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A Reasoned Politics of Mosaic Possibility

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In what has become sadly predictable behavior, at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on April 27, President Donald Trump continued his lies about “Fake News” and immigration and attacked thereby the freedom of speech and the press and the rule of law.[1] That fact notwithstanding, those attending his event cheered his outrageous claims. Meanwhile, the nation mourned another shooting at a synagogue near San Diego, California by a hated-filled individual shouting Anti-Semitic slogans.[2] Without causing the killing per se, Trump has surely stoked such animus by his routinely cruel and extreme “othering” rhetoric and by his failure to condemn the neo-Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Indeed, he saw fit only days ago to defend again his comments and behavior concerning that tragedy, which were widely and roundly condemned at the time.[3]

In recent days, too, Trump has labeled those who criticize him or his policies as traitors and informed the visiting South Korean President that the just concluded Mueller investigation, first approved and advanced by a GOP-controlled Congress, was an act of treason.[4] It should be noted that treason is a serious offense defined in the United States Constitution as “consist[ing] only in levying war against” the United States “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” The U.S. Criminal Code requires that those found guilty of treason “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years.”[5] Any reasoned and clear-eyed review of the evidence suggests that Congress was not guilty of treason in approving its investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. election and that the long list of individuals whom Trump otherwise has accused of treason, including former Presidents Clinton and Obama and many journalists as well as James Clapper, Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller, among others, are not capital criminals either.[6] His charges are both hate-fueled and ludicrous, but he daily offers them to supporters who continue to stand by him. Something close to 80 percent of the 24-28 percent or so of the American electorate who identify as Republicans are prepared to believe or rationalize anything Trump may contend.

In short, we have entered a politics of irrationality and unreason, at least for a disproportionately significant minority of Americans, and Trump seems to have found a way to capitalize on their fear and to elicit hatred and tribalism among them that results in their continued political backing, even when his actions and policies harm many of them personally or bode ill for the nation, such as attacking access to health care or refusing to acknowledge, let alone address, climate change. All of this is supported by and has captured a GOP officialdom that is now thoroughly Trumpian and interested principally in the preservation of its power. If that position can be sustained by a chief executive without scruples or reason, Republican leaders have shown themselves willing to bear that cost and to allow those same damages to be visited on the country as a whole. Put differently, as long as Trump is able to maintain the support of a solid share of the Party’s base, Republican elected officials have allowed him to do or say virtually anything and to behave as outrageously and immorally and unethically as he may choose. Indeed, these individuals appear to be prepared to sacrifice the Republic, if perceived necessary, to partisan power, even as their stance underscores the significance of the enduring question of why Trump appeals so strongly to the Republican party’s base of voters in the United States.

As many have argued, part of the president’s appeal for a share of that group seems to be little more than superficial celebrity flash; he is a supposed successful businessman who is idolized by some as an ardent fan might admire a film or music star. Such a calculus is neither deep nor democratic and it is ethically and morally vacuous. Part of Trump’s allure appears to rest, too, in his consistent racism and appeals to the fears of some whites that immigrants and minorities constitute challenges to their rightful “superiority.” Trump’s appeals to racist sentiments and his refusal to confront growing hate group presence in the country systematically, highlight his persistent embrace of these ugly attitudes, and these appear to be shared by a strong portion of his core supporters. Trump has also “othered” a wide variety of individuals, groups and institutions, including immigrants, the free press and all those whom he has labeled treasonous. This behavior seems to appeal to fear of change as well as to bigotry among his supporters.

Ideology, too, appears to play a role for Trump supporters who take it on ideational faith that tax cuts that balloon the nation’s deficit and debt and environmental policies that degrade the nation’s environment are “good” because they serve capitalists who provide “jobs” or attack democratic governance, which they assume is inefficient and ineffective, if not evil. Finally, it seems clear, as noted above, that some Republican office holders simply wish to hold onto power and if placating their Party’s devotees demands they support Trump to maintain that power, they will follow him down whatever path he may choose, irrespective of its truth or falsity or implications for self-governance.

All of this is well known and has emerged as of special moment in the wake of the recently issued Mueller Report, which methodically and thoughtfully explored the President’s fitness for his present office by unmasking his many attempts to obstruct justice. That fact demands that the now Democratically controlled House of Representatives consider carefully whether to impeach Trump, even as the nation’s politics have otherwise descended into a cauldron of irrationality of his shaping. As many analysts have noted, it seems clear that Trump’s enthusiasts and the President himself would interpret any impeachment articles as a partisan attack. Similarly, it seems highly unlikely that the GOP controlled Senate would convict, given Trump’s strong support among the Party’s base. The president would then declare that outcome a vindication, irrespective of its provenance. Yet, should the House not act, it would forfeit its rightful Constitutional role and appear to be countenancing Trump’s lie that the Mueller inquiry completely vindicated him and thereby allow him to escape political and legal accountability for his actions, even as it would likely reinforce the tribalism already evident among the Party’s strongest loyalists and Trump’s claims to be above the law.

