Semro column: My side, right or wrong
The state of American politics is dysfunctional and ineffective. And the specter of impeachment only makes it worse.
One Democratic representative has tried to force a vote on impeachment every year that the Trump administration has been in office. A series of acts that cheapened and politicized the most serious of constitutional remedies.
Over the last couple of weeks, GOP lawmakers, including our own senator from Colorado, twisted themselves into pretzels while trying to avoid answering the question about whether it’s “appropriate” for a President to ask a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political rival. If they read the Federalist Papers, or any other document from that time in American history, they’d see that the founding fathers were unambiguous about the dangers of foreign influence in American democracy.
But, is it about politicians or is it about us? Aren’t they just playing to the base? Maybe when you get down to it, our current politics are just another symptom of how insanely divided this country really is and how party tribalism has trumped (no pun intended) the real national interest.
For too many people on both sides, the leader of a political tribe is often considered unconditionally right or wrong, regardless of what they actually say or do. It’s not about substance, it’s about one side hating the other side more. And because of that, both parties are vulnerable and our country even more so.
We can argue about which side’s worse, but at some basic level both have skeletons in the closet. Skeletons that supporters have come to accept and even dust off occasionally. That’s why the technique of “whataboutism” works so well. It’s also one of the reasons why each new violation of political and governmental norms seems to be worse than the one that preceded it.
The definition of what’s acceptable is now viewed through a thicker political and cultural lens. For example, was the Clinton impeachment justified? Yet, if Trump did the exact same thing would Democrats oppose a similar impeachment now?
What would Republicans have thought a few years ago, if the intelligence community had determined that Russia interfered in the 2008 election on behalf of Barack Obama, if a special counsel report suggested that he’d obstructed justice and if there were evidence that he leveraged a foreign country to get political dirt on Mitt Romney in 2011. Imagine what a Republican House of Representatives would have done?
Hypocrisy and self-interest are nothing new in the political world but it does seem that we’re all dashing even faster toward the cliff edge. If we’re worried about the kind of country our children will inherit, we can’t keep going this way.
Our views and actions have to be tempered by principle, civility and legal realities and less by party, culture wars or ideological affiliation. Ultimately, the decision about whether an impeachment inquiry is justified, is up to each American. But it shouldn’t be based on whether you love, like, dislike or hate the current president. Most importantly it shouldn’t be based on how much you dislike the other side. It should be based on the seriousness of the accusations, the strength of the evidence and little else.
The argument that “it’s OK if my side does it”, is the first step on the path to national destruction. Democracy is more fragile than we think and it needs to be protected. What one party or faction gets away with this time, is what the opposing party might do next time, only worse.
There’s one fundamental question that you should ask in the face of any new political controversy. Would it be acceptable if your side or the other side did the same thing? If the answer to that two-part question includes both a yes and a no, there’s a problem.
Here’s a suggestion for my Republican friends. Every time you read or see something negative about the President online, in a newspaper or on cable TV, replace the name Trump, with Clinton or Obama. Would you have defended them in the same way if they had been accused of the same thing? Would you have been willing to stand up in front of your friends and publicly argue in their favor? If not, then maybe you should question how objective your opinion is.
The same basic suggestion applies to my Democratic friends, too. Did you make your mind up about impeachment long before this inquiry? When you see a negative story about Trump, are you quick to assume the worst?
It’s not about assumptions, predispositions or whether a questionable act adheres to every part of a strict legal definition. It’s about whether something is right or wrong, regardless of whether you support or oppose the person or the party involved. At the end of the day, it might just be that simple.
Bob Semro of Glenwood Springs is a former health policy analyst for the Bell Policy Center, and a legislative and senior advocate. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com
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