Here's what our nation's legislators have been doing this week—they've been impeaching President Trump again!
Here is a story from British history. There was an English king, Charles the First, of the Stuart dynasty. Our schoolmasters told us that Charles was "cultured, autocratic, and unwise." He was so unwise, the nation fell into a civil war, which Charles lost. The victors chopped his head off in 1649.
For the following nine years Britain was a republic, though it preferred to be called a commonwealth. The head of this show was a chap named Oliver Cromwell, with the title Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Cromwell ran a sort of military dictatorship lite, deferring to Parliament in most things.
After Cromwell died from an illness in 1658 his son Richard became Lord Protector. Richard didn't have his father's abilities, though, nor the respect of power centers like the army, Parliament, and the churches. After a short spell of disorder the Brits pushed him out and brought back the monarchy in the person of Charles the Second, who had been living abroad in various European countries.
Charles the Second was personally charming, politically adroit, and determined never again to, as he said, "go on his travels." The public liked him, all the main power centers supported him, and Cromwellism went into a steep decline.
The new king ordered that all those involved in the overthrow and execution of his father Charles the First were to be tried and punished. That included Oliver Cromwell himself, who, please recall, had died two years before.
So … how d'you punish a guy who's been dead two years? No prob: you just dig up his corpse and hang him in public, for a show. That's what they did. Cromwell's corpse was dug up and hanged in chains. For good measure they chopped his head off and stuck it on a pole for all to see.
It all sounds dumb and spiteful; but if there is one thing the powerful like, it's a show—a show of their power, that is, most especially a show that humiliates a hated predecessor who now has no power at all.
In fact this has happened many times in many different countries. The website AmusingPlanet.com lists four famous cases, including one Pope: Formosus, who died in A.D. 896. Formosus actually got a formal trial, his corpse propped up on a throne in the courtroom, dressed in papal robes. I hope they had good ventilation in that courtroom.
The papacy has seen more dignified moments. Oh, the verdict? Guilty!
All this came to mind with this second impeachment of Trump. It's true that Trump is still among the living, and long may he remain so. In fact he is still President.
However, the impeachers are making the same point that the people who dug up Cromwell and Formosus were making: "We are in power now. The one who came before us is gone, and won't come back. He has no power any more, and we can do as we please with him. Nyah nyah!"
Vindictive? Definitely. Spiteful? Of course. Lacking any politically-constructive purpose? For sure. There is useful work our legislators need to do. They prefer to put on this show.
This is the sheer vanity of power, open and unashamed.