Politics & Policy

What If the Democrats Hadn’t Cried Wolf?

CNN camera operators man their cameras as they prepare for the first democratic presidential candidate debate at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2015. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Sondland’s testimony provided their daily ‘this changes everything’ fix.

The excitable team of Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy is especially excitable in Stelter’s a.m. newsletter today. Darcy, filling in today for Stelter, thinks everything has changed. “Historic day” is the headline of his newsletter. Isn’t every day? Approvingly, he quotes CNN colleague Jeffrey Toobin: “I think you can divide the Trump presidency into two periods, before November 20th, 2019, and after, because now we know. I mean, now we know that every fantasy about how corrupt this administration was is actually true. That this was a corrupt enterprise from the very beginning.”

I won’t bore you by listing all the other times Team Excitable has solemnly declared that Suddenly Everything Has Changed, the Other Shoe Finally Dropped, and it’s The Beginning of the End. Just to give a quick recap, Trump was going to be dragged out of the Oval Office  because he colluded with the Russians during his campaign; because he fired James Comey, which was obstruction of justice; because he paid off Stormy Daniels; because he interfered with the Mueller investigation, which was obstruction of justice; and because he violated the Emoluments Clause by continuing to be a hotelier. This last was deemed the “number one” reason to impeach Trump by the Democratic party’s shaman-healer-id, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as recently as April.

Toobin’s statement is self-contradicting; Gordon Sondland’s testimony didn’t demonstrate that this administration “was a corrupt enterprise from the very beginning.” That Toobinism is the Democrats’ problem; the fact that they’ve been calling this administration a corrupt enterprise from the very beginning negates the idea that Sondland’s Testimony has Changed Everything. Darcy enthusiastically quotes pundits who called yesterday a “John Dean moment.” I think not. People who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s were about four standard deviations less cynical about politics than everyone is today.

Brian Stelter’s newsletter would have us believe that yesterday was like the moment when Krusty the Clown’s switch was flipped from Good to Evil. He and Darcy never expressed the slightest objection to anything in TrumpWorld until now, when it becomes their reluctant duty to call foul. That Darcy would suggest this simply indicates that his memory works about as well as that of the unfortunate hero of Memento. A more useful metaphor is that the Trump administration is like a tub of clear water into which beef-bouillon cubes of accusation have been thrown since before he even took office. The water turned dark brown a long time ago. Sondland’s testimony merely made the leather-colored water a bit more leathery-looking.

If I strike a detached tone during these hearings, it is for the following reason: I have no dog in this fight. I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and won’t vote for him in 2020. I think his replacement by Mike Pence would probably mean a continuation of things I like (the courts being replenished by Federalist Society–backed judges) and a curtailment of things I don’t like (trade wars, impulsive decision-making, misadventures on the presidential Twitter feed). On the other hand, I’m disinclined to support giving the Democrats anything they want because they’re sillier than Monty Python’s Silly Party, which was really quite silly. My firm belief is that every time the Democrats fail at anything, even something I don’t much care about, an angel gets its wings.

The Democrats’ two-stage plan is, one, to establish that Trump pressured the Ukrainians to investigate (or maybe just to announce that they were investigating) Casa Biden; and, two, to convince a large cohort of Republican senators that this act or series of acts merits impeachment, using their media allies to go over Republican heads and make the American people demand removal. If anything, though, the Venn diagram for “people who think the president must be removed” and “Democrats” looks more and more like a circle. In other words, the Democrats’ plan to finally oust Trump resembles my plan to get Mark Zuckerberg to give me a billion dollars. Step one: Using every means of investigation and research at my disposal, find out the exact location of Facebook headquarters and go there. Step two: Convince Zuckerberg to give me a billion dollars.

What is the Democrats’ plan for step two? I don’t see it. Do you?

I once attended a Hollywood party at which two of the guests were the socialite-model-whatevers Paris and Nicky Hilton. Every so often one of them would exit the party and then dramatically reappear, as if to say, “Ta-da! I have arrived at the party! Again.” The Democrats are the Hilton sisters of Capitol Hill: Every day it’s “Ta-da! We just proved Trump pressured the Ukrainians about Biden. Again.”

These hearings might be a different story if the Democratic-media blob had managed to restrain itself from ever uttering the I word until September 25, when Trump released the transcript of the July 25 phone call with the Ukrainians. If the Demmedia had spent these first three years of the Trump administration building up a reputation as honest, sober brokers who fully conceded the legitimacy of Trump’s election and were not interested in trying to beat him to death with every wisp of straw they could get their hands on, the citizenry might actually be listening to these hearings and becoming as angry as the Democrats wish them to be. Instead, the New York Times is running pieces such as, “‘No One Believes Anything’: Voters Worn Out by a Fog of Political News . . . Many Americans are throwing up their hands and tuning it all out.” Whose fault is that, Democrats?

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