The Comey hearing was reality TV for elites
The whole thing was inconsequential, reality television for people who normally watch prestige cable dramas
What are the odds that a single person who watched former FBI Director James Comey's hearing today ever described a truck as "sweet"? I pose the question only because this morning I asked no fewer than three self-described owners of "sweet" pick-ups whether they would be tuning in. I was met with a bunch of blank stares. At least no one punched me.
Let me be clear. It doesn't bother me that in New York and Washington, D.C., 20 and 30-something journos and Hill staffers and people vaguely affiliated with non-profits treated this thing like a combination of Christmas Eve, the Daytona 500, and the Bachelorette season finale. If they want to enjoy some drink specials and indulge themselves in a little bit of frenetic live-tweeting, it's no skin off my back. There is certainly nothing wrong with sitting around in bars, especially during what would normally be considered working hours. I just wish they would be honest about the stakes here. The whole thing was inconsequential, reality television for people who normally watch prestige cable dramas.
It can be staggeringly difficult to admit that the things closest to our hearts are insignificant. "Who are your favorites?" I asked my not-quite-2-year-old the other day. "Jesus, Mary, Tigger," she responded, without blinking. People like the things that they like, and there's not much the rest of us who disagree can do about it.
And so my main criticism of today's hearing is aesthetic. I happen to think it was distinctly bad TV. Who could possibly enjoy any of these characters, with the possible exception of the engagingly bored and moody star himself? Maybe it was just my PBS NewsHour livestream, but every single Democratic senator sounded like a pompous Model U.N. enthusiast or a spelling-bee champ being interviewed on NPR. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sounded like he should retire. I only laughed once, when out of nowhere Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) started gushing about how Comey is "big" and "strong." Keep an eye on that one, Mrs. C.
I should say that there were moments during today's hearing that pushed beyond the boundaries of harmless nerdy entertainment into the territory of sheer bad taste. Comey should be ashamed of himself for his self-aggrandizing reference to St. Thomas Becket (though the fact this line actually occasioned explainers for the benefit of illiterate millennial viewers almost made up for it).
But maybe that's just me. One of the main reasons I don't watch TV, especially reality TV, is that I'm too stupid for it. When I read a crime novel, I have to a make a little chart with the names of all the characters and their relationships with one another or I'm totally lost. When it comes to Comey-President Trump-Michael Flynn-Russia-WikiLeaks-Loretta Lynch-Hillary Clinton, I couldn't keep the plot or any of the characters straight if I wanted to.
Were there any big gasp-inducing moments in today's episode? It's difficult to say. As far as I am aware the takeaways are that Trump is probably not under investigation from the FBI and that Comey himself was responsible for leaking a piece of paper we all learned about ages ago, which said he had indeed happened to speak to the president at whose pleasure he served as the head of a federal agency. A piece of paper! What else? At least one very complicated, thinly sourced story in The New York Times turned out to have been fake news: Imagine that. Oh, and Comey has this novel hypothesis that the president sometimes lies. Wow, I guess?
What are we supposed to be emotionally invested in here? Do people who cheered when President Obama told Mitt Romney that the '80s wanted their foreign policy back actually lie awake at night in terror of the wicked machinations of the Kremlin? Does anyone who calmly nodded when John Bercow, the speaker of the British Parliament, barred Trump from making a speech really find it odd that politicians in other countries are interested in the outcome of our elections? Are the people who think Chelsea Manning is a national hero and consider Moscow resident Edward Snowden to be a selfless and credible patriot suddenly concerned about the integrity of our intelligence services and their continuous unhampered operation? Is it suddenly fashionable to praise the FBI for its noble history? Why was right-wing hand-waving about Benghazi, the IRS's supposed "targeting" of Tea-Party groups, and whatever supposedly happened with Eric Holder and all those guns, well, right-wing hand-waving, while foaming at the mouth about sealed indictments and foreign agents is the duty of every red-blooded patriot (red-blooded patriotism being, of course, the Democratic Party's #brand)?
One of the besetting sins of our liberal political order is the obsession with procedure it demands from its adherents. You saw this in the way conservatives responded to the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision by complaining that it was decided by a bunch of unelected judges on flimsy constitutional grounds rather than because they opposed same-sex marriage. In our political order, principles sooner or later take a bow and surrender the stage to the processes meant for advancing them. It's bizarre. It's also one of the reasons you don't find many committed liberals in the parts of America where people drive sweet trucks. To most people, something is either wrong or not wrong. The idea that someone might be fired for no good reason by a rich jerk with impunity is a fact of life.