The Senate Trial and the Death of Reason

The president’s defense team wasn’t concerned about making coherent arguments.

The reviews are in for the first day of arguments in the Senate impeachment trial. For example:

The House managers were organized and prepared. They came with facts and evidence, while the president’s defense team came armed with lies and what appeared to be a case of impaired hearing. In addition, they made it clear that they are adopting the president’s line of defense.

Even most Republican Senators don’t buy that line. While they are willing to admit that the president might have done something wrong, they say that it doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

But as Martin Longman has already pointed out, none of that matters. To understand why, take a look at these two reactions to the presentation made by Representative Hakeem Jeffries.

With Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda network providing the filter through which one side of the political divide viewed the presentations, Senate Republicans are free to take on the role of collaborators in covering up the truth. Charles Pierce nailed it.

In this, no Republican was different from any other Republican. Lisa Murkowski and Tom Cotton were the same. Thom Tillis and Ted Cruz were the same. Cory Gardner and Jim Inhofe were the same. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse were the same as Mike Rounds and Mike Enzi. And they were all the same as Mitch McConnell. There were no moderate Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday. There were no Never Trumpers. There were only collaborators. There was no independence in the Senate on Tuesday, only complicity. And it was a deadening, sad thing to watch.

In that sense, the House managers and the president’s defense team were, indeed, playing two completely different games. The former were providing facts and evidence, while all the latter had to do was show up and count on their propaganda network to gin up fear and loathing for anyone who dares to challenge the president. That is why we are witnessing the death of reason on the Republican side.

This is something that too many Democrats fail to acknowledge. We’ve seen people on the left adopt the charge that liberals are “elitists” when they provide factual arguments based on expertise. Suggesting that a reliance on reason is somehow condescending reinforces a Republican talking point, which is used to further their commitment to what Stephen Colbert once called “truthiness” and evolved into “Trumpiness.”

There are those who suggest that the answer to the role that news organizations like Fox play in dumbing things down is for the left to develop its own propaganda network. But as Kevin Drum points out, that hasn’t worked in the past because liberals prefer “subtler news outlets that temper their point of view with lots of actual facts about things.” There is also the issue Thomas Jefferson pointed out a long time ago when he said that “wherever people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set things right.”

In other words, facts and reason are essential elements in a democratic republic.

It is clear from the events in the Senate on Tuesday that reason will not prevail when it comes to the current crop of Republicans. That leaves it to Democrats to fight for the importance of facts and evidence on a grander scale and to quit labeling anyone who does so as elitist. To assume that the American public is incapable of responding to reason is the real form of condescension.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.