Starting this Wednesday, November 13, 2019, the public portion of the impeachment inquiry of President Trump will begin. Will the American people care?
It’s an open question.
For a while, I wondered whether the major networks were going to cover the hearings. Much to my surprise, they indeed will be covering the event. Scheduled to appear Wednesday are Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant for European Affairs George Kent. ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS will preempt regularly scheduled programming for live coverage. It was music to my ears.
I knew for sure that the major cable news networks and CSPAN would be covering the hearings, but now that the major networks are in the fray, there are no excuses for the American people. If you want to watch the proceedings, you can do so in multiple ways. If you can’t watch them live, you can undoubtedly tape them, or watch them repeated on those very same networks online, via YouTube, or various other outlets.
It’s so much different now than it was in 1973 when the Nixon impeachment hearings were going on. Back then, the major networks are all we had. No cell phones or the internet was available yet, so you were pretty much left to the decisions of those networks whether you could watch the proceedings or not. Now, there are choices galore. We have options not only in where we get our news, but different viewpoints as well, much different than in 1973.
As a sixth-grader at McEbright Elementary school in 1973, I have fond memories of watching the Nixon impeachment proceedings—in the classroom. My teacher back then, Mr. Cato, my favorite ever, wheeled a large black and white television into class for us to watch the hearings. I remember how most of the kids didn’t pay attention to what was going on. But, Mr. Cato made sure we were quiet, and always held a discussion immediately afterword. I always respected him for that.
Different than many of my classmates, I took a keen interest in the hearings. Perhaps that’s because politics was part of my daily life growing up in Northeast Ohio. We discussed politics at the dinner table and in the living room while the nightly news was on. My father was opinionated, as was my oldest brother. I remember them going at it on many issues. One thing they agreed on though: Nixon had to go. Much of my political DNA formed during these years.
I worry, however, whether what’s happening currently with Trump will garner the same amount of interest as there was back in Nixon’s day. According to Gallup, more than 7 in 10 Americans watched the Nixon impeachment hearings live. That’s quite a number when you think about it. If we get that kind of rating for the Trump hearings, I’ll be the first to shout out the praise.
Things are different now, though. Nixon didn’t have Fox News or any of the other right-wing echo chamber outlets back then. Trump has them at his disposal now. How much will that shape public opinion?
And I also worry about the proceedings themselves. In 1973, while there was certainly partisanship, it’s nothing like it is today. For example, the recent House of Representative vote on the resolution to proceed on an inquiry into Trump, not one Republican voted for it. The same vote back then received unanimous support from both parties. The divide seems insurmountable.
It’s not hard to figure out how these proceedings will go. Ohio Representative Jim Jordan was placed on the Intelligence Committee precisely because of his well-known allegiance to the president. Republicans want him on the panel to muck things up as best he can. He’ll do a bang-up job of that because it’s what he does best. The circus-like atmosphere he’s bound to create may have a detrimental impact on the hearings themselves.
This possibility is why the chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff, will have to rise to the occasion. He comes across as a straight-forward and deliberate guy, sometimes to a fault. But he cannot let the Republicans on that committee steer the proceedings to how they see fit. The Democrats are in charge. They must be fair, but they can’t let them get away with clown-show behavior either. He’ll have to nip that in the bud quickly and decisively.
Again though, it is an open question as to whether the American people will pay attention to this. After all, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and Christmas and New Years are fast approaching.
I get it. It’s a lot to ask of a busy public, especially with travel to be planned and gifts to purchase. It’s tough to get Americans focused on anything for an extended period, let alone wonky discussions of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian President.
I’ll be watching these hearings, just as I did in 1973 as an 11-year-old kid in grade school. Will the schools of today do the same as my sixth-grade teacher did for us? I certainly do not remember any backlash from parents back in the day. I wonder if parents today even want their child’s school to weigh in on such a political event. We’re so polarized it’s hard to say one way or the other.
I, for one, hope kids have an opportunity to see history in the making. I hope they see the hearings at school and go home and discuss it with their parents. I know it sounds idealistic, even a bit naïve, perhaps. But there’s a real chance that the President of the United States gets impeached. It’s only happened two other times in the history of our country.
For that alone, America should be watching. I’m just not sure they will be.