How a President Can Successfully Ignore Impeachment
The 45th President of the United Staes has officially been impeached.
A historical happening. No less than a monumental occurrence in our young nation’s long history. Yet something feels off when the President and his entire party refuses to acknowledge the credibility of his own impeachment? And why is there a sneaking suspicion he’ll get away with it?
For all his talk of “impeachment lite,” it does feel like a less than somber occasion. What are the stakes when we can reasonably assume the outcomes?
How does a leader get half a country to disengage with counter-facts, and get otherwise rational people to dismiss serious assaults on the highest office in the land?
It Starts with a Story
According to Yuval Noah Harari’s book “A Brief History of Humankind,” human success is based on our ability for mass cooperation, predicated on our ability to believe in the stories we tell. He explains that:
“Any large-scale human cooperation — whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe — is rooted in common myths that exist only in peoples collective imagination.”
This is notable because “an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.” Human history — and almost everything we see around us— is a testimonial to the uniquely human ability to turn stories into tangible reality through sheer belief.
So what does any of this have to do with impeachment?
President Trump is proving Mr. Harari’s point in real-time. He is proving that under the right circumstances, a story can change the way we perceive reality.
The White House continues to attempt to downplay what is happening in Congress by telling transparent stories. But combine those stories with an unflappable base, emphatic news coverage, and the unwavering party support to cover him in the Senate, and those thin stories become substantial obstacles.
The recently impeached President asserts that he has done nothing wrong. He contends that the impeachment is a witch hunt and a hoax. The President has taken to emphasizing that this is “impeachment lite”, not feeling he’s being impeached at all. When the fact is, he was fully impeached by the House of Representatives.
If truth is fundamentally subjective then the facts of impeachment are up for interpretation. Truth becomes whatever the most people believe. The White House can tell any story they want, so long as enough people buy-in.
“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.”
Collective belief is a powerful force that can be used for both good and bad. When enough people believe something about their society — equality, justice for all, institutional discrimination, sexism — it becomes a reality through which people of that society coordinate efforts to continue strengthening that idea.
“Trade cannot exist without trust, and it is very difficult to trust strangers. The global trade network of today is based on our trust in such fictional entities as the dollar, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the totemic trademarks of corporations.”
— Yuval Noah Harari
Individuals have created extraordinary feats of history through common belief and cooperation on very large scales. This doesn’t, however, mean that ingrained beliefs are destined to last forever. Institutions change with the will of the collective. That is to say, figures of corrupt leadership are not above the will of the people. And changing their narrative starts with recognizing the stories they tell as fictions.
The power of belief and the subsequent cooperation of a country comes down to the individual choices each citizen makes. Here lies the danger in citizens accepting things as inevitable and not worth their effort. Whether it is politics or social injustice, nothing in society is so vital that is cannot be eventually changed when enough people believe in the change they want to see. To not voice concern over injustice is tacit support.