“You never step in the same river twice,” Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said in reminding us that things change; that nothing remains the same.
We should keep this in mind as we wrestle with how to handle our lawless president.
We have never been in this place in modern times, a place in which an unethical and corrupt president shows a blind eye to human rights abuses abroad and nurtures them here at home; a place in which as Commander-in-Chief he urges foreign governments to interfere in our democracy and in which he co-opts our democratic institutions—the state department and justice department among them– to do his personal bidding.
No, this place is not the same as the one in which Nixon and Clinton had their presidencies threatened by impeachment. The Constitution still had a spine then. Now It is on a cowardly retreat, giving way to a dawning dictatorship, the coming of which we–the people in whom the Constitution lives or dies–have often denied.
When Mitch McConnell declared that he would use his powers as Senate Majority Leader to ensure Barack Obama was a one-term president, signaling to his party rabid Tea Party base that Republican leadership would not allow an audacious black man to reverse decades of white privilege, we said, “That’s not who we are.”
When Republicans decided to drift further right after being confronted by Mr. Obama’s re-election and the hard truth that their party’s embrace of right-wing extremism was suicidal in the face of the country’s increasingly diverse demography and progressive philosophy, we again said “That’s not who we are.”
And we echoed the same refrain again and again as the Republican party moved to establish a one-party political system and to dismiss political opponents, the media not named Fox News, our intelligence departments, and truth, honor and common decency as enemies of the people.
And so here we are in this once unimaginable place of a president taking a sledge hammer to our Constitution, a president detaining children in cages and allegedly instructing the military to shoot and maim unwelcomed border crossers, a president using his office to enrich himself and his family, a president covertly and openly soliciting foreign governments to interfere on his behalf in our elections. Here we are in this place still saying this is not who we are.
But to paraphrase the late Arizona Cardinals’ Football Coach Dennis Green, we are not who we think we are.
Whether or not we want to admit to it, is incontrovertible that we are a country in which corrupt and unethical behavior is the way of life in highest office of the land, a country in which our president thumbs his nose at Congress and alludes to the potential of a civil war should he loose his re-election bid, a country in which the Republican Party treats the president as king.
In starting an impeachment inquiry, Democratic leaders have finally awaken to the reality of this new place in which we are, but time is not on their side.
The president’s legal strategy to defend himself, it appears is to mount a campaign aimed at branding the Constitution an enemy of the people, and if that takes hold as most of his abuses have so far, well, I suppose we could always comfort ourselves by saying “This is not who we were.”