When John Keats said autumn is the season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness,” he did not anticipate this American autumn. It resembles the gorier Shakespearean plays in which swords are brandished, people are poisoned and stabbed, almost everyone behaves badly and those who do not are thinking: Things cannot continue like this. Actually, they probably will because this is the first law of contemporary politics: There is no such thing as rock bottom.
On Monday, some hysterics in hot pursuit of the often heralded but never reached “constitutional crisis” galloped off on the basis of rumors about speculations concerning hypotheses, all because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to the White House, perhaps to be fired. He was not.
Today, however, Rosenstein is expected to speak with the president, presumably because of last week’s report that in May 2017, Rosenstein spoke, in the presence of other senior Justice Department officials, about possibly wearing a wire to surreptitiously record the president, presumably to facilitate invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him. Well. It is fanciful to believe that senior Justice officials — all veteran lawyers, none political naifs — seriously contemplated resorting to the amendment in order to overturn a presidential election because the winner is, as he already had made abundantly clear to voters, dreadful.
The amendment requires the vice president and a majority of the president’s Cabinet to notify Congress that they consider the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Were the turmoil in the Justice Department , which is headed by the precariously placed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, exacerbated by the firing of Rosenstein, this would provide yet another occasion, this one fewer than 41 days before 435 House and 35 Senate elections, for congressional Republicans to remind voters of the purity of their fealty to the president.
In today’s hyperventilating Washington, sifting evidence and weighing probabilities are considered damning evidence that the sifters and weighers are guilty of allowing reasoning to temper their ideological reflexes and inhibit their tribal loyalties.
Which brings us to today’s main event, the Senate committee hearing where two Democratic truth-seekers have already demonstrated a Trumpian zest for paltering with the truth. New Jersey’s Cory Booker pretended to be courting martyrdom by making public some documents that were already in the public domain. And California’s Kamala Harris issued a video of a portion of Kavanaugh’s testimony that was doctored to imply that he opposes “birth control.”
But the fact that senators and others holding constitutional offices are behaving in ways unworthy of their offices does not constitute a “constitutional crisis.” That carelessly bandied phrase properly denotes an occasion when the institutions and procedures created by the document ratified in 1788 cannot cope with powerful political and social forces.
In 230 years, we have had only one such crisis: the Civil War. Watergate was a vindication of, not a crisis of, the Constitution. Mystified Americans surely know that their supposedly representative government does not now represent the nation’s much lower emotional metabolism. Most Americans resemble the character in the movie “About Last Night,” based on a David Mamet play, who when asked if he had noticed that Western civilization is collapsing, replied, “I live in a pretty good neighborhood.”
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is [email protected]