How in the world did we get here?

How in the world did we get here?
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Historians will write about this day, when the House of Representatives voted for just the third time in history to impeach a president. But history does not simply explode, it unfolds. The Dark Ages did not just happen, the Renaissance Era did not just dawn, and the Industrial Revolution did not just spark. Defining moments in history do not occur spontaneously. Their foundations are laid by disparate actors, crises, and movements.

When future generations look back at the state of our world, with the impeachment of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE in America and the sweeping victory of Boris Johnson in Britain, these events will most likely not appear sudden or surprising. They will instead be understood as a public response to frightening trends like global terrorism and financial inequality, a public response that will, over time, be accepted or rejected by the citizenry.

TheĀ  impeachment vote today was triggered by two distant events that occurred on September 11, 2001 and September 15, 2008 that forever changed the world. The fall of the Twin Towers robbed America of its sense of security, as two oceans no longer protected us from dangers abroad. An anxious public was fertile ground for sensational journalism, and media outlets like Fox News capitalized on this. The cable networks made it seem like beheadings and Ebola would soon reach our shores.

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The overwhelming fear stoked by politicians and reporting driven by ratings led us to a dangerous cycle of bungled foreign policy, sustained global terrorism, and xenophobia. Our catastrophic decision to plunge into the war in Iraq, propelled by anxiety and bad information, prolonged and complicated the war in Afghanistan. Mismanagement helped create the Islamic State, which fueled a refugee crisis that flooded Europe. The refugee crisis was met with alarm, and that alarm was translated into a sense of nationalism by European leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary and Nigel Farage in Britain. A startling sequence was activated, in which many leaders encouraged the worse public impulses for political gain.

Meanwhile, the 2008 recession triggered by the fall of Lehman Brothers rattled our financial security. This radical economic change left working people with perpetual anxiety. Globalization, automation, and migration rapidly altered the job market. People woke up to neighborhoods whose landscapes transformed overnight, with fewer brick and mortar retailers, bookstores, and supermarkets. Suddenly people were told not to take a taxi, but order an Uber. At the same time, mechanisms to regulate our economy had failed us. Unchecked greed proved less than good. The middle class, the great stabilizing force in United States history, shrank and shriveled. This again created a panicked public eager for change.

In 2016, escalating frustration and fear mongering won the presidential election. Candidate Trump took advantage and used exaggeration to link Hillary Clinton to the wealthy elite, accusing her of rigging the economy against the working class, while falsely portraying himself as an outsider and a foil to the big banks. Trump spewed flagrantly racist language to blame immigrants for upheaval in the job market and fueled fears about domestic terrorism. A Democratic Party propelled by rationalism and five point proposals fell out of sync with an electorate moved by gut instinct.

In 2019, the latest victory for populism happened in the British election. But this does not guarantee the success of the movement it represents. The electorate in America is not Trumpian. It is swerving in search of the government it wants. In 2008, the electorate voted for change by electing Barack Obama as president. In 2010, it voted for change by electing a Tea Party Republican Congress to check him. In 2012, it voted for change by reelecting Obama to check the Tea Party Republican Congress. In 2014, it voted for change by adding more Senate Republicans to check Obama. In 2016, it voted for change by electing Trump in repudiation of both parties. In 2018, it voted for a Democratic House majority in repudiation of Trump.

This zigzagging shows us the degree to which change is responsive rather than rapid. Only when a movement and its consequences have come into the public eye do we choose to reject the status quo and move ahead with an alternative. Confronted by a future we do not care to contemplate, we are forced to consider how we got here and how to correct our course.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump ramps up attacks against Twitter The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.