Donald Trump is like a car wreck: a horrifying scene that triggers our need to slow down and take a look. That is why, during the 2016 campaign, he was able to spend almost nothing on advertising, but got wall-to-wall coverage in the media.
So it makes sense that, beyond all of the attempts by the president’s enablers to craft some kind of defense during the impeachment hearings, the message they want to convey is that the whole ordeal is boring. In other words, it’s not a car wreck that anyone needs to slow down and pay attention to.
Several headlines demonstrate how some people in the media bought into that message. For example, Reuters reports that the hearing on Wednesday was “consequential, but dull,” claiming that the process began “without a bang.” The assumption behind that kind of analysis is that a circus is required for people to pay attention.
The other meta-argument Trump’s enablers are using as a defense is to accuse the witnesses of simply being partisan. E.J. Dionne captured that one perfectly.
Democrats hope that piling up evidence offered almost entirely by people with no political axes to grind will shift public opinion against Trump. Republicans hope to obscure the facts by arguing that there is no such thing as objective truth anymore because anyone who says anything critical of Trump must have a partisan motive.
That is exactly what the president is doing when he calls career public servants like Kent and Taylor “NeverTrumpers” and why Republicans are so determined to smear the whistleblower as partisan. The message was summed up by something Don Jr. retweeted during Wednesday’s hearing.
Fact check: True https://t.co/nGhU9j8Txe
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 13, 2019
That message isn’t new to the impeachment hearings. Attempting to discredit critics by simply claiming that they are Democrats is something Republicans have been doing for years now. It was actually part of the master plan cooked up by Roger Ailes to promote Fox News. The idea was to suggest that objective reporting is infused with a “liberal bias,” so right wing media became the “balance” to mainstream media. That is precisely what led to the epistemic closure Julian Sanchez wrote about almost a decade ago.
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.
The danger that presents to democracy was captured by Dionne when he wrote that, for Republicans, “there is no such thing as objective truth anymore.” As Peter Pomerantsev explained, the current iteration of the GOP has become completely aligned with Vladimir Putin’s approach to propaganda (emphasis mine).
[Information warfare] reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action…In today’s Russia…the idea of truth is irrelevant…
The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted—to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative…This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible.
If nothing is true, then lying is normalized and critics can simply be dismissed as partisan. That is the con game that keeps Trump’s supporters so loyal to him, no matter what.
Anyone who suggests that the impeachment hearings are dull or partisan should keep all of that in mind. One side is committed to laying out the facts in a serious manner and the other side thinks that’s boring, while claiming that there no such thing as objective truth.
Thomas Jefferson once said that “wherever people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” That does a pretty good job of summarizing what’s on the line right now. Rejecting an examination of the truth puts democracy in jeopardy.