Two words have begun to dominate discussions on American politics: urgency and imminence.
A handful of synonyms have also found their way into deliberations and musings about the actions of some of our elected leaders. You hear Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Richard Schiff, and an assortment of other figures in the federal government using similar words such as imperative, pressing, compelling, unavoidable, and inevitable. Democrat or Republican, a member of the legislative branch or the executive, variations of those words are frequently being used in interviews, press releases, and official statements.
Why? Partly because basic human psychology can be leveraged to create political - and even legal? - cover and justification for taking a certain action. Using those words, or others like them, to create the perception that options were severely limited when making a decision generates an odd variant of sympathy for the decision maker. It allows a person to claim as much helplessness as needed to avoid culpability for a choice, to mitigate consequences of an act, or both, but not appear so helpless as to be declared hapless.
Then, there is the convenience of the simultaneous generation and exploitation of fear. One line from a favorite movie of mine goes, "Make people afraid of it and tell them who to blame for it… that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections." That's always been true, and even in nondemocratic governments and societies fear is invoked to keep despots in power. It's another tested and time-honored manipulative device that appeals to our basest instincts, even if it has a more evolved and sophisticated veneer.
While I want to avoid the simplicity of "everyone does it" or, in political parlance, "both sides do it," it's true that few politicians can resist the urge to portray things as more urgent than they are. There is a disconnect between the understandable rapidity with which the impeachment process in the House of Representatives took place and the withholding of the articles that came out of the process from the Senate. It was obvious from the beginning that a fair trial in the Senate wasn't going to happen. Holding onto the articles to make that point - and, perhaps to make one attempt at changing that reality in the Senate - was reasonable. Holding them this long seems to undermine the claims of urgency made at the end of last year regarding impeachment.
The Trump administration has its own problems when it comes to "crying wolf" in trying to justify its actions and decisions. The most recent, pertinent, and likely most consequential example is the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani. There were explanations that were much more plausible than the one the American public, congressional leaders, and our allies have gotten. But perhaps out of habit, the justifications relied on emotion rather than reason. Thus far, no information is available to suggest that attacks on four embassies was imminent. No evidence has been provided that would buttress the assertion that, without action being taken, loss of life would take place.
There is no doubt Soleimani was a bad person. I have found no reason to regret he is gone, especially given that he had a connection to events that led to the killing of Americans. But when the explanation given about the decision to attack is a series of appeals to our fears, and declarations that we should simply "trust" that those fears are justified, I begin to have even more concerns about the decision-making process at the highest levels of our government.
Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.