Oliver Cromwell died in September 1658; two and a half years later he was executed.
Cromwell had been a leader in the ouster and beheading of Charles I of England. When the British throne was dusted off and put back into use 11 years later, Charles II’s Parliament ordered the bodies of Cromwell (who had since died) and two others (also already dead) disinterred and beheaded. Cromwell’s head was placed on a spike at Westminster Hall. It remained there until it was blown down by a storm after about a quarter-century. It was passed around among collectors until 1960, when it finally got buried (which is why you haven’t seen it on the Antiques Roadshow).
Now, 350 years beyond that futile gesture, you’ll still find argument in Great Britain over which faction was right, Cromwell’s Roundheads or the Royalists who favored, as you might guess, the monarchy. The Roundheads managed to be wrong while they were being right, and the Royalists managed to be right while they were wrong. It is in this way, and a couple of others, that the affaire d’Cromwell resembles last week’s impeachment trial of former – and, please God, may he so remain – President Trump.
As in 17th-century England, control of our country is now effectively in the hands of the most extreme portions of two factions. Those factions see each other as mortal enemies. The majority of us, those who are not part of either extreme but instead are located elsewhere on the continuum, are to some degree frightened of the far reaches of both sides.
Anyone who harbors any doubt that the vast majority of our representatives in Washington are little more than a cage full of self-regarding monkeys hasn’t been paying attention. As with the Charles-and-Cromwell crowd, both sides have managed to be simultaneously right and wrong. Just as those left of the center could not find the courage last year to take issue with persons on the extreme left who thought that it was a good idea to pillage cities and then burn them, those to the right of center cower in fear of the cult of Trump.
Make no mistake: it is a cult, in worship of Trump and only of Trump. There is no political philosophy, let alone principle, behind Donald J. Trump, and his followers neither need nor seem to want either philosophy or principle. Trump is, in the magnitude and blindness of the cult that follows him, no different from a previous personification of anger named George Corley Wallace, with whom he has other similarities. Wallace ‘s lone saving grace was that there wasn’t an internet.
I have friends who are foaming-at-the-mouth Trumpkins, just as I have friends who think that burning down cities for whatever reason is a good idea. Some of them, on both sides, are otherwise normal people. They can get along even with people whose views are nowhere near their own. Some of them, on both sides, are of the sort who upon awakening each day immediately begin the search for something that enrages them. They’re a little harder to deal with. Each day I receive email messages that prove – really nail it down this time, unlike the previous dozens of times – that the election was stolen from Trump or, from the other side, that Trump is still running secret prison camps for “the other.”
No one is quicker than I am to praise much of what came out of the Trump administration, nor is there anyone quicker to regret that even the good stuff got sullied when Trump himself would then come out and squirt his pretend-high-class skunk juice all over it. Much good governance came during the term of a distinctly not-good man. But: do you remember the hours-long angry COVID-19 “briefings” held each day last spring? They were enough to make even Andrew Cuomo look good, and Cuomo was actually killing people.
Our congressional and senatorial representatives, it seems, are terrified of the Trumpkins and their lefty equivalents. Last week they engaged on the floor of the U.S. Senate in the most expensive, expansive, extended round of whataboutism in our nation’s history. The folks from the junior chamber played videos of the rioting Trumpkins from January 6. Trump’s defenders – whatever they were paid was either not enough or way too much, depending on what they think their souls are worth (though they’re lawyers, so they probably have already gotten rid of them; they may have gotten a good price, inasmuch as they were unused) – responded by showing videos of the rioting among leftists over the last year. The argument was along the lines of “if that’s okay, then this is okay.” Just spitballing, as they say, but how about the idea that neither one is okay?
The whole impeachment mess was ill-designed and ill-executed. There were those, myself among them, who proposed on January 7 that the U.S. House of Representatives that very day vote articles of impeachment and instantly send them to the Senate for immediate consideration. Given the mood at the time, Trump could have been out and Mike Pence sworn in by the close of business Friday, January 8. Pence would have left office January 20, having been for less than two weeks the 46th President of the United States.
Instead, the House came up with a half-baked article of impeachment then sat on it for a while before dispatching it on a kind of stroll over to the Senate, who sat on it for a while longer, until there was an argument to be made that it no longer mattered: Trump was already gone. In the three previous Presidential impeachments the chief justice served as presiding officer. This time they rolled out the mummy of Patrick Leahy, who is a Vermont senator and president pro tempore of the Senate. During the cobbled-together proceedings he was clueless, a diminution of his usual angry-and-clueless mien, going so far as to rule out of order a senator’s question as to what they were currently voting on.
It was not easy, but the Senate was able to put together a show that was so incompetent as to make them seem as unfit for their task as the former president was for his. And when the hot air had cleared, Trump (who would have done it anyway, no matter the outcome) declared victory. He’ll continue to be the fart in the national elevator for years to come and could even run for president again. Heckuva job, elected representatives!
One might be excused for thinking it was by design. It is, after all, easier to holler and sloganeer than it is to do the actual job to which our representatives were elected. But they achieved their primary goal, which was to get the whole thing wrapped so they could take a vacation this week.
It has been a long year, and our patience is short as many of the institutions we love have been closed or their attendance forcibly reduced. But there is hope. If you have missed watching monkeys screech and throw poo at one another, you can tune to C-SPAN.
If you’re looking for governance, I weep for you; for all of us.
Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears every Wednesday in The Athens NEWS. You can reach him at email@example.com.