What has genuinely surprised me about the political mood of the country since Trump was silenced on social media in the days after the insurrection, and even more since he left office altogether, is how quickly we seem to have rebounded into normalcy. Not that the rottenness Trump revealed has disappeared or been repaired. Far from it. Plenty of politicians and members of the mainstream media remain eager to continue practicing the deranged and sinister Dada politics that dominated the last few years. But without Trump gaslighting the nation day and night from the White House, the maelstrom has settled down somewhat, with a semblance of order returning to Washington and a sense of moral equilibrium beginning to return.
Now don’t get me wrong: The danger hasn’t passed. Trump was a symptom of a disease that goes far beyond him, even if he personally made things incalculably worse. The stress test of his presidency pushed American democracy to the brink. We have no way of knowing if we’ll continue to back away from the edge over the coming months and years, or end up rushing back to it with the next election or following a traumatic event we can’t begin to contemplate or predict.
What seems clear, however, is that a second impeachment trial that ends in acquittal for the former president — won in large part by his defenders successfully discrediting his accusers and explaining away the appalling gravity of his words and deeds following the 2020 election — will pull us back to the moral chaos of the Trump presidency once again. It would be a vivid, pernicious reminder that refusing to back down in the face of inconvenient facts and recalcitrant reality can be a plausible path to prevailing. That practicing politics as a form of absurd performance art yields dividends. That shamelessness pays.