In the aftermath of the alarm-raising dud that were the Mueller congressional hearings, some observations are in order. We need to see clearly where the nation stands.
The first misfortune in post-election resistance to Trump was a GOP congress during the first two years. Unlike Watergate, the developing, synergistic drama of an ongoing special counsel investigation together with congressional hearings was thus impossible.
In place of that joint drama, news coverage, even with all the revelations that came, was ineffectual. Rather, the complex of crass pop entertainment and viral social & news media, with the capitalist consumption of them all for profit, continues American decline.
The historical significance of Trump is not Trump. He can happen anywhere and has. The significance is what has been revealed about American society. It can also happen here. It has happened here.
The same mean, narrow, ignorant impulses that have infected other populations, and supported all populist authoritarians, arose in the U.S. too. The same craven, unprincipled, careerist political class that served those tyrants emerged here as elsewhere. The United States is not exceptional.
Despite Trump’s gross, cruel, corrupt indecency, which daily reveals and surpasses itself, the demagogue’s support has varied within only a narrow range. Barring a dramatic surprise, 90–95 % of popular opinion is set. Few Trump supporters will change their minds.
A change of mind about Trump would require painful self-reflection, and a recognition of profound failure. For to support Trump represents a betrayal of every personal, civic, & religious virtue Americans have claimed to believe in and to guide the lives of their young by.
To support Trump is to betray every social ideal in which Americans have invested the myth of their exceptionalism.
Whether they were the lessons of elementary or Sunday school, of good books opened among the pews, or golden rules secularized as the wisdom of civilization’s advance, the virtues forsaken in the rise of Trump signal a loss of bearings too great not to be rationalized away.
That’s why, among the oxymoronic, but actual, Trump intelligentsia, it is conservative never-Trumpers who particularly provoke their scorn. Liberals are easily dismissed as having fallen into ideological sin long ago, their moral opposition to Trump just culture war camouflage.
But never-Trumpers reflect the devil’s bargain made, offer testimony that conservative ideals — as, truly, civilizational ideals, and not base cultural reaction — are conceivable without, indeed, incompatible with, support for such a moral monster as Trump.
So never-Trumpers are mocked by their former compatriots for what is cast as moral preening in a death-struggle political war not for the ethically faint of heart. Their opposites on the left may be fatally woke, but for Trumpers, the Nevers are fatefully asleep.
The U.S. will not easily recover from Trump, if ever it does. Dark woods are not escaped without change. If the nation survives, it will not be as the post-World War II beacon of liberty and evolutionary values it was. That nation is gone, analyze the cause however one will.
Of course, the U.S. committed many wrongs during its post-war apex. It was a nation among nations. But sometimes one could hold the government above the people, sometimes the people above the government. And always the ideals above both. None was a bulwark this time.
In restraining the drive for impeachment, Nancy Pelosi has made a very great wager. Consummate political player that she is, given the cards she was dealt upon regaining Democratic leadership, she bets political victory over Trump is the only kind to be had.
Not for Pelosi a Quixotic impeachment in pursuit of that just conviction which a GOP Senate will not deliver. Win the presidency in 2020, though, and the ship may yet be righted, and Trump brought to an even more satisfactory justice.
Certainly, do not risk the House for a losing battle and see that last bulwark against shameless kleptocracy broken through.
But what if Trump wins in the Electoral College again? What stomach in the House for impeachment then? And how emboldened Trump and Trumpers, then, when the resistance, with all its railing and wailing, could never even muster a last stand, however destined for defeat?
We used to mythologize desperate struggles, early losses that were moral inspiration for victories to come, when we rose to fight again because we remembered how we fought before. But maybe we’ve lost that virtue, too.
The loss of will, from the cold calculus of how unlikely victory might be, is a lingering loss. It saps itself. See the addled and addicted who wander the streets of downtown Los Angeles like ghosts, sleeping in filth and fantasia. It’s a kind of life. And there are its pleasures.
Or maybe Pelosi wins the wager. Trump is finally brought to justice, and the people line the streets outside the courthouse to witness his long-delayed and well-deserved descent into the lower depths.
Further reading: “The Necessary, Honorable Thing: Denounce Trump”