There is a scene in Peter Jackson's film "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" when Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions stand at the entrance to Mirkwood Forest, through which they must travel to reach their destination. Once lush, green and verdant, Mirkwood has become infested with evil. Bilbo hesitates to enter, saying, "This forest feels ... sick."
This country feels ... sick.
Even the briefest foray into social media, editorial commentary or what passes for "news" makes it abundantly clear: America is sick. She is sick because her people have been fed a steady diet of propaganda, political theater and lies. This has become so extreme and so widespread of late that it is literally infecting every aspect of American society and turning ordinary Americans against one another.
I wrote about this two weeks ago, and -- as difficult as that seems -- conditions have worsened considerably since.
We'll start with the most recent: What happened on Jan. 6 was not an "insurrection." There was no serious attempt to "overthrow" the United States government. Was there a riot? Yes. Was it deliberately disruptive of government business? Definitely. But an attempted coup? Ridiculous on its face.
We've seen plenty of riots in state capitols in recent years. Have these been called "insurrections" or attempts to overthrow state governments? No. To the contrary, they have been lauded as examples of "democracy in action," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Washington, D.C. -- including the Capitol itself -- has endured no small amount of violence in the past year and earlier (including massive unrest four years ago when Donald Trump was inaugurated). And the Capitol violence three weeks ago was caused by a small number relative to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who converged on Washington to make their voices heard peacefully.
But it has become necessary to call it an "insurrection" to justify the political theater taking place now.
First and foremost, of course, is the attempt by Democrats in Congress to impeach Trump for "inciting insurrection." Most people won't read the full text of Trump's speech that day. It was vintage Trump, confrontational and full of braggadocio, but in it, he explicitly told his supporters to "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard.
But no "insurrection" means no "incitement," and that would mean no impeachment.
The articles of impeachment are themselves a charade. As Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul stated on the Senate floor -- and to which 44 other Republican senators agreed -- the Constitution simply does not authorize Congress to take the action contemplated by an impeachment trial against a private citizen. Only a sitting president can be "removed," and Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that Chief Justice John Roberts will not preside over an impeachment trial in the Senate -- another blow to those who claim that such a "trial" on the House's single impeachment charge is legitimate. Finally, the 44 GOP senators who voted in favor of Paul's procedural motion prove that the 50 Democratic senators will not get the additional 17 Republicans they need for a two-thirds majority to convict.
So, the impeachment shtick isn't about removing a man who is already gone, and it isn't really about getting a conviction either. It's more -- and more extreme -- political theater. If that's not bad enough, the country is also struggling to recover from months of COVID lockdowns. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio described the impeachment charge as "stupid" and a waste of time.
And it gets much worse. The target of the "insurrection" propaganda campaign is not so much Donald Trump as it is the 74 million-plus people who voted for him.
Americans were stunned when Hillary Clinton referred to only half of Donald Trump's supporters as a "basket of deplorables" in 2016. But Trump had millions more supporters in 2020, and now all of them are being demonized by Democrats and their mouthpieces in the media as threats, as "seditionists" and "white supremacists" who need to be "deprogrammed," "reprogrammed," imprisoned in "reeducation camps" or subjected to "Nuremburg trials."
These are not isolated remarks by fringe elements; they are comments made by "mainstream" Democratic voices: Washington Post correspondent Eugene Robinson, media darling Katie Couric, MSNBC anchor Don Lemon, actor Jon Cryer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Comments on these articles and tweets -- made by non-famous, left-leaning Americans -- are even worse.
This is beyond political difference. It is a sickness.
Conservative commentators Dennis Prager and Tucker Carlson have warned that the reckless hyperbole risks spilling over into reality. Prager opined this week that a population deceived into thinking that a political candidate is a murderous dictator will turn a blind eye to, and even support, election fraud, which only benefits those inclined to commit it. Carlson took the left to task in his opening monologue last Tuesday evening for relentlessly smearing innocent Americans, like bullies baiting their victims to -- finally -- throw a punch. The point Carlson made, emphatically, is that eventually, even the most peaceable and law-abiding person will retaliate in the face of baseless accusations and unfair treatment, contributing to a destructive cycle that threatens the fabric of society.
The political and cultural elites in this country consider themselves uniquely qualified to lead. But true leaders behave in ways that demonstrate their concern for the health of the organizations and people under their charge. They do not exploit differences and foment discord for their own personal aggrandizement.
I'm not seeing much true leadership now.