaveowners, and it took almost another century to abolish that evil practice in the South.
By contrast, the Left’s way, internationally and historically, is to try to destroy any institution which delivers results it doesn’t like. See the present rhetoric about dismantling the Electoral College, and the ongoing movement to invert or erase much of our history and culture, and the recent threats from inside the Bernie Sanders campaign to burn cities if he doesn’t win.
As an American conservative I see as a great threat our growing, increasingly authoritarian administrative state, where countless decisions affecting US citizens are made by officials who are not accountable to the people. So I’m all for draining the swamp; the relentless uprising of malicious swamp dwellers in the last two or three years has only solidified that sentiment. But I still resent the GOP for being unable to produce an electable swamp-drainer who isn’t also a toxic buffoon.
A Measure of Optimism
I find some room for optimism.
I believe that our current political distemper can be temporary, if we’re determined not to let it be chronic. We’ll never agree on everything — why should we? — but our differences can be a lot more civil. They can even be productive. Can you not believe that many Americans on every side remain capable of adult behavior and thought patterns, some folks’ recent departures notwithstanding?
I believe we can endure a scattering of scoundrels in government office, as we have in the past, so long as we don’t dismantle the institutions themselves in our conservative horror, our Leftist revolutionary ardor, or our lust for power from whatever point on the political spectrum.
Some of those institutions are checks and balances, by which one branch of government can act to restrain another — which are part of the Founders’ brilliance in crafting our government. One of those checks and balances is impeachment by the House of Representatives, which puts an officer of the judicial or executive branch on trial for his or her office by the US Senate. It is a political process, and in the present moment has become so political that it is unhinged. But the answer is to find better people for our institutions, not to explode our institutions.
I guess I’m saying, at least to myself, that there’s hope enough to warrant gazing into the abyss now and then, if that’s the continuing price of blogging about politics and government. As for you, if you happen to read what I write, thanks in advance.
About President Trump (Again)
A lot of people fear we’ll elect President Trump again — and we probably will. If the Senate voted to remove him but didn’t vote to ban him from national office for life (neither of which will happen this time), he could probably win in 2020. The Democrats’ trouble is that deep.
Still, I wouldn’t count them out. You never know what will happen in the world or in Washington between now and early November, especially with an ample supply of committed Leftists about — or a justifiably panicked swamp. Or Donald Trump in the Oval Office, tweeting away.
Thanks for reading. See you next time.
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