Throughout our nation’s history, there has always been one nation fully capable of destroying the United States of America. One sovereign nation that could take away our freedoms, destroy our independence, crush our democracy, and tear our Constitution to shreds.
That nation, of course, is us. We the people built it, and we the people can certainly rip it apart. We the people own it, and we the people can sell it out.
Over the years, we’ve nearly succeeded. We’ve witnessed vicious, ugly internecine conflict from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement and on through George Floyd and BLM, from pointless battles in Vietnam to pointed battles in Chicago about Vietnam, from generations of immigrants fighting to be fully integrated into American society to the descendants of those immigrants fighting the encroachment of new immigrants.
Don’t say it’s because modern Presidents aren’t the great leaders we used to have. Google Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan. Geez, our Presidents were often the source of the conflicts. Sure, LBJ was a titan of Civil Rights, but his reliance on misleading military leaders caused the most humiliating defeat in our nation’s history… and one of the most divisive issues in our society. Dick Nixon exacerbated those divisions with Watergate. George W. Bush divided the nation with an unjustified and wildly expensive war on Iraq.
A big reason there is so much division in America is because so many of our leaders lead us there.
So should we not be alarmed about our current state of disunion? It’s just the same old, same old, right? Been there before, and we always manage to survive, huh? We’re fine.
Well, actually, no. This is different. This is existential. Our democracy could die on our watch.
Throughout our history, the all-too-frequent instances of government corruption, deceit, overreach, demagoguery, and bigotry were ultimately overcome by a plurality of character in government. No government is free of sleazebags, cheats, corruption, and selfishness. But we have been blessed, because in the history of our government, the corrupt have largely been the minority.
Sometimes the margin was thin, but character was in the majority.
Let’s define character in the context of government and public service: acting first and foremost for the good of the country, with motivations about party and personal ambition subservient to doing what is right, informed by a bedrock of shared moral, ethical, and legal beliefs. It means allegiance to the Constitution, to the rule of law, to the laws of the land, and to the traditions, protocols, and norms that enable our government to function.
At a still higher plane, there is political courage: to act on a principle knowing full well that it could result in very real damage to one’s own stature, to loss of influence with the party, or to an election defeat. John F. Kennedy devoted a book, Profiles in Courage, to individuals who took such stands.
Observing the madness in our government today, character and political courage are going the way of the land lines, paper maps, and aol email addresses.
Now, with roughly half of our government owned and operated by Donald Trump, we can no longer feel protected by the belief that character is in the majority.
While we are a nation of laws, the concept that we are ruled by law is a quaint fancy. The United States Constitution is a piece of paper. It is worthless unless there is a common understanding of its meaning, and a collective will that it be upheld.
It is a general framework for how a free people can achieve self-governance. It provides the skeletal structure of a government that can create, amend, and enforce laws. In aggregate, it also provides an overall sense of intention so that women and men with sound judgment and a sense of ethics and fair play could make reasonable inferences about all that could not be spelled out in the Constitution itself. Throughout our history, we’ve often heard reference to – and reverence for -- “the intent of the founding fathers.”
Over time, this gave rise to norms of conduct – protocols and understandings that were developed over our two centuries and respected by both parties that helped grease the smooth functioning of government. Presidents have the right to quickly fill Supreme Court vacancies. Presidents release their tax returns. Presidents put their personal assets in a blind trust so their decisions are not tainted by economic self-interest. Presidents don’t profit from their service in government. Presidents respect the most sacred tradition of a democracy: the peaceful transition of power. Once upon a time, Impeachment was viewed as a grave matter, and the hazy language of “high crimes and misdemeanors” was construed to mean an egregious violation of Presidential duty.
For all we say about what is and is not “Constitutional,” there is a whole lot that was never spelled out, and customs and traditions were established to help fill in the blanks.
In a remarkably short period, Republicans have torched it all.
Today, all of it – the Constitution, the rule of law, and all those delicately wrought customs and protocols are getting trampled by a Republican Party that is not only ruled by Donald Trump, but lives and breathes his utterly amoral and craven lack of character. The MAGA wrecking ball is destroying the façade, the superstructure, and foundation – the entire building of democracy.
We used to have enough character in our government to keep America on the right track.
We had character in government when Republican Senators Sam Ervin and Howard Baker served on the Senate Watergate Committee that helped bring down a corrupt Republican President. We had courage in government when John F. Kennedy took personal responsibility for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. We had character in government when Republican Mitt Romney voted to convict Republican President Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors. Twice.
