When things fall apart: The impeachment of politics

The impeachment trial provides a useful graphic shared example from which to learn about all conflict. The principles apply to conflict regardless of the scale.

Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi watch as President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on February 4, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi watch as President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on February 4, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When viewed from a worldview that values shalom (peace) above all other considerations, US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial shows up in an entirely new light. It invites us to reconsider the nature and integrity of an entire socio-political and justice milieu.
To examine more deeply the values of a culture that could birth and nurture such a fiasco, to understand more deeply from a spiritual perspective the forces causing the saga to escalate into the spectacle the world is currently being forcibly enrolled into following by the frenzied obsessed media.
The US Senate voted 52-48 on February 5 to acquit Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress to advance his reelection.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks with reporters following President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial in Washington on February 3, 2020
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks with reporters following President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial in Washington on February 3, 2020
It seems obvious that a significant proportion of what has taken place was driven by personalities, self-interest and partisan agendas. Many of the main players seemed not to have been bothered to even feign objectivity. Nor did they appear to have made even an insincere attempt to conceal their relish, malice and passion for achieving their desired outcome. Conspicuous by its absence was any genuine concern for truth and service of the greater good. It reminds one of the words of W. B. Yeats:
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
One is led to question whether anybody involved was paying earnest enough attention to the inevitable damage that will result from how the process is being managed. Conflict inevitably has a corrosive effect on lives and relationships.
Nobody can win in a conflict of this nature. The very way this trail was conducted will leave lasting damage to people’s trust, confidence in and respect for the entire legislative and political system. Regardless of the outcome, the inevitable fallout will be lasting residues of hurt, cynicism, embarrassment, mistrust and a sense of loss over the futility and waste of potential that was squandered. This unfortunate spectacle is emblematic of and serves to bring into sharp focus the dynamics and consequences of divisiveness and conflict. Understanding the nature of conflict can serve to sharpen and deepen one’s appreciation for the nature and value of shalom.
The eighth Mishna in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot teaches that when two litigants appear in front of a court, they should both be considered to be wicked. When they leave after each accepting the judgment, they are both considered as being righteous.
This seems odd – why would the innocent person be considered guilty until proved otherwise? Although one can understand on a superficial reading that this is about judges not having any prejudice or presumptions before actually hearing the party’s respective testimonies, the deeper answer is that conflict is intrinsically destructive. Shalom is built on justice and truth.
Where there is confusion, uncertainty and doubt there can be no truth and therefore no shalom. To be involved in conflict, therefore, automatically attaches one to evil regardless of whether you are the innocent or the offending party
It seems equally irrational that the party who was proved to be in the wrong be considered righteous after accepting the decision of the court. The answer to that dilemma is that by accepting the judgment, the parties are legitimating both the court and its finding. In so doing they are realigning themselves with truth, justice and therefore with shalom.
To appreciate the true depth and profundity of this principle, one needs to understand why the concept that shalom is the highest value in life. Hashem, we are told, is the God of shalom. Shalom is an even more encompassing value than justice because it depends for its existence on the establishment of justice. Shalom means harmony and cooperation. In order to have harmony and cooperation in a family or society there needs to be unity, cohesion and trust.
Shalom embodies a vision of perfection and peace. Shalom is the container of bracha or blessing, which can be translated as abundance, prosperity, advancement, increase and expansion. With shalom there is order, productivity, growth and ultimately therefore – life. The goodness that flows from shalom can only exist and thrive if there is coherence and wholeness in the system. Through shalom one is able to actualize latent potential by harnessing resources and through collaboration maximize their deployment. Without shalom there are the opposite qualities and decline, disintegration, chaos, decay and ultimately death prevail.
The moment the integrity of a system is compromised, or a boundary breached, whether from the most subtle corrosion or a traumatic rupture, the force of entropy is unleashed. That first moment of breakage in the wholeness is the beginning of, if left unchecked, the breakdown that devolves into chaos.
For example, consider the potential damage that can flow from a first utterance of gossip or casting aspersions on someone or impugning their reputation. It does not even have to be written or verbal. It can be done through a wink or the roll of an eye.  That inaugurates a process where through each new listener adding their piece and through consensual agreement, a new oftentimes distorted reality is spawned.
This can have disastrous consequences for people’s lives. The fraying or pulling of a thread is the beginning of the disintegration of a fabric – the first hairline crack in a foundation under strain; the first break in the skin that leads to sepsis; the first look or flirtatious suggestion that leads to an indiscretion that leads to a divorce that destroys multiple relationships and hurts lives. The examples are endless. With awareness and thought the relevance of this principle at every level of existence can readily be discerned. Such contemplation will bring one to an appreciation of why shalom is the highest value in life.
The real damage of conflict is incalculable. The impeachment trial provides a useful graphic shared example from which to learn about all conflict. The principles apply to conflict regardless of the scale. It spans the inner conflicts of the individual, to couples and families to the global socio-political arena. There is no limit of how long the fallout can continue in time and no limit to the reach of the damaging effects.
A brief superficial accounting of the damage caused by division is eye-opening. At the macro-level, this process is casting doubt on the credibility and dignity of the office of the president and highest offices in the country. This makes people disillusioned and weakens their trust in public office and authority. The value of and respect for authority in the eyes of those who witness is being compromised.
Respect for authority is one of the key elements that underpin order and cohesion in society. There is also the destruction of individual and family reputations. This debacle is like a soap opera being flighted around the world. Stories abound of conflict being caused in families and friendship circles who like sport supporters get carried away by loyalty and feel personally affected by the performance of their preferred party.
As one assesses the costs, it becomes clear that precious resources of time, money and intellectual and emotional energy are being invested in a process that will lead to damage rather than anything constructive. One can only try to imagine the stress, strain and draining of resources on an individual and national level. One can only imagine the potential benefit if all those resources could be pooled and harnessed to be invested in constructive service of good and deserving causes.  This is especially so for people who are spending time debating the issues when they have no influence or control over the process or its outcome, magnifying the futility of disputation for its own sake.
People may argue that the impeachment trial is about justice and therefore in service of shalom. A dispute can only lead to shalom if it is resolved ethically and with sincere motives. In practice pure motives would be demonstrated through behaving with impartiality and dispassion. The impeccability of their conduct would show that they are sincerely committed to truth rather being driven by self-interest. It is obvious that whatever the outcome is of the impeachment trial it will not be accepted by the people who did not get their own way. Their predictable display of contempt for justice and the process when it does not deliver what they wanted will reveal their true motivation.
Shalom is a harmonizing force and is therefore synonymous with love. Love encompasses qualities like compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit. It is engaging the world beyond the self to take cognizance of and invest one’s goodness for the benefit of others. For shalom to prevail people have to extend themselves to make space for the needs, feelings, sensitivities, failings and entitlements of the other.
When shalom prevails, people coordinate and share their resources with goodwill and trust in the service of the common good. Shalom therefore builds the world. It comes about through ethics and morality. When each person understands and lives by their roles, responsibilities and true entitlements in life, peace and harmony prevail in a society. This is what the rabbis mean when they say that Torah was given for shalom.
This explains why people who are very knowledgeable in Torah foster peace in the world. In a world of shalom, the best interests of the couple, family, community, society, country and ultimately whole world take precedence over the interests of the individual or parochial interests.
The writer is a South African-based clinical psychologist, who is sought after internationally as an organizational development consultant, expert witness, speaker, writer, radio and television personality