All of this said, the key political question today is how to chart a course for self-governance as the regime’s chief executive routinely mocks the other institutions of government and mobilizes his supporters on the basis of lies and hatred. Devotees of democratic self-governance must find a path that holds him accountable for his behavior, but that does so judiciously in both the political and legal senses of that term. In short, Democrats and those Republicans who share their concerns must discern a reasoned way forward amidst a politics of unreason and fantasy daily stoked by Trump’s fear and hate mongering. And the Party and its allies must do so even as Democrats remain divided internally among those who wish to enlarge the role of government aggressively and to move against Trump similarly and those who wish to press ahead more cautiously on both counts.

This scenario in turn raises the question of how to treat impeachment and what sort of nation to suggest we are or might become in contradistinction to the dark vision Trump offers. Sadly, it appears that the issue is not whether there is an argument that will persuade GOP faithful and officials to change course. Instead, there is a need to provide a solid understanding of all of the concerns at play and do so in a way that Trump cannot readily avoid and subvert. That implies that the House should press forward with investigations growing out of the Mueller Report and do so with gravity and deliberation to determine the President’s fitness for his high office. The House committees should go where the evidence leads them and accord Trump the prudential deliberation he has sought to deny his opponents, the free press and the judicial process. And they should impeach if the evidence so accrued suggests that course.

As all of this political trauma continues to unfold, I have found myself wondering whether a metaphor of our collective nationhood might be of value to help prompt those willing to follow Trump to reconsider the implications of their views and stance. I have been considering the mosaic as that metaphor. In her searching volume, Finding Beauty in A Broken World, Guggenheim Fellow, author, activist and writer in residence at Harvard University Divinity School Terry Tempest Williams provided an account of her efforts to learn that ancient art in Italy.[7] As she recounted her novice attempts to create a mosaic, Williams found herself reflecting on what this aesthetic might mean for humanity more broadly, which in fact, this art form has always sought to illumine and serve:

Here in the village of Ravenna, a continent away from where I live, I am indeed learning a new language, but it is very different from the one I imagined,

I now look at my hands.

‘Mosaic is a way to organize our life.’ Luciana (Williams’ teacher) gives us her last instructions. ‘Making mosaics is a way of thinking about the world.’

Luciana’s final words: ‘Mosaics are created out of community.’ (Italics in the original).[8]

Mosaics are comprised of thousands of irregularly shaped and unique shards of glass, stone or tile, called tesserae. Each reflects light and color on the others to provide the final dazzling image of the whole. None by itself is sufficient to tell a story, but together, they provide a glittering and illuminating aesthetic text of human meaning and possibility. Mosaic artisans must respect the integrity and individuality of each tessera, knowing as they do that it is elementally significant to the whole, which cannot be complete without it.

As it is for the mosaic, so it must be for a heterogeneous political community that would be free. Its citizens and leaders must find ways to accord abiding respect and dignity to each of their population’s members if the whole is to reach its potential and to ensure the rights and freedom of all. Notably, this is a reasoned position that demands that citizens discipline themselves so as not to allow their differences to be used as wedges to divide them to empower or politically advantage one individual or group relative to others. This stance requires instead a level of reasonableness that aims to elect leaders and hold them accountable on the basis not of homogeneity or of difference, but on their efforts to preserve and further broad social recognition of the principle of innate individual dignity and freedom. The challenge for today’s American citizens is whether they can reach that level of reasoned understanding to (re)create a politics of shared mosaic possibility. Their future and their freedom demand no less.

Notes

 

[1] Wagner, Meg and Amanda Willis, “President Trump holds Rally in Wisconsin,” Cable News Network, April 28, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/trump-rally-whca-dinner-2019/index.html Accessed April 28, 2019.

[2] Medina, Jennifer, Christopher Mele and Heather Murphy, “One Dead in Synagogue Shooting Near San Diego: Officials Call It Hate Crime,” The New York Times, April 27, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/27/us/poway-synagogue-shooting.html?emc=edit_th_190428&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=400875340428  Accessed April 27, 2019.

[3] Anapol, Avery, “Top House Dem on Trump’s Defense of Charlottesville Comments: ‘He’s Expressing what’s in his Heart,” The Hill, April 28, 2019, https://thehill.com/homenews/house/441027-top-house-dem-on-trumps-defense-of-charlottesville-comments-hes-expressing?rnd=1556459370    Accessed April 28, 2018.

[4] Milbank, Dana, “For Trump, the name of the season is treason,” The Washington Post, April 12, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/for-trump-the-name-of-the-season-is-treason/2019/04/12/f8c5c44c-5d33-11e9-a00e-050dc7b82693_story.html?utm_term=.e3284be5a774   Accessed April 28, 2019.

[5] United States Constitution, Article III, Judicial Branch, Section 3, https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/articles/article-iii   Accessed April 28, 2019; 18 United States Code § 238. Treason, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2381 Accessed April 28, 2019.

[6] Milbank, “For Trump, the name of the season is treason.”

[7] Williams, Terry Tempest, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, New York: Random House, Inc., 2009, pp.20-31.

[8] Williams, Finding Beauty In A Broken World, p.31.

Publication Date

May 6, 2019

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