Democracy in Action Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

What Do We Deserve in the New Normal?

It was supposed to be Mueller Time, but a self-appointed medical examiner named Sean Hannity has pronounced impeachment dead.

In the administrations of both Bush 43 and Obama, I wondered if we had entered a new normal where impeachment would be just another political tactic. One POTUS from each party stirred up calls for impeachment based on nothing more than policy disagreements.

First Bill Clinton got impeached for lying about a blow job. He was absolutely guilty of the most trivial perjury in the history of the crime. Even if that were not so at the time, the current POTUS tells more lies and more serious lies in any given day than President Blow Job did in eight years.

The Clinton impeachment set the bar for impeachment so low that the demise of news media staying out of sexual hijinks in the White House opened up vast possibilities for undoing election results by impeachment. But while extracurricular sex has been more rule than exception since FDR, Clinton was followed by two presidents who appeared relatively spotless in terms of sexual transgressions.

Although apparently remaining faithful to Laura, Bush 43 had stretched the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 until it was thin to the point of transparency. Obama did not fool around on Michelle, but he had flatly refused to deport the young adults we know as Dreamers.

Both of those issues are fundamental to the use of presidential power and both of them can be attacked with theories of law that would not get laughed out of the courthouse.

Ironically, in Donald John Trump we have a POTUS who gives us new normals beyond counting. His marriage runs by European rules, meaning that in any dispute between wife and mistress, the wife wins. JFK’s marriage ran by European rules, but he did not publicly profess a right to sexual assault without consequences.

Some Americans are grossed out by marriages that do not end upon proof of sexual infidelity and they do not want role models in high places teaching the normalcy of such marriages. I would like to think that more Americans are grossed out by a claim that touching a woman in her privates without consent is normal behavior. I was taught that is a crime, just like others were taught that sexual fidelity is a requirement in all marriages. I won’t even get into marriage equality because the basis for defining marriage is religious and there is no religious requirement for American citizenship.

The new normal of impeachment started over behavior customarily private and made it easy to consider impeachment for extremely serious public behavior. We can disagree over war and over how to manage immigration, but there’s no claim these are not serious issues.

Within the new impeachment normal, we are faced with misconduct beyond the limits of our old normal political imagination by a president who is (as he has told us) politically bulletproof even when committing crimes.

I disagree with the new impeachment normal, but I can see the argument for such an extremely weak executive within the four corners of the Constitution as written, which means that if I were on the Supreme Court I would have no basis to reverse the political branches even while writing an opinion that would translate from the legalese, “Tsk, tsk — everything I know about political science tells me this is unwise.”

The new normals that upset me much more than the new impeachment normal will also fit within the Constitution as written but are also, in my opinion, extremely unwise.

There is a new normal for truth.

There is a new normal for courage.

Mueller Time illustrated the lies about the report most Congresspeople — let alone most Americans — -could not be bothered to read. The only difference between Mueller’s documentation of lies and the average Trumpian tweetstorm is the critical nature of the subject matter. Public opinion polling has told us for many months that Mr. Trump’s base is aware of his thousands of lies while in office and his base does not care. Truth is dead.

In Robert Mueller, we have a Marine who, as a Second Lieutenant, returned to a hot battlefield to rescue a wounded Marine from his platoon. Mueller was only a Marine because he was able to finesse a medical disqualification.

Mueller is the same age as Donald John Trump, who finessed his better than average physical fitness to gin up a disability and avoid bearing arms for his country. I am the same age and I bore arms for my country in a war that I now acknowledge was wrong. If Mr. Trump had been smarter than me and if he had caught on sooner, that would have required of him the courage to oppose the war against the tide of public opinion.

To allow Cadet Bone Spurs to disparage a man entitled to wear the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star and a V for valor, to denigrate the service of a POW blown out of the sky by a missile and the sacrifice of a Gold Star family is to endorse a new normal in what we thought was courage.

I equate service in the cutting edge of the anti-war movement with service in the military as a test of character, of what we have always understood as courage. I understand others may disagree and cling to “my country, right or wrong.” But the question to me is whether a man or woman is prepared to offer their comfort and even their life for what they consider the greater good — not whether they are mistaken.

Courage has been a New England farm boy shivering through a hungry winter at Valley Forge with George Washington. Physical courage has been a GI debarking from a landing craft into a buzzing hive of German bullets at Omaha Beach backed by the political courage of General Eisenhower’s letter taking full responsibility for the failure of the Normandy Invasion on himself because he gave the “Go!”

Courage has also been Susan B. Anthony mau-mauing her way to voter registration and, foreseeably, to jail. Courage has been the backdrop to MLK’s Letter From the Birmingham Jail. Courage has been Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for (a) man…”

U.S. history is a straight line from Nathan Hale’s regret through the fate of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner and the men and women who crewed the Challenger.

Courage, like truth, has lost its currency in our body politic. The end of truth as we have known it and courage as we have known it are new normals much more deadly than normalizing impeachment to backstop a bungled election.

We are governed by a chicken hawk in the White House — a descriptor that had to be invented — kept in office by a cowardly House of Representatives putting party over country and giving as an excuse that they anticipate the Senate would do the same.

Mohandas Gandhi’s principal contribution to needed social change, satyagraha, is sometimes translated “clinging to truth,” and it requires courage.

I know Gandhi inspired MLK because MLK’s writings say so. I know Gandhi inspired Cesar Chavez because Chavez told me so.

I am at a loss to explain what Robert Mueller was unable to explain to Congress: how a nation that claims equality as an imperfectly realized first principle can govern itself without courage and without truth.

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)

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