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Impeachment, The Republican Party, and Why I'm Not Retreating This Time
I'm taking a principled stand by not leaving the Republican Party.
Welcome to the Self-Evident newsletter. As most of you know by now, the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump have concluded, and he has been acquitted. Despite a historic mutiny by a handful of Republican Senators, the vote still fell ten short of the needed amount for a conviction. While this result wasn’t unexpected, it was still disappointing.
But today, I’m not going to talk about the twists and the turns of the impeachment drama. Social media is full of hot-takes on how things ultimately went down, and I’m sure this next week will see a plethora of articles and opinion pieces on every aspect imaginable. Instead, I’m going to grapple with how differently I feel between the conclusion of this impeachment and the last one and attempt to explain my present perspective and why it’s leading me to stick it out in the GOP when the last impeachment led me to leave the party for a stretch of time.
Impeachment, The Republican Party, and Why I'm Not Retreating This Time
A lot has changed for me between Donald Trump’s first impeachment and his second. In the first impeachment, I was irate over the actions of Republican Senators. I made waves with my viral tweets and articles about my frustrations and my ultimate decision to leave the Republican Party at that point in time.
Now, the present is not the past, and I think it’s far more difficult than many think to look to the past and declare certain decisions as mistakes. My reasons for leaving the Republican Party still seem like good reasons. My determination to leave the Republican Party still seems sound, and my arguments still have merits. I don’t think I can definitely say that I was wrong. But something about my outlook has changed, and I think it’s changed for the better.
The vast majority of Republican Senators, in the face of another shameful act, have once again voted to acquit Donald Trump. And the actions that brought Donald Trump a second impeachment were far more serious and egregious than the first.
Donald Trump violated his oath of office by challenging the integrity of our electoral process and fueling a frenzy among his loyal followers that culminated with the most severe threat to the peaceful transfer of power our nation has ever faced. In the midst of that threat, he engaged in severe dereliction of his duty as the chief executive to protect Congress, to protect its members, and to denounce, without equivocation, violence and murder in the halls of our government.
And yet, I just don’t have the rage against Republicans today that I had last year. Why? It could be a number of things. Have I given up believing that certain Republicans will ever do the right thing? Have four years of righteous indignation just left me exhausted and unable to muster any more?
None of these explanations quite fit the bill. No, I think it’s something that has more to do with the growth of my perspective and, dare I say, a few more steps taken in the maturing of my political outlook and attitude.
From the moment Donald Trump came down the escalator to the present time, I have been met with surprise after surprise, leaving me scrambling as I tried to understand what was happening. I’ve had assumption after assumption completely destroyed, and navigating the shifting ground beneath my feet has been harrowing, to say the least.
While most have doubled down on their passions and responded based on their emotions, my response to each new twist has typically been to take a step back and try to understand events, to place them in historical context, and, especially, to try to understand my own beliefs and whether or not I was standing on sound philosophical grounding.
While many conservatives were forging new, uncharted paths in the age of Trump, I stretched backward to try and understand my philosophical pedigree, to gain a grasp on the direction we had seemed to be heading, and to try and understand why things seemed to have deviated so decidedly.
A part of this discovery has been, necessarily, to come to understand the realities of America’s political process, as it was designed, as it has evolved, and as it presently stands. In this last year, especially, as I returned to College and have embarked on immersive and extensive academic engagement in political theory and constitutional studies, I have been dismayed to discover just how much the rise of someone like Donald Trump was not only likely but was inevitable.
The growth of not only the power of the presidency but the development of its spectacle and the way it has come to permeate American culture has made it an office that can only be achieved by vain men and women willing to stoop to the demands required to run the most cynical of campaigns and win an election that is ultimately more about public narratives, partisan base turn out, negative partisanship, and cynical maneuvering than it is about policy, ideology, or what is actually best for the American people.
Donald Trump may very well be the worst modern president, but he was the perfect post-modern candidate. Never has a man been a more perfect fit in terms of character, demeanor, and instinct for any endeavor than Trump was for a modern American presidential campaign.
Far from a unique and particular threat to the American Republic, Donald Trump is the purest symbol of the kind of people who are enabled to rise to power in America’s political climate. While no one has ever quite risen to the level of cynical demagoguery demonstrated by our most recent president, almost everyone who walks the halls of our government today reflects the poor moral stature and soulless angling for power and prestige of Donald J. Trump, to one extent or another.
So, perhaps, my decidedly subdued response to this most recent impeachment is so different from my response to the last one because I’m just no longer engaged in any form of a narrative that views the present challenge facing America as a struggle between disparate forces.
Instead, what I’m seeing in American politics are dueling populist factions who keep justifying worse and worse actions by waving the bloody shirt. I’m seeing responses to new depths of political decay lost in the weeds of whataboutism and finger-pointing. I’m seeing cynicism and nihilism pervading the minds of party leaders and the rank-and-file alike and the constant declaration that the ball is in the other side’s court when it comes to doing the right thing.
And this view has only been compounded as Trump himself has faded from the picture. Most of the country may see a divided Congress, two disparate caucuses with wholly different visions, but what I see is a single cabal of demagogues whose every act is a play for power, a positioning for the next performance for the camera, the next vote, the next election.
The solution to all of this cannot merely be to pick sides. There are no sides. Not really. Not in the broader context of the moment we find ourselves in.
Yes, the Republican Party has fallen to populism, has embraced identity politics, and elevated an angry demagogue. But can any honest observer truly say these forces are not also making their mark in most other American political institutions today, including the Democratic Party?
