Are the Impeachment Hearings Changing Anyone’s Minds?
In the age of fake news and misinformation, do the facts have the same impact as they used to?
“We voted for Donald Trump and they’re attempting to remove him…”
“…we cannot wait for the election to address the present crisis.”
With articles of impeachment officially released this week, we are nearing the end of the House’s impeachment and heading to the trial of the Senate. Before looking too quickly to the future, there still remains relevant topics to consider from the past House Hearings and events of the Judiciary Hearings. Namely, the purpose it served.
The Judiciary Committee’s role is to take the facts of the Inquiry Committee and churn the jumbled narratives presented into a clear, recommended course of action.
Since hearings went public, we have heard the same narratives from the expected sides. Democrats believe Trump’s guilty, Republicans refuse to see guilt.
Our most political trial, unsurprisingly, has quickly become a contest of who can spin the best story. But — unlike an ideal trial in the courtroom — the judges, jury, and lawyers have had their verdicts in mind before the beginning of the trial.
The start of the Judiciary hearings rang with the same tone of the entire impeachment process. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s opening statements on Monday’s hearings read:
“We are all aware that the next election is looming — but we cannot wait for the election to address the present crisis. The integrity of that election is the very thing at stake.”
Nadler highlights the urgency and utter gravity of the allegations being discussed. While Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., speaking in quotable soundbites, labels the entire impeachment probe a “partisan coup d’etat.”
So who are these hearings for? Who is supposed to change their stance on impeachment— when party lines were drawn so concretely in 2016?
The public and the Base
You might be thinking — of course lawmakers are biased, they have personal incentives for their side to win; These hearings are for the American public to weigh the facts and make an educated decision — but, for the most part, the public has had its mind made up on Trump since the aftermath of the election.
Since January 23, 2017, approval and disapproval ratings for President Trump have remained largely static and fairly consistent. With a beginning 46% approval and 41% disapproval rating— as of December 11, 2019 approval is at 42% and disapproval is at 53% — there is not much of the population left that doesn’t have a strong opinion about the man in the White House. And public opinions of impeachment have been similar.
In CNN’s November 21–24 poll, results were nearly split down the middle with 50% saying the President should be impeached and removed from office — with only 6% with no opinion. November’s results were identical to CNN’s same mid-October poll. Agreement with impeachment seems to tie with approval ratings, which mostly saw the country divided along the middle ground.
With a host of political scandals and blatant misinformation, the base has had plenty of chances to jump ship. But as the $125 million in fundraising has shown, people are still responsive to Trump’s message, about half the country.
An impassioned speech from a protestor at the opening of Monday’s hearings echoes the pained cries of a Trump base tired of their rights being trampled upon by the left.
We voted for Donald Trump and they’re attempting to remove him because they don’t like him. Americans are sick of your impeachment scam. They are sick of the Democrat treatment. We know who committed the crimes and it wasn’t Trump. Trump is innocent.
And the Republican party has been happy to run with the story that sticks in their supporters’ heads — there is no story.
Will these hearings, and the likely impeachment to come, be the force that shakes loose the victimhood of Trump’s ravenous base? Unlikely.
The only group likely to switch is the undecided 6% that does not feel strongly one way of the other about impeachment. But will public opinion shifts be enough to get past the Senate wall of blind support Republicans have for Trump’s endangered party?
Both Sides of the Aisle
There was an early hope that Moderate Republicans would defect on some type of moral basis during the impeachment process. But the closing of the Intelligence Committee deflated any plausible hopes of this happening. Democrats believed they had overwhelming evidence, while even the most moderate lawmakers on the panel insisted there was no direct evidence, and this was a very low bar to set for removal.
Emboldened introductions, such as the one from Rep. Doug Collins, given Monday, set up an alternative view of these trials and all the potentially harmful evidence thrown at Trump’s Presidency — aimed at the House Democrats.
“You’re rotting artists of impeachment…And if you’re going to write the dog’s impeachment, go ahead and write them. Well, there’s probably a reason for that because the chairman laid out some amazing claims, none of which…the American people can honestly look at and see that there was overwhelming evidence.”
There are effectively two realities in the American political sphere. Facts, reports, investigations become a matter of personal opinion, and conclusions are drawn on along party lines. If you like Trump, these trials are nothing to see. If you don’t like Trump, the heart of Democracy is jeopardized if he isn’t impeached. If you don’t like what someone has to say about your candidate, everything they say can be called into question and spun to agree with your reality.
As Jerry Nadler puts it, “No matter his party or his politics, if the president places his own interests above those of the country, he betrays his oath of office.” A stark contrast to the oppositions’ insistence of nothing to see.
So whose mind are these hearings and legal expert opinion hearings meant to change?
No one in particular. And they’re not meant to.
Society recontextualizes history retroactively. Both sides are necessary. Supporters play their role of defense. They raise valid concerns about the threshold of impeachment processes in the future. Those calling for impeachment play the role of keeping power in check. They suggest important moral guidelines and decorum future Presidential candidates should possess.
We are in historical times. The due diligence of facts if for the historical record as much as for the public record. How we respond will go down in history, setting legal and political standards to be followed for years to come. We set the tone for how we want our country to look in the coming years, together as a nation divided.