I took a few days to reflect on what we saw Wednesday, and a note entitled as above is scheduled to run Monday. There are rarely new posts in these pages on the weekend since I consider those days better dedicated to faith and/or enjoyable pursuits than to policy or politics. I make an exception today because although I do indicate in passing in Monday’s post that I consider Congressional impeachment efforts against President Trump for his part in inciting the storming of the Capitol, while entirely warranted, to be ill advised, it now seems to me to be a point worth emphasizing since such efforts are reportedly gathering steam.
A book I have frequently cited and quoted in these notes is The Righteous Mind, by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in which Mr. Haidt explores “Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” In his book, Mr. Haidt describes a plethora of studies that he conducted or reviewed that have enabled him to distinguish those who politically lean to the right and to the left by what he calls “foundations” of “intuition.” He asserts that Loyalty to a group is one such foundation, and that it is a much more prominent intuitive characteristic of those who politically lean to the right.
I would submit that despite the understandable deep antipathy U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats feel about Mr. Trump – sentiments that anyone that has read virtually any of these notes knows that I share – I fear that in initiating impeachment activities, they are missing the forest for the trees. They claim that they wish to prevent Mr. Trump from wielding the power of the presidency to perform untoward acts between now and January 20. As I note Monday, Congressional processes are objectively too slow to be effective; if, for example, Mr. Trump elects to declare Martial Law or pardon his entire family and cohort, he will have plenty of time to do so even if both houses of Congress move with greater alacrity than they have shown since declaring war on Japan in 1941 [putting aside the fact that there is zero (that’s zero) chance of such speed in a Senate still controlled by the Republicans]. (I suspect that there has already been a greater informal check placed on Mr. Trump’s ability to deploy our nuclear arsenal than is readily apparent.) I have heard Democrats declare that they “can’t let [Mr. Trump] get away with it.” He didn’t “get away with it”; what he most craves is adulation, and how many of those that voted for him would still do so if a new election was held today? The public relations battle has already been won with all but the most cultish of Mr. Trump’s followers. Mr. Trump’s most prominent Congressional co-conspirators, U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, today stand humiliated, their presidential aspirations seemingly dashed. Mr. Trump himself has reportedly retreated into a psychological bunker, cut off from much of social media, chastened and humbled. Why provoke him? Haven’t we had enough evidence as to how he reacts when he is attacked?
If one accepts Mr. Haidt’s premises, even the scant likelihood that impeachment proceedings will either be effective or timely, or their possible impact on Mr. Trump’s behavior over the days before January 20, is not the point. The point is how such will precipitate further churning of our hyper-partisan pot. I have heard reports that Fox News Hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have already suggested that some other unspecified nefarious forces – certainly not Mr. Trump, despite the blizzard of Trump flags in all pictures of Wednesday’s insurgency – were responsible for the Capitol riot. I myself heard a brief Fox News segment this morning haranguing about how Facebook and Twitter have locked Mr. Trump’s accounts – intimating such was a reprehensible violation of Mr. Trump’s rights, rather than focusing upon how many of Mr. Trump’s messages have been de facto incitements to violence. One can only imagine what they might be saying on the even-more-aberrant right wing television, radio, and social media outlets. The viewers/listeners of these right wing outlets actually believe these broadcasters.
For soon-to-be President Biden, given his need to rally us to begin to coalesce as a nation, the goal at this point is not maintaining the allegiance of those that voted for Mr. Biden; it’s obtaining the acquiescence of as many of our citizens as possible that didn’t. If a vandal damages the foundation of your house, punishing the vandal is desirable; repairing the foundation is essential. I would submit that it is wildly counterproductive for the future of our nation to undertake an action with little purpose or prospect of success that seems overwhelmingly likely to elicit the tribal “Loyalty” response in many of those who voted for Mr. Trump but are now, due to Wednesday’s events, more open to overtures from Mr. Biden than they ever would have been otherwise.
Madam Speaker, don’t cause currently-rueful Trump supporters to close ranks behind him. Leave any repercussions for Mr. Trump to the criminal justice system after he leaves office and tribal allegiances have had additional time to cool. Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan, emotionally calling for impeachment in her column today, notes, “I have resisted Nazi comparisons for five years.” She has; I certainly haven’t. Even so, I would suggest that for now, given the need of a new Administration, so close at hand, to forge greater comity among our citizens, it is best to let Mr. Trump – as my sainted mother used to say – stew in his own juices.