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The American Tragedy

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Max Stearns

With the acquittal—57-43—in the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, we are a nation in crisis. This has been a long time coming. This once great nation has eroded to the point of breakdown. Saving it will require foundational change. That might be possible, and I plan to dedicate my career to helping find a path forward. But today there is no escape from observing that where we are is deeply distressing. The Democratic party is not perfect. Far from it. But the Republican Party has defined itself by the most vile man ever to occupy the White House. It’s that simple. Although the Republican party is a minority party, it is, and will remain, large enough to continue forging its destructive path.

The proposition that the Republican party is patriotic, with a subset embracing an extremist, is no longer sustainable. Those who claim to be conservatives and who remain Republican face a serious moral choice. They either must leave that party or forever be tainted by it. History will judge those who remain harshly. Those who do not leave will be forever aligned with a party that has succumbed to a tyrant and to tyranny. Either one is committed to our nation’s constitutional democracy, or one is not. The Republican party is not, and those who remain cannot claim to be.

The actions of Donald Trump on January 6 were fully impeachable and worthy of removal and disqualification. Of that there’s no doubt. He incited an insurrection, and he declined to stop it when he could have called it off. He could have saved lives and prevented injuries. He could have avoided having supporters face serious criminal charges. Yes, he previously aroused the passions of those who gathered in DC that day to see him speak, or who earlier went to the U.S. Capitol. But these observations exacerbate the charged impeachable offenses. They do not remove those impeachable offenses. That is delusion.

What Donald Trump did wasn’t merely vile. It resulted in five immediate deaths. Two police officers later died by suicide. This wasn’t just predictable. One might well have predicted many more deaths and injuries. This includes such risks to political leaders of both parties. For the nation, the damage is permanent.

I am persuaded that three factors have combined to destroy this once great democracy: the entrenched two-party system, the Supreme Court’s abdication of any check on partisan gerrymandering, and technologies that have allowed a fundamental change in the manner by which news is conveyed. This has combined to create a feedback loop in which politicians too often choose their constituencies, not the other way around, and are motivated to imagine the false reality that their constituents have come to believe. Social media news feeds have contributed two virtual societies each embracing a juxtaposed vision of reality. Although the seeds of our national embarrassment were planted centuries ago, these later developments have produced our present failure and distress. It is a tragedy to watch this unfold. It was predictable, not inevitable. It took courage to abate, and courage, where most needed, proved wanting.

For a very large segment of the population, which includes a high percentage of the Republican party, up is down and down is up. When a sitting President inciting a riot against a coordinate branch of government is insufficient to convict and disqualify, it is hard to comprehend how we can continue without fundamental change. When a sitting President will not accept a lawful election outcome, and can persuade vast segments of the public to agree with him, our nation is no longer a polity. When a sitting President, with full knowledge, fails to abate physical threats to leaders of both parties—his own Vice President and the Democratic Speaker of the House—among so many others, and his failure to do so does not produce a conviction and disqualification, it is hard to imagine that anything ever could. When even highly intelligent and well-educated people devise bizarre machinations to defend a despot instead of insisting upon doing what’s right, it is hard to understand how our nation can continue to endure. And most frightening of all: when as despicable a man as Donald Trump even now has the power at a whim can call upon tens of thousands, maybe millions, to engage in violence and insurrection, it is hard to defend the claim that we remain a beacon to the world.

Those willing to remain apologists for the Republican party must own what that party has become. There is no way around it. Yes, some Republicans did the right thing today. Seven voted to convict. I commend them that choice. But there are times when the only effective way to speak effectively against an institution’s egregious abuses is to leave it. That is today’s GOP. Yes, that will cost some their political careers. That's what courage looks like. And when the party is entirely rotted, there is no other choice.

For now, I’ll leave it there.

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