On February 12, 1999, President Clinton was acquitted of impeachment charges in a trial that had gone on since early January and resulted in the publication of the most intimate details of a sexual encounter in the Oval Office the American public had ever been forced to digest.
Last week, like that trial 21 years ago, we were again disgusted by the behavior of our elected officials in the form of an impeachment trial and subsequent acquittal. Another episode of politics in Washington. Another example of the fallibility of human beings in all things, including government. Another case of arrogance, disregard, and indecency.
And we’re no better off for it any more than we were better off in 1999.
We don’t feel that anyone was absolved of wrongdoing. Worse, we once again feel like someone got away with wrongdoing. Like the rules of common decency don’t apply to politicians. To the presidency. We’ve been here before and we didn’t learn anything.
When people show you who they are, believe them.
Could we just learn that?
This is also the week (hypothetically) before Tony’s suicide in 1999 and I’ve been thinking about what that week must have been like. Did he pay enough attention to politics to recognize the hypocrisy at the top? Did he have empathy for Monica Lewinsky or did he think she had orchestrated the entire thing to bring down the president? Was she a pawn?
In a candid TED Talk on The Price of Shame, Ms. Lewinsky talked about how the six months up-to and after the impeachment of President Clinton were some of the most destructive of her life.
Would Tony have had empathy for her when it took her 16 years to openly talk about it? When it took me 16 years to notice or care what her perspective was?
All I remember is the eye-rolling reality of Clinton’s lying about the entire thing. I wrote about that here.
I remember the narrative being fully framed on the character of Clinton, the implications of having such a loathsome character in the White House (ha!), and the desperate attempt to contextualize the affair in terms of a violation of law.
In our latest impeachment trial, those Republicans that led the “hold your nose and vote” contingent that elected Trump seemed further perplexed that his behavior – boorish, brainless, and destructive – hadn’t improved. Not under the guidance of strict military influence (Gen. Kelly) or the court of public opinion (he’s very popular – eyeroll), not even when actually accused of a crime against his office and the oath he swore. He thinks acquittal is innocence.
But it’s not.
Acquittal didn’t mean Clinton didn’t lie under oath about a sexual relationship and it doesn’t mean Trump didn’t solicit foreign interference in elections.
Acquittal means we don’t want to pursue this. It means we are more willing to quit than to persist. We are more willing to accept how we’ve been treated than to insist that we be treated better.
Acquittal, in presidential impeachments, means partisanship is more important than decency.
That integrity is missing. From all of it.
I think about the week before Tony decided he’d had enough and I wonder when we will decide we’ve had enough. That we’ve put up with the manipulation, the machinations, the politics for long enough. When our disgust with the players and the play itself will enrage us enough that we fucking do something about it.
Fucking do something.
Accepting the childishness, writing it off as politics as usual, letting them off the hook because of the precedent they’re following, all those passive ways we teach people how to treat us, they’re all symptoms of our own sickness. One we’ve had for decades.
We can’t trust the people who need us.
And they don’t expect us to.
And we’re fine with that.