President Donald Trump’s second impeachment demonstrated not just how deep the divisions are in America, but how hermetically sealed those divisions are.
For those of us who are on one side of the divide, nothing can merit impeachment and a permanent ban from office more than encouraging a mob to storm one of democracy’s temples, the national capitol. If laying waste to the people’s house and sending the nation’s lawmakers to seek safety from rioters doesn’t call for the fullest measure of punishment, what does?
But the fact is that nearly 200 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives do not agree.
They voted against impeaching the president who incited the mob and refused to apologize for doing so.
The plain fact is that they just do not see events the same way other Americans do.
They can excuse the president, as they have so often before. They even can offer up rationalizations for the mob — for attacks that left five people dead, for the vehicles that arrived bearing pipe bombs and firearms, for the lists planning death or harm for elected officials.
Those excuses and rationalizations aren’t persuasive to most Americans.
But that may not matter.
A disturbingly large minority of our fellow citizens believe the president’s tall tales and outright lies. Nothing seems to shake their faith in Trump.
The enduring question is: why?
I hear from Trump supporters on a regular basis. They write or call to take issue with truths that often seem to me well-established, self-evident or easily verifiable.
They cite their own numbers and their own facts. They refuse to recognize the sources and the verification I provide and often refuse to provide the sourcing for their assertions.
When they do provide their sources and I run them down, I frequently find that these “facts” come from places that bounce back and forth in a kind of closed cycle. One source asserts the “fact,” another references it, then another and another and the sheer number of assertions becomes “proof.”
Breaking the cycle is impossible.
If I ask for independent verification of, say, their allegations that millions of votes in the presidential election miraculously either materialized or vanished, they just point back to one of the many sources in their closed cycle. When I point out, for example, that even some of the proponents of these outlandish conspiracy theories have backed away from them when threatened with legal action that demanded the production of actual evidence, the Trump faithful either fulminate about the “deep state” or call the people who have renounced their specious claims cowards and traitors.
Therein lies the problem.
The current fad now is to talk about the importance of “unity” — of coming together as a nation. It is one of the oldest American dreams.
This country is a product of the Enlightenment, the age of reason. Our founders’ faith resided in a belief that people of good will could arrive at just positions and equitable resolutions so long as they could sort through the facts and pursue the truth wherever that pursuit might take them.
That was how we would come together as a nation.
But our history has shown us that it is impossible for us to come together — to be united — if we cannot agree on the facts.
This is not a new phenomenon.
In the 1820s, 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, Americans from the North and the South offered and adhered to entirely different sets of facts. They could not find even small points of agreement on the events and forces that were tearing this country apart.
The result was a national cataclysm in the 1860s that became one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history.
Donald Trump now has become the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. It’s even possible he will be convicted.
For most Americans, that’s reason enough to toss him on eternity’s ash heap.
But for a lesser number who worship Trump, no punishment will shake their faith.
They live in their own universe, one that others cannot crack or understand but also one that is unlikely to go away any time soon.