In the last two weeks, Americans have gone from wondering whether we were all going to die in World War III against North Korea to wondering if we’re going to die at the hands of roving bands of white nationalist redshirts with Timothy McVeigh dreams and Breitbart logins. Just two days ago, with people still in the hospital from the Charlottesville, Va., terror attacks, the president gave tacit consent for white nationalists to bring fire and fury across the nation.
America is in crisis. Makes me wish for the good ole days when America’s moral crises could be wrapped up in a blue dress and handled with a few million dollars’ worth of federal investigations. Those were simpler times. I miss those times, and we should celebrate them ... today.
On Monday, Aug. 17, 1998, 19 years ago, President Bill Clinton sat down in front of the American television audience and admitted that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and had lied about it earlier in the year. This was a big deal at the time—Lewinsky was not only a lowly White House intern but was also a kid, not much older than Bill and Hillary Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea.
After Bill Clinton’s admission, more details dribbled out about semen-stained clothes, sexually creative uses for cigars and White House sexual shenanigans that rivaled the sauciest episodes of Scandal. Nineteen years ago, sex in the White House was considered a crisis from which America might not recover. Republican senators came out in droves to condemn Clinton after his statement on the air, and to point out how his personal failings weakened and sullied the office of the presidency.
Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft said at the time, “I think we’ve witnessed the effective end of this presidency,” and “he’s lost his moral authority to lead.”
Months later, when Republicans banded together to impeach Clinton for lying about his affair with Lewinsky, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said the following:
The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the president’s moral authority. He undermined himself when he wagged his finger and lied to our people on national television, denying that relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. That did more damage to his credibility than any other single act. There was no better reason than that for the resignation of the president.
Pretty strong words, right? If senators were willing to take Clinton to task for admitting to an affair on television 19 years ago, surely Republicans would be equally disgusted when a president basically comes out as #TeamWhiteNationalist almost 19 years to the day later, right?
Of course not.
Yes, several members of the Senate will say that President Donald Trump’s words about Charlottesville were insufficient. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the lone African-American Republican in the Senate, might even say that Trump’s moral authority is merely “compromised.” However, unlike during the late 1990s, apparently nobody is willing to really do anything about him.
The GOP senators who were ready to burn Bill Clinton at the stake in August 1998 are strangely silent about Trump now. Grassley, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already said he won’t be holding hearings to investigate white nationalist groups operating in the U.S. I guess having white men roam America and indiscriminately attack after getting the thumbs-up from the president of the United States doesn’t constitute a moral crisis in our fancy, sophisticated 2017 political environment.
I miss those halcyon days of 1998 when almost nobody had cellphones, Girlfriends debuted, Bobby and Whitney were still married, and the only thing we had to worry about was a horndog president with no sexual impulse control messing up the upholstery. Sure beats buying water purifiers, candles and first-aid kits because you don’t know from one day to the next if we’re getting attacked, losing our health care or facing the apocalypse.
Maybe the stakes aren’t high enough for Washington, D.C., Republicans yet. They need something so shocking, such a violation of their moral standards and core, that they’ll realize what a threat to world security Donald Trump is. Any black, transgender women out there willing to go down on Trump and then put it on Snapchat? The GOP Senate’s collective heads would explode with moral outrage for once, and that just might be enough to save us all.