Today’s hearing was historic, but not nearly as big a deal as it was hyped up to be, at least in terms of the real-world political effect.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse June 8, 2017
AMMAN — On one level, I can’t blame the media for having days-long count-downs and hyping today’s hearing as much as any anticipated domestic non-election event in living memory. And there certainly was a singular, unprecedented historical significance in having a recently fired FBI Director who was fired while investigating the associates and administration of a sitting president only a few months later come and testify publicly before Congress and under oath that, essentially, the president was a liar and directed that he as FBI Director back off said investigation. That is certainly a big deal to anyone who can appreciate reality, politics, the rule of law, and what makes the American system of government fairly unique in the world.
And yet, there was little new in today’s proceedings: Comey released his main account the day before, and even much of that and other relevant details had dripped out in media reports over the course of previous days, weeks, and months. These media outlets are not perfect, but are by and large credible, and the way these details were reported left only the most conspiratorial among us to flat-out deny their credibility. Still, even with Comey’s public testimony today, we still have a he said/she said situation (Comey said Trump was a liar, then Team Trump said Comey was a liar), and anyone who wants to believe Trump over Comey has seen nothing new today to incline them to believe otherwise: these were still private moments between two men that can’t be legally proven without some sort of recording.
While I give “credit” to the Republicans of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for being less nakedly partisan than many GOP senators serving on other committees, we still saw today plenty of evidence that Republicans, by and large, are finding ways to more subtly cover for Trump and shift the focus to leaks or Hillary Clinton’s email server woes (oh, McCain…) rather than to hold Trump accountable, and many other Republicans are being far less subtle. More importantly, we need to acknowledge that this hearing, for all its hype, is unlikely to actually change much, if anything, outside of experts and aficionados recognizing its unprecedented nature.
Not “the public” – Doug Mills/Twitter
For one thing, the media made much of the long lines of members of “the public” who were waiting to get a seat in the hearing room before the hearing. In the interest of full disclosure, I lived in the Washington, DC, area for some seven-and-a-half years, including spending four months interning on Capitol Hill, and the pictures and video of the lines made clear that these were not members of the general public; no, just looking at the outfits they were wearing, it was clear these were Congressional interns and staffers, media folks, and other DC politicos (there is a fairly narrow range of how such people dress for work and it is most certainly not the same as the rest of the general public). The point I am making here is, as interested as people like myself are in things like this, and as much as this was undoubtedly a hearing that generated far more public interest than usual, there are still going to be many people who either do no watch this or pay close attention. And most Americans have their mind made up about Trump at this point, one way or another; only a small sliver would possibly change their mind, and, despite all the hoopla about today’s proceedings, there is no reason to think that Trump’s supporters saw or heard anything today that would make them dramatically change their mindset, a mindset that believes the media, liberals, the government, and others are unfairly out to destroy Trump, regardless of the facts.
Sure, the president may see a dip in his poll numbers, but he has plenty of time for new outrages, distractions, even a war to make today’s events seem like a distant memory. I am nowhere near convinced that anyone who voted Trump or Republican in November won’t do so again because of what happened today, let alone switch to the left, or that people not already planning to vote for Democrats will now be convinced that, as of today, supporting the Democratic Party is the course of action to take. Bernie Sanders will not suddenly announce tomorrow that he will formally join the Democratic Party, nor will he stop slamming it or stop prioritizing his “movement” over registering Democrats and strengthening the Democratic Party. It won’t make anyone who voted Green or Libertarian in November even though they knew Trump was worse (or even if they didn’t) start supporting the Democratic Party. And it won’t change the minds of Trump supporters who already don’t trust the media, Comey, or the “Deep State” FBI over Trump.
However, in the near future, we may be able to test is there is any effect: the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional district, exit pollers have a chance to ask if today’s hearing affected anything. Yet even if Democrat John Ossoff beats Republican Karen Handel, that is hardly proof that this hearing made a difference, and I doubt it will do so; if he loses, it becomes harder to make that case, and the possibility that it did make a difference but that it still didn’t affect the final outcome would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow for excited liberals prematurely plotting Trump’s impeachment and reveling in visions of sugar plumbs dancing in a Democratic House.
What we saw today was a preview of what Special Counsel Mueller is investigating, but he has far more information that anything we saw in the reports leading up to today’s hearing or that was “revealed” in today’s hearing. But that investigation is a long way from being completed, and that investigation will carry far more weight and have far more substance than today’s hearing and, if anything is to have a serious impact, that will be what does.
People expecting today’s events to have major substantive effects are simply setting themselves up for disappointment. In our era of hyperpartisanship and alternative realities, it will take more than objectively damning and historically unprecedented sworn testimony from a non-partisan, career civil servant to sway hearts and minds, sadly, much, much more.
What we are generally hearing about as far as Trump’s people being investigated might result, eventually, in some resignations or criminal prosecutions, but that is just part (if more than just a tip) of an iceberg that still remains submerged and out of public view; no, if Trump is brought down, it will be because of his long-term business deals that involved laundering Russian money tied to Putin and the Russian mafia, as I’ve been writing about for close to a year now.
My pre-hearing predictions turned out to be spot on: today’s hearing was a big deal for history and the pundit class, but not myopic Trump voters and purist liberals whose grip on reality and objectivity loosened long, long ago.
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