Trump Russia Probe Congress

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok testifies before the the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform during a hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Spirited public debate has been a hallmark of our democracy for centuries, and some of it has veered into downright ugliness. But we plumbed new depths Thursday during the House Judiciary and Oversight committees’ grilling of FBI official Peter Strzok about his conduct during the agency’s investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The embarrassing circus brought shame on both Democrats and Republicans — and the rest of America.

There are serious issues to sort out. A foreign adversary meddled in our election, and critical questions remain unanswered. By now, we should have learned more about what happened and how we can protect ourselves in the future from similar actions.

Mr. Strzok, who became a subject of Republican scorn when text messages sent to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair, came to light. The messages, which were sent during the 2016 presidential campaign and in the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, suggest a clear personal disapproval of Mr. Trump.

As such, it was certainly appropriate to remove Mr. Strzok from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election. Ms. Page no longer works for the FBI.

But instead of thoughtfully probing Mr. Strzok to better understand the extent to which his personal political opinions may or may not have impacted his work at the FBI, our elected representatives spent the better part of 10 hours on Thursday in a breathtaking display of partisanship, complete with real anger, sneering, mocking and insults.

The hearing crystalized just how polarized the nation has become. It gave context to the prevalence of mean-spirited internet comments, the refusal by many to listen to the other side’s point of view, and the terrible tone of American public discourse. The rest of the world must wonder what’s happened to this nation they once aspired to become. And that uncertainty probably scares many of them — except for our enemies, who must enjoy the strife they saw Thursday.

Is this who we have become? Two sides unwilling to give an inch, even when our democratic principles are at stake? Neither side hates America or wants to see it destroyed. But there was plenty of other highly inappropriate invective hurled by both Democrats and Republicans during Mr. Strzok’s hearing.

The impartiality of our nation’s law enforcement officers and the validity of investigations into foreign election interference are incredibly important issues for discussion and examination. Congress is right to demand answers, and forcefully when necessary.

But our elected leaders would do well to reserve their scorn for those who would seek to undermine our democracy, not those who simply sit on the other side of the aisle.

We live in troubling times. We have powerful enemies who continue to attack us in myriad ways. We will not always agree on how best to move forward, but surely we can concede that the best way to build a stronger United States is to remain united.