Members Only | April 19, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
To Impeach, Flood the Zone
Dominate the attention of the mainstream press.
I continue to believe that Nancy Pelosi will be the last Democrat to favor impeaching Donald Trump. She will be the last, because she does not want to give the impression of being eager to indict a duly elected president. She wants instead to appear forced into it, so as to begrudgingly sign off on impeachment as what’s best for the country.
For this reason, I think it’s on her mind more than she’s letting on. She has said that impeaching Trump “isn’t worth it.” But lately she’s been saying things seemingly aimed at providing context to a redacted Mueller report. On “60 Minutes” on Sunday, she said no one knows better than Donald Trump that he should not be the president.
Right-wing media is only as powerful as the mainstream press allows it to be.
Then on Thursday evening, after the Washington press corps had time to read, digest and report Robert Mueller’s findings, she sent a letter notifying her caucus of a conference call set for Monday. In it, Pelosi quotes a passage from the Mueller report that some legal experts are saying is an implicit “impeachment referral,” meaning a sign that Mueller’s team found extraordinary evidence for lawmakers to honor their constitutional obligations. Pelosi ends with this line: “Congress will not be silent.”
To recap, Pelosi has gone from “he isn’t worth it” to “he knows he shouldn’t be president” to “Congress will not be silent.” Given that Pelosi will probably be the last Democrat to say she favors impeachment, that’s a hell of a transition. I wouldn’t expect too much more clarity on Monday, but I would expect to see another small step in a painfully slow evolution from being against impeachment to being for it.
None of this is to say that we’ll finally get there. I don’t know. You don’t know. No one knows. (And don’t trust anyone who says he or she knows.) Fact is, the Democrats face a problem that the Republicans never face: a gigantic international right-wing media apparatus with a grip on the hearts and minds of about 40 percent of Americans, the same percentage, by the way, that approves of the president’s job performance.
There are right now two worlds of perception existing in tandem: one world has a more or less clear and coherent understanding of the facts, which are damning to Trump; in the parallel world, facts are seen as lies, and lies as facts. Impeachment is about constitutional conflict, and constitutional conflict is tough enough when political rivals agree on the facts being what they are. But how do you move forward when opposing sides do not agree on what the facts are? I don’t know. No one knows.
That’s not an excuse. That’s an accurate description of the challenge the Democrats face. I have no doubt Pelosi is looking at 2020 as a very good year for any of the Democratic candidates, and she’s trying to figure out if impeachment proceedings would be harmful to Trump or beneficial to him. If they are harmful, green light. If they are beneficial, red light. In making that calculation, she has to consider the impact of information about impeachment proceedings on people living in swing states like Michigan. Will voters there hear the real facts or will they hear Fox?
One answer is obvious. They are going to hear Fox and other right-wing media and nothing else. (They are going to hear Russian propaganda as well; bet on it.) But that assumption overlooks the dynamic between right-wing media and the mainstream press. Right-wing media needs the mainstream press but not vice versa. Right-wing media is only as powerful as the mainstream press allows it to be. If the mainstream press ignores right-wing media, it’s less power. In extreme cases, it’s even neutered.
That’s what happened every time this president took the side of strongmen, murderers, dictators, white nationalists, and rich and powerful men accused of sexual crimes. The mainstream press focused on what Trump actually said, commented on what he actually said, and ignored attempts by right-wing media to rationalize and otherwise lie about what he said. Trump’s poll numbers would then fall. Indeed, they’d go back up, but only after right-wing media had time to improve them. (His approval rating, per FiveThirtyEight, has been over and under 41 percent since late February.)
To win an impeachment fight, the Democrats must win a media fight. They need to flood the zone, providing information on a daily basis that will dominate the attention of the mainstream press, forcing legitimate reporters to ignore the bleating of right-wing media. Impeachment, if it’s carefully planned and executed, could do that.
The facts have been clear since before the day he took office that Donald Trump has no business being president. He’s weak. He’s incompetent. He’s amoral. He’s unfit. The only thing holding him up is Fox News. So one solution at least is clear.
Neuter Fox. Neuter Trump.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.