The field of American political journalism can make a lot of amends in the next few days if it allows itself to realize that the nation is now in full crisis mode, and starts to reflect that in its coverage.
For the many mainstream journalists still trying so hard not be perceived as taking sides, who have never found the right moment to say “Fuck it, I can’t do this anymore,” this would be a good time. There is nothing even a tiny bit normal about this anymore.
If federal law enforcement officials actually have evidence that Donald Trump suborned perjury before Congress, then impeachment proceedings are an absolute necessity, and each and every continued expression of support for Trump from Republican officials is a newly revelatory — and highly newsworthy — admission that they are putting party over country.
The news stories about this should be ceaseless and the coverage should relentlessly ask: Why isn’t this happening?
Meanwhile, huge swaths of the government are shut down, in what is nothing less than the president taking his own branch of government hostage, causing massive ongoing damage to the economy, to regular people, and for what? Because Ann Coulter challenged his manhood?
The press should be treating it like the Iranian hostage crisis – a dominant story that is major news every single day that it goes on.
As for impeachment, the timing for the Atlantic’s “Impeach Donald Trump” cover this week turned out to be really quite perfect: Even those who quibble over what qualifies as a high crime cannot possibly argue that suborning perjury before Congress doesn’t qualify. (The news did, however, make the magazine’s amazing compilation of 50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency suddenly feel a tad out of date.)
Yoni Applebaum writes in the Atlantic piece that Trump’s “actions are, in sum, an attack on the very foundations of America’s constitutional democracy.”
And while journalism about impeachment proceedings focuses almost exclusively on the potential downsides, Applebaum compellingly argues that beginning the process begins the healing, by “shifting the public’s attention to the president’s debilities, tipping the balance of power away from him, skimming off the froth of conspiratorial thinking, moving the fight to a rule-bound forum, and dealing lasting damage to his political prospects.”
Even before the latest news, as he noted, there was urgency. “With every passing day, Trump further undermines our national commitment to America’s ideals. And impeachment is a long process.”
As I’ve written before, journalists need to stop stifling their outrage about Trump’s affront to American and journalistic values. And now, the object of their outrage should primarily be the Republicans who continue to defend the radical, impulsive, destructive, compulsive liar they have backed in some sort of awful Faustian bargain so far.
As for the shutdown, there’s no excuse to keep treating it as simply another news story, quoting people on both sides – and more recently, marveling at the tit-for-tat. Consider a few key facts:
- There is no precedent for a president simply refusing to do his job (lead a functional executive branch) when he doesn’t get his way. He is actually holding himself hostage.
- Previous shutdowns took place when budget negotiations stalled, and were all ended with short-term funding bills to allow for further negotiation.
- There were and are no negotiations.
- Trump couldn’t get the wall from a GOP Congress for two years.
- This is now the longest shutdown ever and there is no end in sight.
- Trump doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed, because government is basically the enemy, anyway.
- The shutdown is causing horrible distributed affects – untold damage to the economy, to workers, to people who require services — that take a while to come into focus and can only become uppermost in the public mind through relentless press coverage.
The two crises are of course directly related. Trump sees continuing the shutdown indefinitely as a way of consolidating his base on the assumption that they will save him from impeachment whatever comes, because, by his reckoning, “You can’t impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.”
Let’s hope that at editorial meetings in newsrooms across the country today, top editors stop to recognize that we are at an inflection point, and history will not only judge Donald Trump, it will judge them as well.