There’s a certain desperation in being an op-ed columnist lately. Advocating for anything that isn’t locked down in a left or right mindset seems to be a hopeless task. And that’s too bad — it’s fascinating to me that we’ve become so entranced with destructive theater that we’ve forgotten we have a society to run.
Look at the Trump impeachment trial. It started out as a show in the Coliseum — I mean the Capitol — starring crazies with buffalo horns, dead policemen and credible threats of mortal harm interspersed by trauma-triggered unbelievable narratives.
And while the riot was happening, where was the president? In the functional equivalent of a VIP spectator tent, sipping whatever his favorite beverage was, while his friends and family dined on canapes.
For those who argue it was an attempted coup, I do not think you know what that word means. The people who rioted in the Capitol may indeed have been murderous, but they simply had no way of installing an alternate government. Seditious, yes. A coup? Please. All former department of defense secretaries, as well as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had lined up against Trump, warning strongly about attempting to mobilize the military in keeping him in power. Real coup proponents line up at least part of the military, because the object of a coup is to replace the government. There was zero percent chance of that happening.
All of it was horrible. And now we have another spectacle — the trial of Trump on the impeachment charges for removal from office by the Senate, after the fact. I’ll bet dollars to donuts the body doesn’t even come close to the votes necessary for removal.
Making the argument that all of this is part of the healing process is interesting. Usually, in a healing process, there is some airing of grievances, and then a coming-together of the two sides. How is Trump being acquitted going to do that? The Republicans are confronting what I call a classic “Nazi High Command” problem. Enough of them are complicit with the crimes that they know if Trump goes down, their necks will be next. But this isn’t the end of WWII, where endless waves of B-17s made the issue a moot point. They’ll stick it out. That’s why domestic civil wars are always so terrible. There’s no place for the losers to run.
In the meantime, all this vengeance takes time. The Trump administration didn’t so much actively accomplish much of anything policy-wise that isn’t being rapidly overturned. But it allowed deterioration of many critical government functions. And those require time and focus to fix. The spectacle in the Senate, like it or not, is a time-waster. It is putting off the intellectual energies of a nation that desperately needs to reassert a fundamental pragmatism in how we run our affairs. It shouldn’t be about elites settling scores.
But that’s what we’re stuck with. And while the shows in the Coliseum, complete with rare, horned beasts, might have been entertaining, the illusion that is created that somehow this is government working doesn’t square at all with reality. Trump will not go to jail, regardless of the outcome of the Senate trial. His best bet is with the various state’s attorneys general prosecuting him on the number of corruption charges he’s facing.
And meanwhile, we need a government that can fairly sort through the big issues facing us. How do we regulate social media? How do we help our fellow citizens whose businesses have been destroyed by the pandemic? How do we constructively find means to accelerate vaccinations so our kids can go back to school? There are real opportunity costs for all this craziness that we’re lapping up.
Pay no attention, folks. I hear they’re going to release a couple more lions onto the arena floor. That should keep us occupied for at least a couple more weeks. Right?
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical andmaterials engineering at Washington State University.