As the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump enters the “defense” phase, a thought occurred to me about how the proceedings are playing to the American people.
Right now the main issue seems to be whether or not enough Republicans, who have so far been steadfast in their quest to become the new Know Nothing Party, will cross party lines and seek to hear new evidence that has come to light since the House sent over the articles of impeachment. That would require only four such party defections, while conviction of the president would require 20 some senators to go against the president and their own leadership.
Such defections, even in light of revelations like last night’s report that former Ambassador John Bolton was admitting all of it in an upcoming book (ironically *not* titled I’m A Big Coward Man), have seemed unlikely given the iron grip Trump and others have on rank and file Republicans.
That situation has lead countless commentators across media to couch all of their analysis and predictions about the impeachment trial with some variation on the qualifier “…but it’s a virtual lock the Senate won’t vote to convict Trump.” It’s to the point where the only question is where such a caveat will be placed in their responses.
Such constant repetition of conventional wisdom has, I suspect, had two consequences:
First, it’s impacted public perception of the trial and how it should proceed. While support for conviction and removal from office of Trump remains split along ideological lines, one reason more people aren’t coming around might be that they don’t see a point in it all if it’s not going to happen. Why get worked up about it and hope for justice to be served when every pundit on radio and TV is saying it won’t?
Second, for the same reason the reinforcing of removal being nie impossible to achieve has given cover to those senators who weren’t inclined to break with their marching orders to begin with. Keeping public opinion divided means they don’t have to make a moral stand based on the evidence or any sense of justice but can keep playing partisan politics with little fear of retribution come election time.
While various polls have shown falling trust among the public in mainstream media, situations like this show how much power it still has. Under the guise of both objectivity and the desire to appear well informed, members of the media have repeated the same line over and over again. That has to have had some influence on the public and its view of how the impeachment trial is proceeding, just as it would in any other case. Here, though, the results may be damaging not only to their own industry but to democracy and society as a whole.