Our history is filled with both national triumphs and national tragedies. As citizens we have experienced pride, anxiety and fear. While there have been episodes in our history that bring us shame, we always knew that as a nation we were striving to be better. We are, after all, the greatest and most successful experiment in democracy the world has ever known. We have been the beacon of hope for people the world over. Since the Second World War we have been called upon by the free nations of the world to assume the mantle of leadership. In the decades since we have worn that mantle with pride, integrity and strength. We don’t profess perfection, we do, however, profess aspiration. Our motives have never been questioned. Our role as a world leader has never been questioned. However, that has all changed since January 20th.
We have been fearful for months that our nation is being broken. The values that we have aspired towards as a nation seemed to have been pushed aside and relegated disparagingly to “political correctness”. The institutions that are essential to our democracy, a free and independent judiciary and a free and vibrant press, are defamed and denigrated. Long-held conventions of governance are being discarded and ignored. Internationally the picture is equally grim. Our closest, oldest and most important allies no longer view us as a dependable partner. We seem to be courting our adversaries who see an opportunity to gain a foothold in places never before available. In short, it is becoming apparent that our democracy is in danger and that our role in the world is in jeopardy.
Thursday’s hearings of the Senate Intelligence Committee underlined and brought to the forefront all of our concerns. Ex-director Comey’s testimony described a president who cares little for precedent, appropriate behavior or the rule of law. The Republicans who have tried to explain and defend his actions disingenuously dismiss them because he is “new to government”. While that might hold true for a single incident or statement, it is hard to explain away his continued pattern of reckless behavior. His inappropriate and unprecedented communications with Comey are extremely troubling. Even as the Republicans try to portray this as naiveté, it is hard to not see this as an attempt to obstruct justice. In addition, it portrays a president who sees himself as all-powerful and has a little understanding of the structure, boundaries or the workings of the Executive Branch. It has become clear that he has little interest in learning and obviously has ignored any advice given to him by those around him. His veracity has been brought to question and polls show that Americans are increasingly distrustful of his words. He is breaking our government and the international order.
Not since the Civil War has our nation been in this kind of existential crisis. While we have focused on protecting ourselves from external enemies, the enemy today seems to be internal and at the highest levels of national power. It is a new and unexpected problem. It is different from the issues we confronted during Watergate. Trump and his cronies seem intent on redirecting government to meet their goals. They are seeking to deconstruct the “administrative state” and break up long-held international alliances. Could it be that the lack of staff appointments to key positions in all executive departments is in fact not an accident? Could it be that Trump is not as naive and inexperienced as it might seem and that his actions are focused and purposeful? Could it be that keeping the departments understaffed makes it almost impossible for them to fulfill their missions and therefore leaves those prerogatives more squarely within the control of the White House? It this an effort to centralize power? These questions and suspicions would have been considered to be on the outer fringe of discourse at any other time. Never before have they been rational questions. Never before.