Who is the Audience?
I had to look up whether the impeachment trial was going to be televised. (It is.) With all the stories about how the Senators were to be put on silence and made to sit in their chairs while denied their cellphones, I briefly wondered if the TV cameras were also going to be barred.
Of course, that would defeat the purpose, which is to air — yet again — the same tired accusations and defenses.
Air them to whom?
If you believe the data analysts, the Presidential election will be decided by a few hundred thousand voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Are they watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate impeachment trial? If not, are they busy reading law review articles about whether abuse of power is a high crime or misdemeanor?
Are the 100 Senators, who are acting a jurors, while being treated like third graders, the audience? Yesterday, they spent about 12 stultifying hours listening to essentially identical debates about facts and witnesses.
Each vote was 53-47 against making that decision before the cases on either side have been presented. If the Senators are the audience, the lawyers did a pretty poor job of changing minds.
Actually, the Senators are probably closer to being the “targets of” rather than the “audience for” the impeachment. One-third of the Senate is up for election in November and about two-thirds of those are Republicans, some of whom are vulnerable because they represent moderate or Democratic states. Their votes against facts and witnesses (leaving out the “before the cases have been made” part) will be used against them in November.
For those who would like to see the last of President Trump, this is not a story that tells itself. Voters are used to simple cop show narratives that can be understood in an hour. They lose interest when the facts and law are as muddy as these.
I have no idea if there will be an earth-shattering revelation but, unless there is, I can see little to bite one’s nails about.
There will be a reprise of revelations that have already been absorbed.
There will be a reprise of witch hunt accusations that have also already been absorbed.
Between 90% and 100% of Senators will vote exactly as would be predicted by party affiliation. The closer the count is to 100% the better it will have been for the President and the GOP; the closer to 90% the better for the Democrats.
For the 10 or so Senators whose votes might not go according to party, the reason is more likely to be election prospects than evidence weighing. It is difficult to see 20 of the 53 Republicans joining the 47 Democrats (assuming no defections) to provide the 67 votes needed to remove the President from office.
The number of hours permitted to each side to present its case ended up at 24, the same as Bill Clinton. Letting those hours take three days rather than two was a win for those who favor prime time exposure over late night. Nonetheless, the evening droned on until after midnight.
If the goal was prime time exposure, it does not seem to have been very successful. I was only able to find it on PBS and only able to stand watching it for about an hour.
On present form, the decision on facts and witnesses is a couple of weeks away after which most of the “jurors” are expected to be pretty tired of being treated like unruly third graders.
Some imagine those jurors will be more eager to get back to raising money for their campaigns and standing in front of television cameras than to sentence themselves to even more days of classroom punishment.
Hence, the actual decision on facts and witnesses is more likely to depend on polling and TV ratings than on a quest for justice.
Expect lots of personal attacks: obviously, against the President by the House Managers; but also, by the President’s lawyers, against those who led the prosecution. Chief Justice Roberts had to admonish both sides to remember where they were and what they were doing when tempers flared early this morning.
Approval ratings for Trump, the Congress, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party should either decrease or remain where they are.
We are in for two to six weeks of this, but most will be able to safely ignore it.
In the first 180 years of this country’s existence, we had one impeachment. In the last 60 years, we have had three. Triple the number in a third the time.
Maybe our Presidents have become nine times more impeachable, but I am more inclined to look at the arrival of television as a significant contributing factor. And don’t forget the money. The fund-raising machines are churning away to the delight of both parties and especially of the political operatives whose paychecks depend on it.
Another significant event began this week. The World Economic Forum in Davos brings together government, multinational organization, NGO and business leaders to at least build relationships even if they don’t accomplish anything.
On present form, absent a blockbuster development, which few if any can predict, when the impeachment trial is over and all the folding chairs have been put away in Davos, expect the World Economic Forum to have been the more important event.