The answer is, of course, yes — but mainly because every day over the last three years has been lived in F***nutsville. Politico founder John Harris laments the loss of seriousness in American politics, driven mainly by click-hungry media and grandstanding politicians. Thanks to a rush to impeachment talk even before establishing initial facts on Ukraine-Gate, Harris argues, what should be “news of unquestionable gravity” has now just become yet another kind of “fodder for the ideological and cultural wars.”
Asterisks mine, of course:
It is too early to tell what will come of House Democrats’ decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, but not too early to conclude that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has failed to revive the concept of solemnity in American politics.
That was the obvious intent Tuesday, when she stood in front of a bank of flags, invoking the Founding Fathers and Constitutional Convention of 1787, as she announced the impeachment inquiry.
But the reaction, underway even before she started speaking, made clear that for much of the country, it was just another day in what Rahm Emanuel, when he was Barack Obama’s chief of staff, called the metropolis of “F***nutsville.” The news may be important, it may be swerving wildly in surprising ways, but never these days is it something that commands reverent attention.
Well, why might that be? It might be because Democrats, and House Democrats in particular, have been demanding impeachment since even before Donald Trump took office. At a certain point, the cry of “wolf!” loses its “unquestionable gravity” when wielded as a talking point for any hint of unhappiness and as a demand for attention.
Amy Walter writes at the Cook Report that all of this will likely be filtered through the lens of petty partisanship, no matter how Democrats frame it. That’s the problem with constantly politicizing everything, and perhaps with making Trump their central focus rather than wider problems of corruption and dysfunction:
There are very few constants in life, but one thing we can count on these days is the consistency of Trump’s approval ratings; they are the most stable in modern history. At his lowest point, the president has never dipped below 35 percent, but even on his best days, his approval ratings haven’t broken 46 percent. From fights about inauguration size to stories of a soaring stock market to the outrage over Charlottesville and the release of the Mueller report, Trump’s approval ratings have remained incredibly stable. So, why should we think that an impeachment inquiry — and possible impeachment — will upset this balance? …
There are other Democrats, however, who fear that this is making things harder for their party in 2020. I bumped into a Democratic pollster the other day who lamented the decision by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move forward with an inquiry. Why put the focus on the dysfunction that is Washington, this person said, instead of keeping it solely on Trump? Or as one GOP consultant — one who has been consistently pessimistic about Trump’s chances in 2020 — told me: “If they [Democrats] would just shut the f-up, they’d win everything” in 2020. What people dislike about Trump, said this GOPer, is the tweeting and the chaos. But, voters also hate watching Washington get paralyzed by partisan warfare.
There’s a good reason for such a filter getting applied. As our friend and former colleague Noah Rothman pointed out yesterday at NBC News, we’ve been living in F***nutsville regarding Donald Trump since Election Night 2016. Even if Ukraine-Gate might be the most serious of the allegations surrounding Trump, Democrats’ impeachment obsession had long ago faded into ideological “fodder”:
These more cautious Democratic lawmakers have endured nearly two years of scorn from their more passionate colleagues over their reluctance to pursue the impeachment of this president. They are owed an apology. Trump’s political allies are now doing whatever they can to frame this inquiry as an illegitimate expression of unhinged partisanship, and they do not lack for supporting evidence. For that, impeachment-crazed Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. …
In 2017, nearly 60 House Democrats voted in favor of impeaching the president for bringing “disrepute, contempt, ridicule and disgrace on the presidency.” The articles of impeachment ranged from the president’s offensive remarks on the violent clash between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville to his objection to NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.
That same year, Rep. Brad Sherman introduced an absurd impeachment resolution alleging that Trump’s decision to fire his FBI director violated the Constitution. Rep. Al Green has sponsored a series of impeachment articles, among them the claim that Trump calling Rep. Frederica Wilson “wacky” and his foul-mouthed assessment of equatorial nations were gross misuses of presidential authority. A total of 95 Democrats voted to impeach the president for calling illegal migrants and asylum-seekers “invaders” and saying that four freshman Democrats of color should “go back” to other countries. And of course, for progressive firebrands and partisan liberal pundits, the Mueller report’s findings that Trump did not conspire with a foreign power and had tried but failed to intervene in the investigation into the events of 2016 constituted the gravest of constitutional crimes. …
But Democrats’ trigger-happy record will be an obstacle to convincing voters who are not already convinced of Trump’s unfitness. What’s more, it will affirm the preconception among some Republicans that these new charges against the president are frivolous and myopic as all the others. The compelling illogic of negative partisanship will do the rest of the work, and Republican lawmakers whose electoral fortunes are tethered to Trump’s will stand with their voters in defense of the president. In the absence of some unambiguous smoking gun, that is unlikely to change, no matter what impeachment proceedings uncover.
Harris’ lament about erosion of confidence in institutions is a serious concern, but unfortunately this isn’t going to make things any better:
The deeper change is that most Americans no longer respect the institutions of Washington, and many believe at some fundamental level they are not on the level. The Gallup polling organization has been measuring this trend for decades. Back in the 1970s, when my mother and most Americans no matter their partisan affiliation were shocked by Nixon’s lawbreaking, the presidency, Congress and the media all commanded majority or near-majority support when people were asked whether they had high “confidence” in the institutions. These days, none of these institutions is even close to majority support, and only 11 percent of people say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress.
After watching their actions for the past week, or for the past two-plus years, can anyone argue that confidence should be higher? Anyone? Mueller? Mueller?
Harris unfortunately and lamentably has this correct. We are roughly the same age, so I have the same experience of watching the Watergate hearings as a child and being impressed by the process — and of becoming bitterly amused by its accelerated degradation for cheap political payoffs. Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and especially the media might be able to force us to live in F***nutsville, but they can’t make us like it, or respect them for it.
With that said, let’s consider the question of just when we made the post-Watergate move to F***nutsville. It wasn’t in 2016; Trump’s election was a reaction to partisanship and the loss of institutional confidence, not the cause of it. It wasn’t in 2013 when Harry Reid dropped the nuclear bomb. We were clearly already there by 2004 when Rathergate happened, too. It also wasn’t in 2002, when Reid and Chuck Schumer decided to make the judiciary a target for total partisan warfare. It wasn’t even in 1998 during the Bill Clinton impeachment, mentioned by Harris specifically, although we had clearly moved into the new digs by that point. It wasn’t even so much in 1987 with Democrats’ revenge on Robert Bork for Watergate, undermining the same institution that worked in Watergate, although perhaps I’d credit that with the official starting point.
The seeds were sown in 1973’s Roe decision, which took abortion out of reasoned public debate for completely political reasons — and the reason why Congress has demolished its own credibility in attempts to prevent it from ever getting a second look. Roe has poisoned American politics for nearly 50 years as both sides fight on every front except the legitimate one pre-empted by the pinnacle of judicial activism. The decision might just as well have been titled Welcome to F***nutsville.