When I was young and stupid, I was very, very liberal. The kind of reflexive liberal who believed that America was bad, the rest of the world was good, that people were all basically good and you could reason your way to any conclusion, and make the world a better place just by trying harder.
As I grew older and wiser, I learned just how wrong this was. I came more and more to classical conservative positions: that a just society could not be made by policy alone, but required personal virtue and honor and sacrifice to keep it going; that big changes often have unintended consequences that can be worse than the problem they were meant to solve; that we must cultivate not just learning, but character if we are to improve the world.
The great irony of my life is that I came to classically conservative positions just as the people who had been espousing them all my life abandoned them … or proved that they’d never really had them at all. That they had been charlatans and hucksters who had first espoused principles to get power, then sacrificed principles to hold on to it.
The actions today of former moralizers like Lindsay Graham, Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney and so many more, all show just how right the premise of some of their moralizing was … and just how little they have lived up to the values they espoused.
The only way to prevent a democracy from falling into a tyranny is if people are willing to value integrity more than success, and principles over power. Without people willing to sacrifice for virtue, there can be no rule of law. No matter what the documents say.
Donald Trump pretends to be things he is not — we all know he doesn’t care about the Bible. He hugs the American flag but dodged the draft, he’ll send our soldiers — men of honor who truly sacrifice to protect our country — out to die in foreign lands in order to protect his under-the-table deals. He asks foreign powers to help him win American elections.
Whenever a judge disagrees with Trump, he says the law itself is broken. Whenever someone who has served and sacrificed for their country contradicts him, he slanders their character. Whenever he is faced with a constitutional limit on the president’s power, he crosses it. Gleefully. To call him a man without scruples or principles is to state the obvious … everybody knows it. But at least he’s been bad at pretending. He never tried very hard.
But the Republican senators who now stand in support of him … they have claimed that the pursuit of virtue and righteousness has required cutting food stamps and throwing people who have harmlessly smoked pot in jail for decades. They have lectured us all on duty and principle and honor … and now refuse to do their constitutional duty even to examine evidence and hear witnesses.
Bill Clinton claimed that having a consensual affair was not an impeachable offense, and these self-same towers of righteousness screamed that the sky itself was falling.
But now they say that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense (what else could be?) and that they do not even need to hear the facts.
I do not believe them now, because I came around to their point of view then: character counts. You cannot protect democracy if you cannot be trusted to act against your own interests when it is right.
For the American people, we should only need to state the obvious: President Trump and Mitch McConnell have refused to allow any of the people with firsthand knowledge of the things he is accused of to testify under oath.
Innocent people do not do that. Innocent people want the facts to be heard. Innocent people want people who have witnessed their actions to speak on their behalf.
These witnesses are not agent saboteurs or Democratic plants. They are Trump’s own, hand-picked people whom he appointed to serve in his administration. He has, in effect, chosen his own witnesses: why won’t he let them testify under oath? He hired Mick Mulvaney, he hired John Bolton, he can’t blame anyone else for that.
The American people cannot get the impeachment proceeding required by the Constitution if the president can control what Congress hears. But that’s the point: neither Donald Trump nor Mitch McConnell actually care what the Constitution says or what duty to country requires.
Donald Trump honestly might not know the story of how Judas Iscariot sold out everything he had professed to believe in for 30 pieces of silver. But everyone else in the Republican party probably does, because they used to profess it, too. (Christians used to think that selling out your principles was bad.)
This is what that kind of treachery and moral cowardice looks like. What good are “conservatives” whose decades of lecturing and hectoring the rest of us about morality haven’t prepared them to hear the truth when it counts? To do the right thing when it’s hard?
If Donald Trump weren’t abusing his power, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to hide the truth. And if abusing government power isn’t impeachable, then the law is meaningless.
The more Republicans in the Senate try to hide the evidence, the more evidence they create that power is all they believe in.