In today’s cheapened currency, it took character – indeed courage, given the nearby noose -- for Mike Pence to refuse to acquiesce to Donald Trump’s demand that he use his titular responsibility to tally Electoral College results to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
These days, the search for character in government leads you to a 27-year-old former White House aide named Cassidy Hutchinson. To General Mark Milley, who stood guard against a corrupt President who had neither understanding of nor respect for the Constitution. No coincidence: neither achieved their position by election, neither lived in terror of being primaried by right wing wing-nuts, and neither was paralyzed into supplication for fear of losing an election.
Now, with Romney headed for the exits, Liz Cheney long since beaten, Chris Sununu ducking, and Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson gasping for political oxygen, the concept of Republicans with character has transitioned from the “endangered species list” to “extinct.” The only Republicans left standing are the ones who fit snugly into the palm of Donald Trump’s tiny hand.
That means that in the very best-case scenario, we have character only in the half our government that is comprised of Democrats. And that’s only if every Democrat can be viewed as having character. Having had our fill of Democratic New York governors who can’t keep their pants zipped, and a New Jersey Senator who is indicted for bribery twice, one must conclude that the percentage of politicians who act on character is probably – sadly – well under half.
And that is a huge problem.
A government divided by party is simply gridlocked. But a government divided by character is self-destructive. It defaults to self-interest, greed, and to destroying the opposition. The goal is merely personal power and control, and in such an environment, the ends justify any means. Democracy is simply an inconvenient obstacle on the path to totalitarian rule.
Want to win the election? Try to assassinate the character of Joe Biden. Is that right or wrong – what Republican cares? The ends justify the means.
The leadership of the Republican Party is a parade of cowards whose lack of character debases our national stature.
What character is not: Mitch McConnell knew better than anyone that he was trampling a time-honored custom of our Republic when he abused his rights as Senate Majority Leader to block Barack Obama from his Constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. McConnell knew that his action would surely create a new precedent that meant that no President could ever again appoint a Supreme Court Justice if the opposing party held the Senate Majority. McConnell smashed a vital custom, and there is no going back.
What character is not: when Republican leaders who wanted to “lock Hillary up” are so terrified of Donald Trump that they pretend that his dizzying array of serious crimes against the United States of America are not real, and that the charges are simply politically motivated. It is when Republican leaders cower in fear rather than abandoning Trump for his refusal to accept the bedrock of democracy… the peaceful transition of power.
What character is not: when a limp, spineless weasel named Kevin McCarthy sells his soul to a cadre of performance artists to achieve his personal dream of the Speaker’s gavel, only to grimace in agony every time they demonstrate that in his Faustian bargain they now hold his balls in their hands. McCarthy spends his life on his knees as groveling coward … first before Donald Trump, and now before Matt Gaetz, begging to avoid a government shutdown by promising to bring a bogus inquiry against Joe Biden.
Yes, this is the latest example of what character is not: a sham of an “impeachment inquiry” when there is not a single piece of evidence of guilt, let alone of guilt of a “high crime or misdemeanor.”
When character is gone – when there is no moral or ethical code binding our behavior -- the default behavior is that the ends justify the means.
We now live in a country where two rival factions each believe the other represents an existential threat to the America they know. Democrats ardently believe that Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans will replace our democracy with an authoritarian government if returned to power. Republicans believe that Democrats will turn America into a socialist state which is no longer the exclusive domain of a white, Christian, straight majority.
Where the two factions seem to differ is what to do about it. Democrats are fighting to preserve the rule of law by pursuing justice through our legal system, attempting to prove in a court of law that Donald Trump violated the Constitution. Democrats believe in achieving goals through living the spirit and letter of the Constitution.
Republicans, on the other hand, are looking the other way while a former President leads an armed insurrection to overthrow our democracy. They stand aside as local election officials are threatened, potential jurors are intimidated, and a television network admits to a long and protracted lie designed to undermine public confidence in our elections.
If Republicans had character, this is what they would be saying: “Every citizen deserves a fair trial by a jury of their peers, and if Donald Trump is found guilty of the crimes he stands accused, he must be held to account.” Instead, they are saying that the system is rigged, that the DoJ investigations are political, and that all the charges against Trump are a bogus effort to destroy a political opponent.
So what do Republicans do?
Yep. They announce an absurdly trumped-up impeachment inquiry that actually is political, and that is proffered for the sole purpose of trying to damage a political opponent.
This joke impeachment – this pathetic sham -- is just one more acute case of the “ends justify the means.” The Republican end? Defeat Biden in 2024. The plan? A completely, transparently disingenuous plan to slander Joe Biden for the purpose of staining his reputation.
You can criticize Joe Biden all you want.
Yes, he’s old. Get over it. Anyone who has a problem with an effective octogenarian needs to understand that right now he is the only thing standing between us and a fascist government takeover by Donald Trump.
Yes, Biden makes gaffes. He shuffles. Occasionally trips. Doesn’t flash charisma. He just runs an effective government.
