Senate's impeachment trial: Wake me when it's over

Senate's impeachment trial: Wake me when it's over
© Greg Nash

Let me be clear, as we say in Washington, where we are rarely clear: I am not diminishing the importance of the impeachment proceedings. They are historic. They theoretically could result in the removal of the president of the United States. Democrats insist democracy is at stake and it is their duty to act against a corrupt-minded commander in chief. Republicans see the Senate trial as proof positive of political conspiracies to remove a duly-elected president whom Democrats cannot beat at the polls.

I know that the news media are covering this trial with something that resembles great interest. And most U.S. senators are closely watching (because they are required to).

But I have a feeling that’s just about where the close attention ends.

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Since I have conducted business outside the Washington beltway in recent days, I have yet to find anybody out there who is watching the proceedings. The first wake-up call was the other day when I saw an acquaintance who typically shows more interest in politics than most of my outside-the-beltway friends. He said to me — these were his exact words — “So I guess the whole impeachment thing just kind of went away?”

After a moment of shock, I broke the news to him that the House had delivered the Articles of Impeachment against President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE to the Senate and the trial was about to start. His eyes glazed over and he lost interest before I finished the sentence. This is the same man who, a few weeks before, asked me to explain in simple terms what the impeachment was all about and, as I tried to summarize opposing views, the look on his face was screaming, “Never mind.”

A few days later, two acquaintances separately brought up the impeachment trial in casual conversation. Both of them said something along the lines of: “I watched for a few minutes, then tuned in hours later, and they were saying the exact same thing. Is that what they’re going to do the whole time?”

Even some news reporters and analysts who are commenting on and covering the trial cannot bring themselves to watch it. Several of them have confessed as much in their news reports.

“I couldn’t stay up that late. But I have seen clips of the proceedings,” said one television news reporter, as he proceeded to — nonetheless — provide analysis of the whole affair. In other words, some news reporters are relying on news reports from other news reporters so that they can report to us what happened during an event they never actually saw themselves in full and in context — even though they could have. I’m not sure that’s quite what news consumers expect from us, their intrepid fact-gatherers.

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That’s one reason why a late-night admonishment from the presiding judge in the impeachment trial, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, made so much news this past week. After representatives for Democrats and President Trump exchanged some heated words — the kind of stuff you might hear in the House of Representatives but less commonly in the austere Senate — Roberts interjected to remind them that in the Senate, pettifogging (quibbling over small points) is unwelcome. Of course, all of this had little to do with the president’s impeachment, but the incident was relatively easy to digest and describe compared to the actual proceedings, so everybody did.

Even as I’m writing this column, a Washington newsmaker contacted me about an entirely different subject and brought up the impeachment only to say, “I can’t watch it. It’s just too boring.”

Maybe one of the biggest reasons it seems so boring is that few minds are being changed, despite some pundits and analysts who insist that gripping and masterful arguments are being made. In reality, I think it matters little what either side says or what revelations are claimed — short of a surprise vote to oust Trump from office.

Wake me up if that happens.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”