My colleague David Brooks, a longtime opinion columnist here, considered that phenomenon recently. The big news events in our lives, David wrote, “have ceased to drive politics the way they used to. We’ve seen gigantic events like impeachment, the Kavanaugh hearings, the Mueller investigation and the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes. They come and go and barely leave a trace on the polls, the political landscape or evaluations of Donald Trump.”
The organizing principle that can explain the trend, David says, is sociological. “When a whole country sees events through a similar lens, then you don’t have to think a lot about the process people use to make meaning. It’s similar across the land,” he wrote. “But when people in different regions and subcultures have nonoverlapping lenses, the process by which people make sense of events is more important than the event itself.”
I asked David about how we — and those we don’t agree with — can think about the cycle of impunity we seem to be in.
Both sides walked away from impeachment with similar levels of indignation. What explains that?
We started out with the premise that this impeachment trial was like a jury, that people walk in with a blank slate and see the evidence, decide whether there’s a crime and decide whether to convict. But this is happening in the middle of basically a political cold war. The price of convicting someone of your own party is perceived as the essential elimination of the self. It’s perceived as losing the moral war to the other side, as giving in to each other, of giving up your loyalty to sacred ideas.
This is the problem with scandal politics. It’s the dark legacy of Watergate: When Richard Nixon fell, you realized you didn’t have to defeat your opponent in the ballot box. You could destroy him through scandal. It was easier and more morally satisfying. It also fed the fantasy that infects our politics that you can make the other 42 percent of the country go away.
But did Democrats have a case?
They did. The president was absolutely guilty. If I had been a senator, I would have voted to convict and remove him from office. But where I fault the Democrats is that there was never any chance of that. If you’re like myself and think he shouldn’t be president, you have to notice that his approval ratings are up and that the G.O.P. is popular. The reactions by the two sides are remarkably similar to the Clinton impeachment. There’s something about the country that just doesn’t like this process.
How much of this is about how the journalists communicate the news? In our pages and on TV, for example.