You certainly can say that he exercised poor judgment by not taking his drug-addled son out to the woodshed and explaining to him that he doesn’t get to trade on his name by taking big money from a Ukraine corporate board that he has absolutely no qualifications for. Democrats need to suck it up and admit that Hunter Biden may indeed be every bit as embarrassing and every bit the opportunistic grifter as, say, well, all of Donald Trump’s kids. They need to say that if Hunter Biden broke the law, he should be held accountable.
But no one has presented evidence that Joe Biden took criminal action to help his son, and no one has presented evidence that he criminally benefited from his son’s positions.
Kevin McCarthy, in creating the “impeachment inquiry,” essentially conceded that there was no evidence linking Biden to criminal behavior. Rather, McCarthy seemed to believe that the purpose of an “impeachment inquiry” is to go on a fishing expedition to see if such evidence could be found. This is insane. Impeachment inquiries are called when there is evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors – not to try to find evidence. Yes, Kevin McCarthy is spending our tax dollars in a scam to defame Joe Biden’s character.
Perhaps worse, the Republican impeachment inquiry is just the latest in a tidal wave of Republican “equivalization.” Accusing Biden of impeachable offenses gives Republicans cover to try to minimize Trump’s villainy by saying “Biden has done the same.”
And anyone who saw “Oppenheimer” must have felt a sickening déjà vu when Congressman Jim Jordan attempted to “equivalize” by essentially accusing Merrick Garland of political corruption in his management of the Hunter Biden inquiry during the recent House Judiciary Committee hearings. Jim Jordan – famous for cowardly "looking the other way" during a sex scandal while a wrestling coach at Ohio State – is an excellent example of the moral rot in the Republican Party.
Once upon a time in America, men and women of character would stand up and put a stop to this type of bullshit.
They would say things like, “You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
But we are no longer a country in which a majority of those in government are people of character.
Once a country that would bring down a reckless,
destructive, witch-hunting Joe McCarthy, we are now a country that puts a
spineless putz named Kevin McCarthy in the third most powerful position in
government. We now witness McCarthyism 2.0: this new McCarthy empties the term "impeachment" of meaning, and now it is sure to be the routine outcome whenever the House is held by the party opposing the President.
We have devolved into a country in which “the ends justify the means,” and we must understand that means we are dangerously near the end. A nation devoid of character is a free-for-all of self-interest, a no-holds-barred combat for power. No democracy can withstand such an assault.
What’s to be done?
Let’s not hide from the ugly truth. Donald Trump would not be where he is today if voters didn’t vote him in. Our problem starts with a citizenry that votes a Donald Trump into office. We the people elected Trump. (Of course he did not win the popular vote -- but don’t get me started on the insanity of the Electoral College…)
Sure… when many people first voted for Trump in 2016, they may have genuinely believed he was a savvy businessman who could fix the mess in Washington. But that was then. People who are supporting Trump in 2024 have no such excuse. They have seen the criminality, the personal enrichment, the lying, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the demand for personal loyalty, the retribution against those insufficiently loyal, the insurrection, the attempted coup, the stolen documents, the attempts to stoke rage and trigger violence against judges and prosecutors, the flagrant efforts to undermine of the Constitution, violate the laws, and destroy the norms and customs that shore up our democracy.
Even today, a shocking percentage of we the people can’t see Trump for the lying, manipulative, Machiavellian charlatan he is.
Or don’t care if he is. If his mission is to destroy our
government, that seems like a great idea to many of his faithful.
As with so many issues we face today – from climate change to Putin’s threat to global stability to our own precarious democracy – we can trace our problems to an eroded educational system that creates citizens who are incapable of discerning truth from propaganda, reality from spin, fact from fiction. If our citizens are not educated in science, world history, and civics, and are not capable of reason and independent thinking, they will forever be prey to serial liars, Fox anchors, and ruthless demagogues.
We the people created that, too.
And please -- we are not simply talking about underfunded K-12 education in rural Mississippi. The fault lies every bit as much – if not more – with the elite institutions that are great at teaching how to make millions but sketchy indeed at teaching honor. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each need to examine their curricula to understand how they managed to avoid instilling human decency and an ethical compass in Ron DeSantis, Mark Zuckerberg, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Steve Bannon, Stewart Rhodes, Ted Kaczynski, George W. Bush, Rajat Gupta, Donald Rumsfeld, Eliot Spitzer, Jeff Skilling, and countless other sleazeballs.
Until we can find a way to rebuild a sense of character in our schools, our offices, and our communities, the wall standing between this country and a slide into Republican authoritarian rule is the election of Democrats who understand democracy, and who are committed to it.
How important is democracy to you?
If you would like to be on the Born To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.