Friday, November 15, 2019
On Wednesday the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump took place.
It was a somber moment. The country has not often inched up to this precipice, and for good reason.
The fact that we are here signals that the country got something horribly wrong. It elevated a man of poor character who did not keep faith with the country, but instead did something so egregious and offensive that lawmakers are forced to employ one of the Constitution’s greatest powers.
No, this was not a good day. But it was a necessary day.
It is a stress test for the country and its institutions. It will test whether a president with utter contempt for tradition, history, conventions and the rule of law itself can be reprimanded and chastened by the instruments of power as they now exist.
The notion that no one is above the law is being tested.
The thing is that Trump, knowingly or not, has been priming the country for this moment, weakening it for this moment. He has attacked vital institutions like the press. He has corroded the very idea of truth. He has snatched the souls from Republicans in Congress. And he has seeded the courts as much as possible with people who are likely to be more in line with his positions.
This impeachment will test whether the spell Trump cast can indeed be broken.
Setting the bar for success is important here. Ultimate removal from office is an awfully high bar, and it is hard for me to imagine the Senate clearing it. I’m not ruling it out completely. Absolute predictions are dangerous, particularly now.
On the other hand, what I’m most interested in is whether the truth can shine through some of the smoke and mirrors that the president and his enablers have established.
Trump, from the very beginning, has been overwhelming the public with lies and dissembling, while at the same time attacking society’s truth-seekers — journalists, investigators and jurists. Republicans in Washington, instead of pushing back and standing on principle, have simply followed suit. God only knows what happened to Lindsey Graham.
And Trump’s tactics have been informed and amplified by the misinformation organ that is Fox News and much of conservative talk radio.
At a time of hyper-partisanship, when people treat political parties like sports teams, when it is ever easier to exist in an information silo of like-mindedness, it is now possible to hear information that only affirms you and none that challenges you.
As such, people choosing to live in a Trump/Fox/Limbaugh world are unlikely to be altered by the truth because they are less likely to be exposed to the truth, the fullness of it, the unassailability of it.
But one hopes there are those whose blinders slip. One hopes that there are those somewhere in the middle still in possession of an open mind. One hopes that there are many whose sense of morality is greater than their sense of tribalism.
The bar, then, is whether some of these people reach a point during these hearings where they simply say, “Enough!” And that they do so on the facts and not on the theater of the moment.
Too much of today’s political culture, from the delivery of speeches to debate performance to testimony, is caught up in an “America’s Got Talent,” entertainment-quotient, viral-capacity sensibility. Nothing is genuine; everything is contrived.
But the truth, the cold hard fact, exists on a plane above all that. The truth is not ephemeral or fungible. The truth stands, strong and unyielding.
There was a time in my life when I believed — and thought that most other Americans believed — that the truth was all that mattered. That honesty and bravery were the hallmarks of good character and honorable leadership.
Somehow, somewhere, that got lost, particularly by Republicans in this country. Blind devotion to Trump blinded them to the truth.
On Wednesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and the State Department official George P. Kent testified in direct, unvarnished terms, revealing to the public what they had testified to behind closed doors: that Trump had attempted to extort the president of Ukraine into publicly declaring that he was opening an investigation in the Biden family and the 2016 election.
There is no real room to spin their testimony. They seemed to stick only to what they knew and repeatedly resisted being drawn into the politics of the process. These were career diplomats whose lives have been devoted to serving this country trying once more to defend it.
There was no insinuation, not even from the Republicans questioning them, that they were not being honest and forthright. The only criticism was that some of what they testified to they heard from others.
These men seemed to be telling the truth, and that’s the way that it reads.
At some point that has to matter again, even to partisans who don’t want to admit that they were wrong, even to those who hate the idea of conceding a victory to their political foes, even to those who get a druglike high out of anyone who can “own the libs.”
In the end, this is not a game. This is a tragedy. This is a mourning. This is an awakening. This is the moment where truth has to matter more than all else. That is the bar America has to clear.”