A political Halley’s Comet flew over the Capitol this week. Even politics junkies averted their gaze.
The Senate impeachment trial of a sitting president, just the third such event in the history of the republic, strangely acted as soporific rather than stimulant. Richard Burr led a contingent of colleagues using fidget spinners to stay alert. Rand Paul allegedly drew a picture of the capitol building as House members orated. A bipartisan group of senators reportedly violated rules by wearing Apple watches or using digital devices. Others stretched and paced. A New York Times sketch artist captured Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho, asleep. Many Americans imitated him on their couches.
When the sergeant-at-arms cautioned the chamber to “keep silent on pain of imprisonment,” senators, and perhaps even Adam Schiff, wished Jerry Nadler would heed his warning. “The Senate is on trial in the eyes of the American people,” the New York representative informed 100 startled individuals. He called them “complicit” and accused them of engaging in a betrayal. “I see a lot of senators voting for a cover-up,” casting “a treacherous vote,” and issuing a “vote against the United States.” This stood as one of the few shrill alarms during the prolonged slumber.
Speaking of cover-ups, when a heckler loudly revealed Sen. Charles Schumer as Satan Wednesday evening as a surprised Rep. Hakeem Jeffries spoke, security tackled, removed, and arrested him rather than invite him back to periodically enliven the dull proceedings. This moment of unpredictability, amid hours of monotony, came as an exception that proved the oppressive rule of boredom.
A fixed camera, zoomed out revealing the speaker’s upper body before a stone backdrop, appropriately looked down upon the House managers. Perhaps some of the more camera-shy among them imagined, as Toastmasters-types might advise, the audience naked. But that stationary camera shot, cold from its distance and condescending from its angle, coupled with the prolonged speaking blocks stripped the House managers bare. Talking points and 140 characters or less do not work very well over 16 hours. So, the managers spoke at length about little. The format gave the naked nowhere to hide.
The chaplain, grasping the tediousness of the situation, prayed on Thursday to prevent “fatigue” among senators and commented that “listening is often more than hearing.” Along these lines, Schiff began the session by asking senators for “forbearance” regarding “repetition” in the coming monologues. Patience, surely a virtue, becomes a vice with only milk and water in which to indulge. Senators cannot blame Schiff or Nadler, only themselves, for not including Mad Dog 20/20 on the acceptable beverages list. Regarding repetition, Jerry Nadler quoting Alexander Hamilton on demagoguery sounded nearly as ridiculous as Nadler might look dressing up as Holly Golightly — but not as preposterous as Adam Schiff using the same quote a day earlier.
“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune,” Hamilton wrote George Washington 228 years ago, “bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the ability of military habits — despotic in his ordinary demeanor — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”
The zealots of the day oft employ the Founders to cast their political enemies as the zealots of the day. This tactic works better when you are someone other than Adam Schiff or Jerry Nadler.
Along these lines, Schiff, in Schiffian and not Hamiltonian tones, informed, “The president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box. For we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”
And that, rather than any shenanigans engaged in by Trump, sums up the Senate trial. Sore losers, fearful of defeat yet again, conjure up a case — in this instance a Ukrainian quid pro quo and not Russian collusion or Charlottesville racism or Mar-a-Lago emoluments — to justify impeachment and removal.
Alas, a strong desire cannot alone will fantasy into reality. And hyping up the trial, only for America to wake up to open up past Christmas presents, makes for an annoyed jury in both the impromptu Capitol court and in the court of public opinion.
One can forgive elected performers for engaging in political theater. But when the entertainment fails to entertain, and the audience knows the ending before the beginning, the public expectedly starts hurling rotten eggs — or nodding off. Debate which is worse.
Boo. Zzzz. Boo. Zzzz.