America has unquestionably entered its darkest hour. A mad king presides over an angry populace, facts are up for debate, and the rule of law is in tatters. Although no one believed that the U.S. Senate would convict Donald Trump at the close of the impeachment trial, given the Republican party’s control of that legislative chamber, the stark differences between the impeachment managers’ arguments and those of Trump’s lawyers laid bare the fault lines now tearing apart the American republic. Whereas members of the House like Adam Schiff (D-California) based their arguments on evidence, the U.S. Constitution, and an appeal to the nation’s better angels, Trump’s lawyers grasped at bizarre legal straws clearly at odds with the Constitution and engaged in juvenile name-calling to defend the president’s indefensible pressuring of the Ukrainian government into participating in the corrupt scheme that former National Security Council director John Bolton aptly called a “drug deal.” Criminal elements now control the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government with impunity, and the integrity of the judicial branch is also in doubt, given the Trump administration’s loading of circuit courts and the Supreme Court with judges who would not have been considered worthy of these posts during previous administrations. The very embodiment of the judicial branch — Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — sat passively through the impeachment trial hearings, making no effort to call Republican senators to account when they flouted the rules by leaving the chamber for long periods of time. His presence was ornamental, not substantive.
Media coverage of the solemn trial varied profoundly. MSNBC, National Public Radio, CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times treated the proceedings as a somber moment in America’s history, and provided extensive background detail about the prosecution’s legal arguments and precedents. Fox News (which has the largest and most loyal base of news viewers in the United States), dismissed the trial as a “witch hunt” orchestrated by Democratic sore losers to remove Trump against the will of the people who elected him in 2016, conveniently ignoring mountains of evidence that Trump lost the popular vote and benefited from Russian interference and social media malfeasance. The impeachment trial’s aftermath shows that the United States is now riven into distinct factions fired up with anger and quick to lash out first, and engage in analysis and discussion later -– if at all.
If the picture was grim following Trump’s acquittal, the president’s State of the Union address and the results of the Iowa Caucus the next day plunged the country into even deeper dysfunction. A number of Democrats skipped the State of the Union address, and upon taking the podium, Trump refused to shake hands with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and a prime mover of impeachment efforts. This was a stunning break with protocol. Trump then launched into an hour-long speech that was completely divorced from current events, claiming that America is in the best shape it has ever been domestically and internationally. As one pundit noted, the speech was a surreal paean to a white America that exists only in the fantasies of the far right. The following day, fact checkers called into question the majority of Trump’s claims about the economy, but fact-checking Trump’s continuous lies has yet to impact him or his loyal followers in Congress or beyond the beltway. The most shocking moment of the annual ritual came when Trump announced he was bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Rush Limbaugh, a virulent racist who has spewed political toxins and dangerous conspiracy theories on his radio show for decades. Melania Trump bestowed the medal on a tearful Limbaugh (recently diagnosed with fatal lung cancer), as Republicans in the chamber cheered loudly. The meme-worthiest moment of the State of the Union speech came at the very end, though, when Speaker of the House Pelosi rose from her chair on the dais behind Trump and methodically tore up her copy of his speech, a look of disgust on her face.
There is no precedent for what has unfolded in Washington, DC over the last three years, and with Trump’s impeachment now off the table, Americans desiring a quick delivery from the mad king are putting all of their hopes on removing him in the upcoming November elections. Although the initial 20 or so contenders for the Democratic nomination have now been whittled down to single digits, the results of caucusing on the windswept plains of Iowa brought no cooling breezes of clarity to the angry and anxious electoral process. To the contrary, and despite polling data that suggested Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would easily win the Iowa caucus, it’s still not clear whether Sanders or newcomer Pete Buttigieg won.
Iowa is a small state, and the caucusing process, though complicated, usually takes less than 24 hours to render decisive results. This time around, though, the Iowa Democratic Committee decided to use a new mobile app, created by a tech company disconcertingly named “Shadow,” to collect and tabulate results. The app had never been used or tested before, so while some glitches might have been expected, the confusion and chaos that resulted, exacerbated by jammed telephone lines and poor coordination, sparked not only anger and concern, but also a variety of conspiracy theories that the app’s creators were Hillary Clinton supporters, or that Pete Buttigieg owned shares in the company that created the app. As with any conspiracy theory, there might well be grains of truth in these accusations, but supporters of Sanders and other candidates were too quick to jump to the worst conclusions, filling the air waves and Twitterverse with accusations and invective that only brought more heat, but no light, to the unprecedented caucus crisis.
So, in addition to the rift between Democrats and Republicans in America’s age of anger, we also have growing fault lines within the Democratic party itself, with the conservative old guard accusing younger and more progressive Democrats of being uncivil and extremist, using the epithet “Bernie Bros” to characterize allegedly misogynist young white men and radical populists who supposedly cost Hillary Clinton the election in 2016. No matter that Sanders’ supporters now include a majority of women, people of all ages, including blue collar workers and people with advanced academic degrees, and a growing number of people of color, those who pinned their hopes on Clinton in 2016 are the sorest of sore losers, and pose a risk to the unity of the Democratic party if Sanders does indeed emerge as the leading contender for the Democratic nomination five months from now.
The only clear indicator to emerge from the Iowa chaos is that the old guard’s preferred candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, failed miserably in a state synonymous with the moderate, middle class voters he claims to speak for. Sanders, not Biden, is predicted to win the upcoming New Hampshire primary, so if polls still have any relevance and credibility, Biden’s lead could well evaporate by the end of the month. The disconnect between the older, wealthier Democratic National Committee (DNC) leadership beholden to Wall Street and the largely young and progressive grassroots Democratic party field organizers is obvious, but this does not seem to concern the old guard — at least not yet. Would they stoop so low as to fudge and manipulate the results of the Iowa Caucus or upcoming primary races? It does not seem probable, but in our unprecedented age of anger and anxiety, anything is possible. The DNC already has former New York Mayor (and former Republican) Michael Bloomberg waiting in the wings should Biden fail spectacularly in next month’s “Super Tuesday” primary elections. Although the DNC proclaims the motto “Vote blue, no matter who, in November” publicly, their unspoken motto is “Anyone but Bernie!”
As anger over the chaotic Iowa caucus results lit up social media feeds, Trump held a victory rally in the White House mid-week, surrounded by Republican members of the House and Senate and his most loyal staff and lackeys, to gloat over his acquittal, thank his supporters for subverting the Constitution, and issue chilling threats to the Impeachment managers and their star witnesses. The laughs, cheers, and hoots of approval from the 200 people present were as chilling as Trump’s malevolent ramblings. It was the most frightening display of Trump’s unhinged, narcissistic toxicity yet, peppered with smears against his opponents in the House and Senate, whom he accused of being evil and devious. Senator Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who alone among Republican senators broke ranks and voted to convict Trump, came in for particular excoriation as a traitor and a failure. And now Romney is receiving death threats from unhinged Trump supporters.
By week’s end, Trump’s victory celebration had morphed into a campaign of vengeance against impeachment witnesses. On Friday, he fired EU Ambassador Gordon Sonderland and had Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine expert, escorted from the White House, along with his twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, a senior lawyer for the National Security Council, who also worked in the White House. And after sending this shocking message that insubordination to him would be swiftly punished, polls put Trump’s approval rating at 49%.
America’s only hope of reversing its rapid and unprecedented plunge into madness is to defeat Trump decisively at the polls in November, which will require intense commitment, cooperation, and clarity among the 51% of the populace terrified by all that Trump represents. But the red mist of anger now clouds our vision to such a degree that calm deliberation and coordinated efforts will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. The mad king could well win another four years.