In 1959, a young screenwriter named Rod Serling created what would become one of the 20th Century’s most iconic television series. “The Twilight Zone” has become so much a part of our culture that contemporary dictionaries include the term “twilight zone” as a defined noun, meaning “an area just beyond ordinary legal and ethical limits.”
Considering recent cultural changes, America’s political system quite easily can fit within that very definition, insofar as “ordinary legal and ethical limits” seem no longer to apply.
In one of the most recent examples of this phenomenon, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy, declared something that historically, ethically, and legally would in the past have been considered laughable — erasing official actions taken previously by the Congress of the United States.
More specifically, McCarthy last week publicly endorsed legislation that purports to remove from the official record of the House of Representatives the 2019 and 2021 impeachments of former President Donald Trump; expunging the record of those proceedings as if they never took place.
A move such as McCarthy now supports would be in keeping with actions by Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell’s prescient 1984. Smith’s job in that dystopian world was to cleanse history by erasing news accounts of disfavored past events or people.
As an institution, the House of Representatives was deemed so important by the drafters of our Constitution, that its description in that document precedes that of all the other components of the federal government. To now have members of that body acting as modern-day Winston Smiths is disconcerting in the extreme, even if the measures fail to win majority votes.
The first bill, introduced on June 12th by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), would expunge Trump’s 2019 impeachment, “as if such Articles [of impeachment] had never passed the full House of Representatives.” Ten days later, Greene’s fellow Republican, Elise Stefanik of New York, introduced a Resolution with the similar goal of expunging the 2021 impeachment of Trump, “as if such Article had never passed the full House of Representatives.”
These resolutions are not the first time a Republican House member has introduced a measure to expunge articles on which Trump was impeached, and it remains unclear if either of these latest measures will make it to the House floor for a vote.
Notwithstanding that there are serious legal and practical questions what effect passage by the House of such a measure would have, securing the official imprimatur of the Speaker illustrates just how untethered our nation has drifted from the time-honored principles of sound and responsible governance that until recently directed how our representative democracy was designed to work.
Sadly, McCarthy’s endorsement of the expungement measures is not an outlier.
In a move straight out of what might have been an episode of The Twilight Zone, for example, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was applauded wildly by his Democrat colleagues immediately following his censure by that body. Censure is a serious and rarely invoked step taken by the House to punish serious wrongdoing by one of its members. In today’s hyper partisan, Bizarro-world political climate, however, censure becomes not a disgrace, but serves rather to bolster a congressman’s chances of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Recently also here in America, where our very first President was the universally revered George Washington, we have a former and future hopeful president declaring that being indicted for violating federal criminal laws is a “badge of courage,” with nary a hint of the disgrace with which such a measure was viewed previously.
Then there is George Santos, the Republican Congressman who slipped into the 118th Congress on a resume founded on little more than well-documented falsehoods and embellishments. Despite now facing federal criminal charges, including some that relate directly to his election, Santos is permitted by the House GOP majority to continue representing the people of New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
Some of the circumstances surrounding incidents such as these certainly can be charged to partisan politics. However, applauding and mischaracterizing such behavior, even pretending some never occurred, is a sign of serious, perhaps even fatal, dysfunction in a system designed to work only if practiced ethically and professionally, and with a degree of deference that appears completely absent from today’s political environment.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.