While I was eating lunch today one of my coworkers asked me what I thought about the impeachment trial that is going on right now. I replied, after thinking a bit, that there had never been a genuine impeachment trial for high crimes and misdemeanors for a president of the United States or that I could remember very often for any office. To be sure, the average Illinois governor ends up in jail on some kind of federal racketeering charge, but while there have been three impeachment trials for presidents in the history of the United States, not one of them has been anything more than a partisan show trial. My coworker noted as well that it was striking (and a bit disappointing) that the arguments on both sides have switched between the last time this sort of thing happened, with former president Clinton, and today. Those who argued a bit more than 20 years ago that the behavior of the president did not reach the level of high crimes and misdemeanors are not going whole hog in making a case for impeachment that is so weak that it could be used to impeach any president of the United States that ever entered the office. I know of no presidents of the United States, save perhaps William Henry Harrison, who did not somehow exceed their constitutional mandate in some fashion, and he did himself in with an overly long inaugural address.
Truth be told, I had already been thinking about the failure of politics, which is a subject that I ponder often. It is very common to see people arguing for some sort of visionary solutions to our political problems that will solve what we have to deal with. Indeed, since at least the Enlightenment it has been common for a particular breed of people to argue for revolutionary change as a solution to longstanding social problems. The track record of such radical changes is less than stellar. The French Revolution led to a horrible slaughter, rule by a corrupt oligarchy, a lengthy rule by a militaristic dictator, then a return to absolutist politics and a long period of instability that has continued to the present with a hostility between a Catholic and traditional conservative culture and a secular and anti-Christian leftist culture. Most other revolutions since the 1700’s have led to the massive expropriation of land, the massive death and exile of political losers, and the deepening of divides between those who win and those who lose but brood over their losses and seek revenge at a later time. Any socialist revolution in the twentieth century involved a lot of deaths, a lot of exiles, and a lot of people imprisoned for various thought crimes against the corrupt authoritarian state. Those who claim that things will be different if we elect them are not being honest or self-aware.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made a statement about judging that is often quoted but seldom properly applied to ourselves in Matthew 7:2-5: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” What is it that makes social critics and those who promote idealistic politics such terrible hypocrites? It is that they lack self-awareness to the beams that are in their own eyes even as they continually try to take the specks out of the eyes of other people. To be sure, there are plenty of specks in eyes and it is very easy to pass judgment on them, but far too often those who are the most strident about taking the specks out of the eyes of others have the worst sorts of beams in their own eyes. This lack of self-awareness carries with it a lack of humility about the results of achieving one’s ambitions, for if they knew they had beams in their own eyes and that they would create a hell on earth by trying to bring about their utopian visions, they would not be so strident, so hypocritical, and such a menace to humanity.
It would appear that the best way to deal with the visionary politics of this age and of every age is to focus on removing the specks from our own eyes. By so doing we will put ourselves in the place where our example can serve as an inspiration to others without our needing to gain coercive power to enforce our standards on others, to make the rivers run red with the blood of our victims and to fill the prisons with those whose only offense is to speak sense that we could not handle because of our precious illusions. To the extent that we focused our attention on taking the specks out of our own eyes, we would be not only well-equipped to see what help others needed in performing this task for themselves, but we would also be greatly humble in recognizing the difficulty of removing the specks from any eyes, and thus more understanding and gracious with others. Given the fierce tenor of our political discourse and the lack of willingness that people have in judging themselves so that they would not be judged by others, that would be a great improvement that we are unlikely to see in our times.