Yesterday, we learned that a grand jury has been empaneled to investigate allegations related to a sitting President; someone within the U.S. government leaked highly sensitive transcripts of a President’s phone calls with foreign leaders — in an apparent effort to embarrass him; and, investigators are examining financial dealings of a sitting President and his associates in a probe of a foreign intelligence operation targeting the American election system.
BEFORE 2017: OMG!! OMG!! (lights hair on fire)
NOW: Just another Thursday
It is easy to forget that we are living through extraordinary times. Our current national moment will be remembered as one of the great inflection points in American history. But, this chapter of our national story is still being written. What happens next, and what it will mean for the generations to come, is up to us.
Will this be remembered as the moment Americans lost faith in this great experiment our founders set in motion more than two centuries ago? Will the concept of objective truth finally succumb to our partisan delusions of reality as “fake news” and “fake news” as reality? Will the great institutions of our Republic finally be flung apart by the centrifugal force of the swirling nonsense, outrage and distrust that surrounds us?
Or, will this be a moment like so many others in our history that proves to be a darkness before a new dawn. Will this be when we all put down our smartphones and talk to our neighbors again? When we start showing up to town council meetings again, not to shout our anger, but to contribute constructively to our communities? When we began to care more about understanding why those we disagree with believe as they do rather than showing them to be wrong? When we finally started to use the infinite wealth of information available to us on the devices resting in our hands to deepen our understanding of the world and its complexities?
And anti-Trumpers, I’m talking about you too. As terrible as President Trump’s behavior may seem, a President that erodes institutional norms does not justify chipping away at them in return. To do so only compounds the damage.
The leaking of transcripts with foreign leaders is case in point. The first obligation of a member of the White House staff is to the constitutional office, the second is to the man that occupies it. The leaking of these transcripts serves neither.
There is recourse for a President’s behavior, leaking transcripts of foreign leaders just isn’t among them. It resides first with the voters, who will choose to reelect him or not. And, in the meantime, with the co-equal branches — the judiciary, which may constrain his actions to those allowed within the law; and the legislature, which may decide what that law should be, curtail a President’s powers and, in extreme cases, remove him from office altogether.
To allow people to take it upon themselves to undermine the ability of a President to fulfill the duties the people appointed to him, no matter how well or poorly he performs them, sets us off on a dangerously slippery slope. Presidents come and go, but the institutions of our republic must endure.
I, for one, believe that this time will be the preface for a time of civic renewal. For the last 241 years — through wars, depressions, recessions, scandals and tragedies — America has always proven to be the safe bet. Whether it continues to be depends on what we all do right now.