“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (The Golden Rule”).
Have you ever considered applying this universal adage to Washington, D.C., politics? The quote could apply to both Democrats and Republicans, since neither really considers its implications in their worlds.
The issue that brought this adage to mind occurred when President Donald Trump made a phone call to the Ukrainian president, asking him to investigate leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The president acknowledged he had made this request of Ukranian President Zelensky. Later, doubling down, he stated that he had also requested investigations of the Bidens from the Chinese, the Australian, the Italian, and the British governments.
It’s obvious that Trump does not think to apply, or he does not care about, the Golden Rule as it applies to politics. His focus seems to be on using every lever of power available to him to win re-election in 2020. In one sense, Trump seems to have become a globalist rather than a nationalist because he has tried to draw other countries, both friend and foe, into our 2020 election cycle.
The problem with this approach, other than that it may cause the president to be impeached and potentially removed from office, is that what one party does to the opposing party, down the road that opposing party may do to them. Ignoring the Golden Rule can cause a death spiral between the parties that will get worse and worse as counterattack follows attack.
If we look at the nation’s first impeachment – President Andrew Johnson in 1867 – the charge was that the Democrat Johnson had tried to fire his own cabinet secretary. This was against a law that a radical Republican Congress had passed. He avoided being removed from office by one vote.
The next impeachment investigation occurred in 1974, 107 years later, against President Richard Nixon. The charge against him was related to the Watergate break-in. By 1974, Nixon had been accused of a criminal cover-up by hiding the connection between the break-in of the Democratic headquarters in the Washington, D.C., Watergate Apartments and the White House.
An impeachment investigation had begun and Nixon, fearing he would be convicted, resigned.
The next impeachment trial occurred in 1998 when Democratic President Bill Clinton was found guilty of lying under oath about his sexual encounter with Monica Lewinsky. He was impeached but not found guilty by two-thirds of the Senate.
The times between impeachment attempts are getting shorter and shorter. The Republicans started the cycle in 1867, followed by the Democrats in 1974, followed by Republicans impeaching Clinton, and now Democrats are moving toward impeachment of Trump. When will the next impeachment process begin? It’s almost guaranteed to be a shorter span.
Using this line of thinking, one could argue that the seven Republican congressional investigations of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton convinced a lot of conservative voters that she was guilty of wrongdoing regarding the Benghazi attack. I’ve talked to a few Republicans, including my 94-year-old aunt, who brought this up as a reason why she voted for Trump rather than Clinton. It didn’t seem to matter that none of the investigations found her guilty of any wrongdoing. The taint remains, though, even to this day.
The attack on the Bidens will be remembered by Trump supporters down the road, too. It doesn’t matter that there is no basis and no proof for the accusations. The Bidens have had their integrity and character questioned. Those questions about them will continue.
We humans are emotional. Most of us make decisions about hot button issues viscerally rather than logically. Reason rarely plays a part. As this already acrimonious election season moves to its culmination in November 2020, expect those who are running for office to ignore the Golden Rule in their battle to win.
With the exception of George Washington’s two opponent-free elections at the inception of this nation, this is how American politics is done. The only difference is that the current race to win the 2020 presidential election began in January 2017.
Politics is a nasty business that leaves a bad taste in our mouths. As I ask my civics and government students each quarter, “What makes good government?” The answer does not lie in ignoring the Golden Rule.