First, he said of women, “Grab ‘em by the p—.”

And, nothing. No real consequences for the Access Hollywood recording released two days before the second 2016 presidential debate. Donald Trump became the 45th president anyway.

Then, in 2017, there were “very fine people on both sides” after the clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

And still, nothing.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
John Bazemore / AP
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

And now, Trump is captured in a stunning, one-hour recorded call, ham-handedly trying to extort Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into re-re-re calculating the votes for an election he seems to keep losing. Georgia counted its votes three times before certifying Biden’s win by a 11,779-vote margin.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes… ,” Trump pathetically and pathologically pleads.

Will there be nothing, again?

That’s not to say regular citizens aren’t expressing outrage. And, like clockwork, there’s the disapproval from the usual political corners that finally include a handful of Republican politicians who have dusted off their spines to belatedly acknowledge Trump’s latest attack on American democracy.

Reminder: Delayed courage, when it risks little, is no better than no courage at all.

But mostly we’re leaning hard into our human nature to move past the discomfort (aka the raging dumpster fire) as fast as we can.

Flames? What flames?

When asked by reporters during a House Democratic news conference if the House should impeach Trump over the Georgia call, New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (who served as an impeachment manager during Donald Trump’s Senate trial) said:

“We’re not looking backward, we’re looking forward. …”

In case anyone wondered how bad people are allowed to keep behaving badly, this kind of sentiment offers a clue.

It’s understandable — almost. As Trump busies himself wreaking as much chaos and corruption as he can in his final days in office, thousands of Americans are losing their jobs, their homes, and their lives.

More than 350,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States has averaged 2,637 coronavirus deaths every day over the last week: one death every 33 seconds with zero leadership from the White House. (It’s mind-boggling that Trump is trying so hard to stay in a job he shows so little interest in actually doing.)

It has been a horrifying and exhausting four years, the last one having brought us to the brink. How else to explain how much pressure we’ve already put on ourselves to make 2021 the year our broken world magically resets and rights itself?

If only.

If only we keep our eyes on what’s really important. If only, to quote Michelle Obama’s famous catchphrase, we go high when they go low — because that’s what I think of anytime anyone says they’re choosing to “move on” or “move forward” or “keep it moving.”

Former first lady Michelle Obama addresses the virtual Democratic National Convention in August.
DNCC / MCT
Former first lady Michelle Obama addresses the virtual Democratic National Convention in August.

It’s a nice sentiment, if a little righteous. And like many other famous phrases, I’m not sure we always understand the original meaning.

In a 2018 interview with the New York Times while promoting her memoir, Becoming, she explained:

“‘Going high’ doesn’t mean you don’t feel the hurt, or you’re not entitled to an emotion,” she explained. “It means that your response has to reflect the solution.”

And here’s the thing: Not holding people, politicians, and presidents accountable is not a solution. If anything, it all but guarantees the bad behavior will not just continue, it will get worse.

Because, hey, what does the president, or those who have been closely watching and emulating what he’s been up to, have to lose?

Consider that at least 140 House Republicans and 12 Senate Republicans have indicated that they plan to vote against certifying Biden’s Electoral College win. In Illinois, Republican Jim Oberweis is seeking to overturn his Democratic rival’s election after she was sworn in to her second term. In a statement, he said “numerous irregularities were found” in the discovery recount, which, he said, warranted the wholesale rejection of tens of thousands of legally cast ballots.

Sound familiar? The seeds of sedition have been sown, and no high road will fix that. Closer to home in Harrisburg on Tuesday, GOP senators removed Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from running the first day of the new session and refused to seat a Democratic senator whose victory was certified by state officials.

In her keynote address to the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama turned again to her catchphrase while critiquing Trump.

“Let’s be clear: Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty,” she said. “Going high means taking the harder path.”

And make no mistake. Holding people accountable, even when it feels as if it might be personally and professionally easier to move on, when others would rather you did, when you’re hoping and praying there is light on the other side — if you can just get to other side — is the harder path.

Harder still with the politicization of accountability. Imagine if we held everyone, regardless of where they landed politically, equally accountable?

But it is the only true path to restoring the legitimacy and decency of our tattered democracy.