Now that the Super Bowl is over, the U.S. turns to another of its strange obsessions – failed attempts at arranging a comeuppance for former president Donald Trump.
This cultural obsession has been going full-throttle for four years. To witness it, all you had to do is watch TV that wasn’t Fox News. Over and over the refrain was the same, but kickstarted by separate events. The refrain could be summarized as, “Trump is not a normal emanation of U.S. politics, is unsuitable for public office, and something, or the next thing, is going to deliver a blow that removes him from office.”
From Saturday Night Live to Stephen Colbert’s monologues, to Samantha Bee’s breakneck, furious denunciations, to the righteous indignation of the entire on-air staff on MSNBC, the message was the same: He’s so awful that a downfall is inevitable.
At one point it was the inevitability of the Mueller report leading to his indictment. At another point it was his impeachment on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in events during the Trump-Ukraine scandal. The main characters varied from James Comey to Stormy Daniels to Michael Cohen to diplomats in Kyiv, but the downfall never happened until election day and the counting of votes.
That kind of comeuppance wasn’t dramatic enough. See, it didn’t fulfill the fantasy of everyone who isn’t a Fox News viewer. The downfall wasn’t dramatic and climactic enough.
So now it comes around again, and it says right there on the MSNBC schedule for Tuesday: “Second Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump Day 1.” This miniseries will start Tuesday at 1 p.m. (ET) and run all week. It might conclude on or before Feb. 15, which is, and you can only have this twist in a U.S.-made miniseries, the holiday called Presidents’ Day.
This is the type of cultural event that brings media together and coverage sprawls across both entertainment news and serious-minded reporting and punditry. That is, Deadline Hollywood is running a “What to expect” feature and The New York Times is, on its front page, analyzing the tactics that might be used for this impeachment as opposed to the last time this legal drama was on-air.
As Deadline Hollywood points out, this time the central figure has not been chewing the scenery much, since he’s been banned from Twitter and hasn’t been calling in to shows on Fox News. Also, the legal drama now has a peculiar twist. The jurors, members of the U.S. Senate, are also witness to the event that’s the basis for the legal charges. The charge is “incitement of insurrection,” after the storming of the Capitol by rioters from a Trump rally in an attempt to overturn November’s election result.
Sounds like a tricky legal battle, so who are the lawyers? For Trump, they are mainly David Schoen and Bruce L. Castor, who are now emerging stars on Fox News. Their tack is that the proceedings are unconstitutional. The trial is expected to open on Tuesday with four hours of debate about whether the trial is constitutional, followed by a vote on that matter. Presiding will be Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat-Vermont). Usually it’s a judge of the Supreme Court, but Trump is out of office, so the protocol changes. Prosecuting will be Representative Jamie Raskin (Democrat-Maryland), who is the lead impeachment manager, and he has six sidekicks to help.
The outcome is not in doubt. Everybody knows the Senate will not vote to convict Trump. That’s the weird thing about this returning drama. It will not end differently.
It is a delusion of magical thinking to believe it will. And we enter into the arena of mental health when we note that what’s happening is people doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It’s obsessional, this need to show that Trump was an anomaly, and to fruitlessly try to impose the great comeuppance. He’s not an anomaly and that’s proven by the Capitol riot and the existence in the House of Representatives of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conspiracy theorist who has said in the past that school shootings were staged, that Muslims should not serve in Congress and that Nancy Pelosi should be executed.
And it is doomed to fail again as theatre and action, this new impeachment drama which continues the obsession with castigating the alleged anomaly. No matter how indignant the MSNBC pundits or how funny the late-night hosts, those who truly want to understand the current American delirium should have been watching Fox News all along.
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