As I write this, the most pressing issue in the republic is the president's crudely expressed opinion about the pregame posture of a few dozen men paid millions of dollars to play a (delightful) boys' game on a weekly basis. Whether certain professionals in the National Football League choose to stand or genuflect or perform an extreme jumping jacks cardio routine in the presence of a 5-by-8 piece of striped polyester, and the level of interest they display during tuneless renditions of a modified English drinking song, has become a matter of all-consuming public interest. Like every other stupid off-hand remark ever made by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., President Trump's call for NFL owners to "fire" players who refuse to stand for the national anthem has inspired an endless number of takes, counter-takes, faux-indignant pronouncements, insipid analyses, and, yes, an increase in the number of players not standing.
Outrage has become our national pastime. The only thing that could possibly make American political discourse in 2017 dumber would be if someone — an obscure Southern congressman, say — decided to insist that President Trump's comments about pro football were not only moronic and unnecessary but actual grounds for his impeachment.
To suggest that this intemperate, foul-mouthed, agenda-free moderate deserves formal censure and removal from office because he borrowed a typical boomer complaint about sports culture from the dowager empress of American liberalism would also be nothing short of sublime. It would amount to a kind of hyperdistillation of our cultural moment, in which every comment or proposal made by anyone anywhere is a gratuitous, hysterical, context-free response to something only infinitesimally less pompous or delusional that immediately preceded it. It would be an indictment of contemporary American democracy and, simultaneously, its zenith.
In that sense, we all owe Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) a debt of gratitude for making this a reality on Tuesday. Clad in — yes! — an American flag tie, Green stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and announced that next week he intends to "call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America" and force a vote on the question. After all, we are talking about "a level of indecency that is unbecoming the presidency." I mean really. Bad language, having dumb opinions about football. This is certainly not what America is about, and the idea that the president of the United States would engage in such behavior just beggars belief. It is so upsetting and so much worse than anything even he has done up to this point, including #actually-ing claims about the badness of white supremacist protesters following an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on American soil.
Green does not, of course, actually believe this any more than the president probably cares about the NFL. And that's the problem. None of our conversations actually have anything to do with the things they are ostensibly about. The preposterous sham-patriotism and fondness for our nation's intelligence community espoused by Democrats since the beginning of the investigation into Russian meddling in our election is nothing more than an all-in response to liberal hatred of Trump. The lunacy engendered by Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act have nothing to do with this Heritage Foundation-approved piece of legislation and everything to do with the fact that it has been a convenient bogeyman. White supremacists who attend "free speech" events do not have a generous, broad-minded attitude about what should be considered acceptable discourse; defenders of Planned Parenthood do not really believe that if the nation's largest provider of abortions were deprived of federal funding it would become impossible for women to receive mammograms. These examples could be multiplied infinitely.
Among other things, Green's plan is a great lead-in to our next presidential election, which I am sure readers are clamoring for as eagerly as this correspondent. When MSNBC's Chris Hayes asks whether Trump's plan in 2020 is "to run against antifa, Berkeley undergrads, and Colin Kaepernick," the answer is yes. What's more, it will almost certainly work. Whether inflaming the imaginations of right-leaning gerontocrats is a serious strategy that will serve the GOP's best interests in 2024 and beyond is irrelevant. No one, not even Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, cares less about the fortunes of the Republican Party beyond this presidency than Trump.
For anyone attempting to make sense of this state of affairs, the most tempting response is a kind of omnidirectional cynicism, a refusal to take anyone's words at face value. NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem are cynical millionaires throwing tantrums over nothing; sexagenarians who claim to be upset by the actions of the former are racist dog whistlers whose attachment to rectangular pieces of colored cloth is evidence of widespread mental illness. Perhaps there is truth to both of these interpretations, but I doubt that it is the whole story, especially in the former case.
Until we start talking about what we really feel no one will ever know.