When the circumstances are ripe for the rise of a demagogue, they will rise through whatever means available. When the circumstances are ripe for political violence, it will be engendered by whatever catalyst is provided. Does it really matter whether the populist promises a big, beautiful wall or a green new deal? Does it really matter whether the justification for violence is the belief in systematic police brutality or widespread voter fraud? Don’t we ultimately arrive at the same place? Doesn’t the decay and degradation of our society continue apace? If we defeat demagogues only to replace them with demagogues and denounce one form of violence only to offer excuses for another, what exactly are we doing other than continuing the march along the path to our ruin?
Ultimately, I’ve just arrived at a place where I’m no longer interested in weighing the scales of depravity to argue over which party, which movement, or which group of Senators is the worst. The things I feel I need to oppose are not actually embodied in any one group. I think it’s a foolish man’s game to believe that if such and such Republican could just get defeated, if such and such Democrat could just get primaried, if such and such bill could just get passed, or if such and such President could just get impeached, removed, and barred from office, then the great ailments of American society can, at last, be healed.
Our problems just go so far beyond any single person or any given political party. They’re pervasive. They’re all-encompassing. They’ve trickled into every institution. They’re in our businesses. They’re in our homes and our schools. They’re in our churches, and our social media feeds. They’re ultimately in our hearts and outlooks, in the way we view our neighbors and fellow Americans. They’ve bled into our minds and are eating at our souls.
This cannot have an us-vs-them solution because it is the us-vs-them outlook that is what’s destroying us.
I guess I’ve arrived at a point where leaving the Republican Party over the actions of Republican Senators in an impeachment trial no longer seems like an act moored in the broader realities of the moment. Good-faith actors in our government have become the rarest of commodities. Anyone who goes looking for reasons to leave one party or the other or for reasons to oppose one party or the other has plenty of fodder to choose from.
I think the sheer number of bad-faith actors in both parties has led the few good-faith actors to end up not getting the support they should because negative partisanship on both sides of the aisle demands a no-holds-bar struggle against the party considered to be the enemy. Figures like Romney and Sasse have become an endangered species in the Republican Party because too few have been willing to abide sharing party affiliation with Cruz or Hawley to support them. And the Democrats are no different.
So, this time, I’m not leaving the Republican Party. As opposed to a symbol of a specific form of degradation, I now see this impeachment process as just another marker on the collective march down the rabbit hole our nation has been on for years.
Instead of advocating disengagement or defeatism, I’ve come to believe that the best thing ordinary Americans can do is decide which major party best fits their political positions and then support those of good-faith in that party, however rare.
I am a conservative. My perspective simply has no proper place in the Democratic Party. That's not necessarily bad. Parties are platforms for certain beliefs. Most Democrats have different beliefs than me. It's not their place to accommodate me just because my party lost its mind. And it’s not my place to demand that they accommodate me or that they adjust their beliefs to make philosophical space for my perspective.
I belong in a conservative party. My place is trying to build a healthy and effective conservative party. And the conservative party in the United States, whether it should or shouldn’t be, remains the Republican Party. As a conservative, then, it is my duty to do what little I can to rebuild the GOP back into a healthy and effective conservative party once again.
I will do so by finding and supporting those of good faith, by staying in the fight and engaging in the process to try and make it easier for more good faith voices to rise and make it harder for those of bad faith to do so.
Finally, part of that effort must necessarily be opposing the cynical narratives that say staying and fighting is useless or that choosing to do so brings the sins of my party upon myself.
Because that argument ultimately spawns from those acting in bad faith as well. There are those who do not want to see a healthy conservative party in this country, who have angled all along to assure Trumpism stains the Republican Party and conservatism forever.
So, yes, part of what I must do is raise the alarm when bad faith actors on the Left are trying to stack the deck against me and my efforts to reassert conservative values and rebuild the Republican Party as a platform for those values.
I have arrived at a place where I’m not fighting Donald Trump so much as I’m trying to identify and rectify the aspects of our society that allowed him to rise. I’m not fighting nationalists and populists on the Right so much as trying to understand what invited intellectual decay among conservatives and finding ways to reverse it. I’m no longer interested in staking out battlelines against a political party that enabled the rise of a petty demagogue but trying, instead, to understand how this could have happened and finding ways to fix an institution that, for better or worse, will nominate someone who stands a good chance of becoming President in 2024.
With this perspective as the backdrop for my considerations, a vote to acquit Donald Trump at the end of an impeachment process that’s had so much bad faith on all sides that you wouldn’t be able to walk two feet in the Senate without tripping on it just doesn’t even begin to change the calculus for me anymore. Is it bad? Yeah, it’s really bad. But, ultimately, it’s just another SNAFU day in Washington, D.C.
So, instead of focusing on what I oppose in the Republican Party, I’m going to find what there is to support. I’m going to engage instead of disengage. I’m going to stay optimistic instead of descending into pessimism and cynicism. This is my philosophical and political slice of the pie and where I can best put my knowledge and know-how towards at least shoring up against political decay and building up healthy institutions. I am making a choice to look for the good, to engage in order to defend it and uplift it, and to declare to the marching forces of decay and ruin that I will not retreat another yard.
I discuss the difference between a minimum wage and a living wage.
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If you can remember back to the very beginning of this article, you may have noticed I used the word plethora, which begs the question:
Well, don’t ask me. Go ask the invisible swordsman.
(That’s two gifs this week. Can I get some extra subscriptions, por favor?)
Stay Free My Friends,