An impeachment witness is now an ex-government employee after President Trump asserted his borderline tyrannical presidential powers to remove his political adversaries. 2020 has already been a year of political divisiveness that has been unparalleled in American history. However, the trend of polarization that ultimately led to Alexander Vindman’s removal from his office as Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council was in the process for more than three decades, snowballing closer to an irreparable divide in America.
Thousands of Americans tuned in to news broadcasts, Twitter updates and podcasts to follow President Trump’s impeachment hearing and trial. On Twitter, the president lambasted the “libs” and “Dems” as corrupt and called the trial a witch hunt. This rhetoric has been seen before during Newt Gingrich’s rise to congressional fame in 1979. His “combative rhetoric,” as coined by Levitsky and Ziblatt in New Republic, led to the Republican Party ostracizing the Democrats by painting them as the political, and sometimes moral, enemy of America.
Whenever a group, such as the Republicans, unite against a common enemy, the Democrats, that group may stop at nothing to protect their own and their leader, regardless of the actions of said leader. Levitsky and Ziblatt point out that Republicans could have turned on the president, destroying his chances of being nominated and becoming one of the most powerful men in the world. But they didn’t. They sat by as the divisiveness consumed them and caused them to look outward toward the fabricated enemy of the Democrats. The authors write that before the political fracture caused by Gingrich, politicians exercised an air of toleration for the other side, existing as disgruntled coworkers rather than mortal enemies.
This attitude of hatred toward the letter “D” by someone’s name was shown clearly during the impeachment process. It began in the House of Representatives, where Adam “Shifty” Schiff, as Trump called him, laid out the case for the president’s impeachment. As one of the House managers and the main driving force, second only to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, toward Trump’s impeachment, Schiff came under constant fire from Republican politicians and media, being called corrupt and even evil at times. The distrust strewn among Republicans by Gingrich was mirrored by Trump’s barrage of Tweets and buzz words that sought to discredit one of, if not the most, important democratic processes. As Trump publicly deteriorated the only true check against him, so did deteriorate the very framework of America’s democracy.
It’s important to note that the division isn’t one-sided. Democrats expressed control over democracy and its institutions whenever they neglected to consider the hearings of potential judicial nominees under President Bush. Although not as divisive as what the Republicans have done, it is still indicative of a divided America, preventing people from obtaining a position of power solely for part affiliation.
Following the impeachment hearing and inevitable acquittal, Trump did something that is unethical, if not illegal. He fired Vindman, who testified against him during the hearing. On top of that, he also called for Sen. Mitt Romney to be removed from the Republican Party for voting to convict the president. These two instances were received very well by Republican leadership, who supported the president’s borderline tyrannical call to remove his political adversaries. The main issue with this, however, isn’t necessarily his call and removal of Romney and Vindman, but rather the sentiment among his supporters that he could do no wrong. This mob mentality of supporting the president regardless of his actions, especially even against a former presidential candidate that was acting as the figurehead of the party, goes to show the dangerous path the Gingrich put American Republicans and our democracy on at the start of his career.
Veering from the political consequences of Gingrich’s smear campaign against the Democrats, the sentiment of Trump doing no wrong has caused some Republican Christians and other religious individuals to abandon their morals in favor of supporting a womanizer who kept company with individuals such as Jeffery Epstein. On his initial campaign trail in 2016, a video clip was released of Trump talking in a demeaning way toward women and dehumanizing them, as well as claiming borderline, if not on the line, sexual assault and infidelity. Some Christians at the time, who hated Barack Obama for what they said was “being Muslim,” did not see any problem with Trump’s disregard for Christian morals, with some televangelists claiming he was even the chosen one sent by God himself. This gross misrepresentation of what a president should stand for was supported by Christians because the president did not have a “D” next to his name.
In a time where polarization and mudslinging are at an all-time high and a blatant disregard for separating an individual from their political party, it is vital for everyone, regardless of their party, to hold individuals accountable for their actions. In November of this year, millions of Americans will head to the polls to vote. Most will vote along the party lines that they’ve voted on for generations, but some will see through the polarization and decide to select “D” instead of “R.” It is imperative that we stop the rhetoric against politicians for their political party and instead focus on their policies and their moral doctrines. American must hold Donald Trump accountable for his actions and blatant disregard for democratic principles and not succumb to Gingrich’s divisive mentality.