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Our Troubles Are Our Own, but not Without Precedent

I have thought of myself as a faction of one within Indivisible Oregon since the group reached a consensus that it is time to call on our congressional representatives to push for an impeachment inquiry. I dissent. On Tuesday I learned that until this week it was a faction of two. One of our number informed the group that she had not joined in the call for an inquiry until the events of last week when the president crossed a red line with his continuing obstruction of congressional oversight. It appears that I am back to a faction of one.

While Trump's obstreperous rejection of the constitutional authority and responsibility for Congress to conduct oversight of the executive has hardened attitudes among activists engaged in resistance to the regime, there has not been comparable movement within the general public. I remain in Nancy Pelosi's camp while committed to support House Democrats if or when they initiate an impeachment inquiry or some other step in the impeachment process.

A friend (and reader of the blog) asked why not just vote Trump out if he is so bad. She is inclined to agree with the colonel (Col. Pat Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, at Sic Semper Tyrannis) that the impeachment effort is just an attempted soft coup. The colonel says bluntly, as is his wont, "[T]he forces arrayed against Trump wish to overthrow the constitutional order." (Yes, I have friends and the blog has readers who are not flaming leftists, good people with whom I can respectfully disagree, and they accord me the same respect, which seems to be an increasingly rare phenomenon.)

Wild rhetoric about the illegitimacy of the 2016 election and premature calls for impeachment that date to the early days of the Trump presidency provide grounds for the colonel's characterization. For me that is outweighed by my conviction that the president has engaged in actions and misconduct that rise to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors for which impeachment is the constitutional remedy. It is the president who is attempting to overthrow the constitutional order by his defiance of legitimate congressional prerogatives and responsibilities. The forces arrayed against him are admittedly a mixed bag. The Pelosi camp and at least some of those pushing for an impeachment inquiry or proceeding are attempting to preserve the constitutional order.

One point of general agreement may be that the country is a mess. It is difficult to see light at the end of any tunnel. Still we persist. What else is one to do?

I am presently rereading The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam's masterful account of how the US bumbled into Vietnam. Certain descriptions of a psychologically insecure Lyndon Johnson, his paranoia and expectation of personal loyalty ("I don't want loyalty. I want loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass in Macy's window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket."), eerily summon images of the current occupant of the White House. The bureaucratic infighting and machinations of cabinet members, diplomats, and high-ranking figures in the military and national security domains, each pursuing his own agenda, often competing with one another to influence the president's thinking and shape his options, likewise call to mind contemporary figures such as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. Those were dark days too.

We have also been there when it comes to congressional dysfunction, and maybe worse. I quote from James Oakes, in his review of The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Joanne B. Freeman (The Great Divide, The New York Review of Books, May 23, 2019):

"...[Freeman] traces the origins of a fundamental, indeed bloody, conflict over slavery that began long before the Civil War itself and in an unexpected place—the halls of Congress. The seemingly decorous debates historians regularly cite were often marred by outbreaks of pushing, shoving, knife-wielding, pistol-waving violence that were quietly erased from the pages of the Congressional Globe. Some of these violent outbursts are well known, particularly the brutal assault by South Carolina congressman Preston S. Brooks on Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner in 1856. But Freeman shows that the Sumner-Brooks encounter, though singular in some ways, was representative in others. She counts seventy violent outbursts between 1830 and 1860, suspects there were more, and notes that the violence accelerated as the struggle over slavery came to dominate the politics of the 1850s."

Our troubles are our own and have their own character, but they are not without precedent.

The Indivisible Tuesday meeting on May 21 adjourned to join the Stop the Bans! rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza.

The plaza overflowed with women and men taking a stand against draconian abortion legislation that goes far beyond reasonable disagreement over a difficult issue.

Wendell Berry (poet, essayist, small farmer, and environmentalist) has written and thought better about this issue than anyone else I know. I recommend his essay Caught in the middle: On abortion and homosexuality (The Christian Century, March 20, 2013). One need not agree with him on all points to find it well worth reading and reflection.

I take the liberty of quoting at length from the opening paragraphs in the interest of providing clarity on Berry's perspective and because I find so much of it persuasive:

"In the present political atmosphere it is assumed that everybody must be on one of only two sides, liberal or conservative. It doesn’t matter that neither of these labels signifies much in the way of intellectual responsibility or that both are paralyzed in the face of the overpowering issue of our time: the destruction of land and people, of life itself, by means either economic or military. What does matter is that a person should choose one side or the other, accept the 'thinking' and the 'positions' of that side and its institutions and be so identified forevermore. How you vote is who you are.

"We appear thus to have evolved into a sort of teenage culture of wishful thinking, of contending 'positions,' oversimplified and absolute, requiring no knowledge and no thought, no loss, no tragedy, no strenuous effort, no bewilderment, no hard choices.

"Depending on the issues, I am often in disagreement with both of the current political sides. I am especially in disagreement with them when they invoke the power and authority of government to enforce the moral responsibilities of persons..."

Here are two more passages amid much that stands out:

"Choices do not invariably cut cleanly between good and evil. Sometimes we poor humans must choose between two competing goods, sometimes between two evils. Responsibility or circumstances will require us to choose. But we cannot choose to be unbewildered or not to grieve."

"I am going to take the risk, therefore, of saying that there should be no law either for or against abortion. Like certain other wrongs—various addictions, let us say—this one is more personal than public and would be best dealt with by the persons immediately involved.

"This is my attempt to make a statement on abortion that is reasonably complete—and that, in result, may be necessarily incomplete. I should add that I may find further reasons that will require me to revise. To have a mind, I think, depends upon one’s willingness to change it."

Keep the faith.

Further reading

Perry Bacon Jr., Would Democrats Really Face A Backlash If They Impeached Trump?, FiveThirtyEight, May 15, 2019

Memo from the Editorial Desk of Special Interest to Friends of the Matthews Family

My brother Trani's store Tulsa Runner remains above water despite being located perilously near the banks of the mighty, muddy Arkansas River.

My niece Jennifer is home today after undergoing a bit of back surgery on Monday. She called earlier this afternoon to let me know she is okay, napping some, moving around with a walker some. I was happy to hear from her.

Minor, nonsubstantive revisions were made after this piece was published.

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