The acquittal of William Jefferson Clinton by the United States Senate is a good thing, although amidst the gloom that justifiably surrounds this fin de siècle, one is tempted to overlook the good side of the bad news. The acquittal should help dispel three dangerous illusions that still prevail among many Americans who cling to the hope that things are not quite as bad as they really are.

The first illusion is the notion that there is a “Moral Majority” out there somewhere, its heart in the right place and its mind supposedly concentrated on the need to win America back for the Good People and the Good Life. We now know that most Americans either don’t find the rot so comprehensively embodied in Clinton objectionable at all (about a third), or simply don’t care (another third), as long as the Dow is heading for five digits and the weekly paycheck covers the rent, truck payments, cable, beer, and chips.

The remaining third is powerless, disenfranchised (it cannot assemble even a simple majority in the “Republican”-controlled Senate), and rapidly diminishing. Its children belong to the Dominant Tendency, and their home-built defenses are bound to crumble under the steady onslaught from every screen, billboard, and printed page in the land. The loud minority of nihilists, perverts, and devil-worshippers who compose and control those messages are the ones who now have a “Silent Majority” behind them. They know it and they like it. The drums may yet beat in the heartland, but only to celebrate Kwanzaa.

The second illusion now in pieces is that, for all the shortcomings of its dominant elites, America is still fundamentally ruled by law. L’affaire Clinton only confirms what the O.J. Simpson charade made glaringly obvious: America is ruled by “due process.” This due process is at the mercy of political and ideological vagaries, and fully detached from any recognizable concept of “truth” or “justice.” Even before the “trial,” 34 Senate Democrats declared that they would not find Clinton guilty. In doing so, they firmly (and proudly) joined the moral ranks of the O.J. Simpson jury.

Whereas the Simpson jury’s flawed judgment sprang from poverty, stupidity, and racial-tribal allegiance, U.S. senators can plead no such mitigating circumstances. They sinned with their eyes wide open and their heads held high. They were joined by the remaining ten Democrats (so much for “bipartisanship”) and—disgracefully—by ten Republicans scared by the polls (and, in several cases, by the skeletons in their own closets). One can only speculate which way they would have voted had the pollsters declared that two-thirds of us supported impeachment.

The third illusion now dead is that America is a “democracy,” in the sense of the res publica of informed and responsible free citizens exercising their rights and fulfilling their obligations. With Simpson at large and Clinton in the White House, we know it is not. Alas, for those hoping to “save the American democracy,” our polity has lost sight of a rational and self-authenticating principle at the root of moral distinctions. Its subjects are encouraged to participate, but they are no longer expected to make a meaningful contribution to a rational society, and most of them would not want to. They no longer know that “participation” requires living morally and acting justly. If they were told that to live otherwise is to be spiritually diseased and unworthy of the appellation of “citizen,” they would laugh or stare blankly.

A patient with advanced cancer may have a slim chance of recovery, but even those odds are reduced to naught if he remains oblivious of the seriousness of his condition. The remaining authentic Americans may yet miraculously wrestle their country back, city by city and state by state, but they need to be aware of the magnitude of the task. Clinton and the U.S. Senate have helped enlighten them. But for that unintended service to The the cause of decency, February’s spectacle would have been as completely futile as it was disgraceful.