When John Edward Dalberg, better known as Lord Acton, wrote in 1870 that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” he could have been referring to the response by our current administration to this country’s latest challenges–the double-barreled catastrophes of pandemic and protest.
The range of responses from the president down through the cabinet and Congress is guided by the compass of greed. Greed for power, greed for money, greed for authority over the national narrative. The president dismisses intelligence and professionalism and promotes an attitude of recklessness and authoritarianism. His Attorney General is acting as that–a strong-arm general doing his leader’s bidding. Senators are profiting from information gained through intelligence briefings. The Senate Majority Leader can’t be bothered with guiding an appropriate response to either catastrophe–he’s too busy stacking courts with conservative judges. Spreading divisiveness and mistrust appears to be the main directive to advance the GOP agenda.
Just when our country needs a leader who is steady and trustworthy, Trump emboldens the mob with daily tweets that are insulting and misleading. He whines, he lies, he boasts, he threatens and the Republican politicians line up to be first to defend him. In their attempt to normalize Trump’s narcissistic ego, they emulate his brash and cutting behavior when speaking about their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
We all knew who Trump was when he bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” Bragged. About shooting someone. Trump has never hidden his worst qualities as a cheater, liar and bully. Megalomania is his calling card. The only time Trump misrepresented himself was when he aligned with the Evangelicals. He holds up a Bible and they swoon. He feeds them anti-abortion judges for their vote.
So, ironically, Trump is not the problem; we knew him all along. It’s the people who are enabling him who need to be held accountable: Nearly the entire GOP and his so-called base. The problem is and always has been the Republicans in Congress who choose not to stand up to his brand of “governing.” They twist themselves into a narrow view of reality, or simply deny any knowledge of his latest offense.
To what end? What is it about power that corrupts a human being into believing he or she will not have to answer to consequences? This kind of power and the regimes that exploit it run their course until they–eventually–end. And when this regime ends, how will the Republican representatives who followed Trump’s compass find the way back to their constituents? Every single senator and congressperson represents people of both parties, not just Republicans.
(And just to be clear…and fair…the Democrats don’t have the market on goodness and purity. It’s just that now, in our current Republican-led administration, more Americans are being affected detrimentally than in an administration like, say, Obama’s. His legacy is in the executive orders he signed that protected women, immigrants, the economy and the environment, among others. Trump’s legacy is that he protected himself, other millionaires and corporations.)
It all feels a little biblical to me. Years of building power causing the calculated division of the people followed by a great pandemic bringing death and suffering which led to an uprising by the thousands in protest of injustice and racism. The divide is profound; the believers and non-believers. When the plague passes and the compass shifts, how will we go about the business of healing? After years of nastiness and racism? After years of mistrust and superiority. After a term (or more?) of hate and bullying on social media hiding behind a MAGA hat. How will Trump’s supporters deal with the winds of change?
Just as it is incumbent upon white America to take on the responsibility of healing Black America, the Republicans who enabled Trump will have no choice but to be a part of the reconstruction of the country, even as they helped tear it down. The division that rent this country in ways that feel unforgivable will have to be forgiven. The country is divided, but not geographically; our neighbors will still be our neighbors, our friends will (maybe) still be our friends. Our family will still be our family. We will all have to work together.
Some of that is already beginning to happen. Among the protests and shutdowns there is evidence of Americans working and marching together. Peace and love isn’t just a slogan from the sixties, but a mandate on how to move forward. We can see it as our nation begins to move cooperatively in a different direction. I’m not sure how much forgiveness I have in my heart, but I do know it’s the only way to do it. Just when you want to turn your back is the time to face forward. And the only way I know to do it is with love. If absolute power corrupts, then absolute love heals.