Lately I’ve been thinking about impeachment — and soccer cleats.
The former for obvious reasons. The latter, because of one of my most memorable domestic relations mediations in recent years. The parents were long divorced and had been back to court many times. Now, Dad was refusing to buy soccer cleats for the boys, and Mom had filed a motion to hold him in contempt of court, arguing that he was in violation of their agreement. It takes months to drag such cases through all the steps required to get in front of a judge, and mediation is one of the stations of the cross. The cost of the filing fees plus the cost of mediation was over $500 — well over the cost of the cleats themselves.
As mediator, I began by talking to Dad separately, to ask if what they were doing made any sense. He shook his head. “None of this makes any sense. I’m so ashamed that we are even here!”
I said I was glad to hear that, and suggested we could get it resolved then and there. “Oh no!” he responded. “That wouldn’t be right. You don’t understand how she is! She will just fight and fight forever over nothing. She will never let me alone. She lives to make my life hell.”
I then spoke with Mom, fully expecting to hear the same words — “how he is.” I gave her my standard advice about how law is really lousy at changing people. I gently suggested that it might not be a good choice to take up the judge’s time arguing about your kids’ soccer cleats. That perhaps the judge may condemn you both for the wreck your co-parenting relationship has become, and decide your main reason for bringing the case to court is to blame each other for how awful things are between you.
She was unmoved. “It’s not about who he is — it’s about our relationship,” she replied. “I’m simply standing up for the rules. Once we had a relationship based on love, which failed. Then we had a relationship based on trust, which failed too. Now we have a relationship based on rules. We spent money on lawyers and courts to design it. If we don’t take care of it by making sure the rules are enforced, then we won’t have a relationship at all. I don’t care if it’s about soccer cleats. In fact, I’m glad we’re not fighting over something more serious, something more damaging to the kids. He can either decide to respect the rules, or we can go to court.”
Law is the bone of a relationship, after all the skin, flesh, muscle, and even vital organs have been flayed away. When amicable couples negotiate their parenting plans in mediation, and I ask them to consider some dire what-if, they often ask me why we’re going through the exercise. I answer: when you’re getting along, you’ll never even look at this document. But when you’re really fighting, you’ll pore over every word, because it’s the only thing you feel you have left.
That’s where we are with our politics. Our president didn’t invent the party wars we now wage. But he fights them more viciously than we’ve ever seen before. His entire consciousness fixes on boundaries. Those that favor him he fortifies; those against him he attacks. That’s why he has no real allies — only vassals inside his walls and enemies without.
So it is inevitable that we should arrive with our backs against the Constitution. The Ukraine affair is by no means the political equivalent of soccer cleats. But impeachment is more about defending this final spine of relationship than it is about defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity or Hunter Biden’s (cough) business ethics. A brittle document under low-light glass, as seemingly decorative as a seawall planted with annuals where one might picnic on a summer afternoon, blasted to bare concrete in a hurricane. Even if a really bad storm might overtop it — and even when impeachment inevitably fails in the Senate — it’s not an argument for letting the wall collapse. Because if we do, our relationship is nothing except battering waves and sand.