The gap between the two parties was never more evident than in the floor speeches Wednesday night on the articles of impeachment. The parties operate not only in different ideological universes but also on entirely different intellectual levels.

In the best speeches of their respective careers, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) spoke with dignity, precision and quiet confidence. Their speeches incorporated facts into logical arguments, interwove historical references and were peppered with sardonic humor.

Hoyer’s most stinging admonitions were reserved for his Republican colleagues:

These votes we are about to take — and the process that will follow in the Senate — are not only an assessment of the president’s commitment to the Constitution or to his oath of office. It is, as well, a test of our own. Damning evidence of the president’s high crimes has emerged. Nevertheless, Republican members of this House and of the Senate have continued to defend a president whose actions and statements are indefensible.
All of us feel a sense of loyalty to party. It’s what makes our two-party system function. It’s what helps hold presidents and majorities accountable. But party loyalty must have its limits. And as evidence of the president’s impeachable offenses has mounted, it has become increasingly clear that the limits of partisanship have been reached and passed.

Hoyer’s words were cutting, but his demeanor was calm as he spoke more in sadness than in anger. He somberly recounted brave Republicans of the past, such as Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) — who stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) — and Rep. Lawrence Hogan Sr. (R-Md.) — who voted for articles of impeachment against Richard M. Nixon. “When [Hogan] died in 2017, every obituary led with praise for his great act of political courage,” Hoyer said. “Who among us, many years from now, will receive such praise as a man or woman of courage? Who will regret not having earned it?”

After praising Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) for chastising his former party and voting for impeachment, Hoyer intoned, “We need not ask who will be the first to show courage by standing up to President Trump. The question we must now ask is: Who will be the last to find it?” He wrapped up with a plea:

I urge my colleagues in the House and in the Senate: Look into your soul. Summon the courage to vote for our Constitution and our democracy. To do less betrays our oath and that of our Founders, who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Let us neither turn away from the evidence, which is so clear, nor from our good conscience, which compels us to do what in our hearts we know to be right. Let us not allow the rule of law to end or for tyranny to find its toehold.
The House impeached Trump, but it was a victory for alternative facts, Russian disinformation and Fox News, says columnist Dana Milbank. (The Washington Post)

In a different but equally eloquent style, Schiff cajoled members to look at the facts, which most Republicans barely bothered to dispute. Turning to Republicans, he asked: “Why should we care about what the president did to Ukraine? We used to care about democracy. We used to care about our allies. We used to stand up to [Vladimir] Putin and Russia.” He added, “I know the party of Ronald Reagan used to.”

Schiff admonished them to think about a Democratic president who might someday violate his oath: "There will be another president, and you may one day — although you do not act like it — you may one day be in the majority ... What will you say? What will you argue?”

Schiff concluded with a passionate but controlled accounting of special envoy Kurt Volker’s meeting with Ukrainian defense official Andriy Yermak, in which Volker urged the newly elected president not to prosecute his predecessor for political reasons. Yermak shot back, “Oh, you mean like you want us to do with the Bidens and the Clintons.” Here was a struggling democracy calling us to task for ignoring the rule of law and forgetting our own Constitution, Schiff explained. He implored his colleagues: “What is at risk here is the very idea of America.”

Such speeches were miles from Republicans’ juvenile, screeching and irrational remarks. Republicans insulted and ridiculed their opponents, stomped and snorted; they deflected and twisted evidence. They glared, rolled their eyes, booed and (in the case of the minority whip) melodramatically tore up papers. All in all, it was a remarkable display of how far the party’s collective intellect has deteriorated. Today’s Republicans talk and act like thugs, trash the institution in which they serve and make no effort to engage on a rational basis with their opponents.

How did it come to this? Well, stewing in the nonsensical arguments and conspiracy theories gushing from Fox News, proudly adopting know-nothingism (e.g. climate change denial) and repudiating legitimate journalism and scholarly expertise come with a price. The mind atrophies; the ability to discern what is absurd from what is persuasive falters. Never encountering those who refuse to adopt your alternate reality means never having to exercise one’s powers of analysis or learning anything beyond what Fox News hosts spoon-feed them.

Certainly, part of their conduct is an act, as Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), educated at Oxford, demonstrates when he puts on the mask and adopts the twang of a yokel. Part of the Republican routine also is an effort to conform to Trump’s non-reality and never stray from his intellectual wasteland. But frankly, the Republican Party that amplifies voters’ confusion and sense of victimhood is not a magnet for rocket scientists, witty conversationalists or creative thinkers.

In short, the divide is vast and still widening between the parties. One appeals to college-educated voters who consume factual information and develop emotional intelligence as they navigate through diverse workplaces and school settings. The other party appeals to non-college-educated voters who claim the bully president as their own and consume hours upon hours of right-wing media, which panders to ignorance and prejudice, not to mention to amoral profiteers who have figured out how to monetize the right-wing nuttery. (More cynical operators trade on the supposed “authenticity” of those they would claim to be “real Americans” in exchange for judges and robber-baron economics.) Republican politicians and their base not only ape Trump’s views but also imitate his unhinged demeanor, cruelty and preference for conspiracy theories.

When you compare the parties’ representatives side by side, one is struck not only by the remarkable lack of diversity on the Republican side but also by their obnoxious and thick-headed remarks blasted at full volume. There is no other way to say it: The Republican Party is an embarrassment.

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