Even a special counsel may fail to dent Donald Trump's alternate reality
Pro-Trump version: 'Deep State Appoints Deep State Official to Investigate Deep State Conspiracy on Russia'
Well fine then. There's a special counsel, Robert Mueller, heading up what's being called the Russia investigation, and no matter what he uncovers, the U.S. president and his supporters will accept it and justice will be done. End of story.
Really? That has not been the way of Donald Trump, nor is it the custom of his most fervid promoters.
First as a candidate and now as president, Trump has used his pulpit to undermine confidence in American institutions — the courts, the FBI, intelligence agencies, and most of all the mainstream media.
That has paid dividends for him as the U.S. divides over what it considers the true nature of Trump's presidency and retreats into separate camps that believe in different realities and rarely speak to each other.
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!—@realDonaldTrump
The divergent realities of those communities are reinforced moment to moment by the media they choose.
If you are following the daily flood of events as reported by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN — and yes, CBC — then you are hearing a story of serial catastrophe and gross incompetence in the White House, mixed with the potential venality of the president and his family and the possibility of impeachable offences he might have committed to thwart the administration of justice.
But if you are getting your information from Fox News, Breitbart.com, TheGatewayPundit.com, or the Twitter feeds of Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and others, you are getting a different story. You're hearing that "the deep state" of entrenched special interests is trying to depose an elected president in order to protect its wealth and power from his determination to "drain the swamp."
Within an hour of Mueller's appointment Wednesday, @gatewaypundit tweeted "Deep State Appoints Deep State Official to Investigate Deep State Conspiracy on Russia."
You already know the media are divided into these silos, and you've been hearing about that for a while. But here is why it's more important now.
For conservative Democrats, for southern Democrats, for Republicans, they really had to know that their constituents were behind this — and they were.- Elizabeth Holtzmanon on impeaching Nixon
Many consumers of the mainstream media believe the threat of impeachment is hanging heavy in the air and that the president might have to be removed from office. But that's not going to happen when a sizable chunk of the American public doesn't share the same reality.
This is important to our understanding of what is — and what is not — likely to happen next.
There have been two experiences of impeachment in recent history, and in both cases a rough consensus in public opinion was crucial to the outcome.
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!—@realDonaldTrump
Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment because he knew at least some of his fellow Republicans would vote to convict him without fear of a backlash from their constituents back home.
Elizabeth Holtzman, at the time the youngest member of the House judiciary committee to vote for impeaching Nixon, told me earlier this year that it was the hardest vote of her life. But she and her colleagues knew the public had their backs.
"For conservative Democrats, for southern Democrats, for Republicans, they really had to know that their constituents were behind this — and they were," she said. "That's what made it possible."
She has come to view public support as the most important factor in the whole impeachment process.
It wasn't there for impeaching Bill Clinton in 1999. He was acquitted at trial with the votes of Republicans who knew that the public did not believe the president deserved to be removed from office.
Public opinion is key
Newt Gingrich, then Republican Speaker of the House, had unwisely pushed hard for impeaching Clinton. That decision ultimately cost him his job.
Public opinion is important, because impeachment overrules the democratically expressed will of the people. It is an attempt to remove the president, and so it requires a significant indication of the people's consent.
That brings us back to those media silos.
In Nixon's time, and to some extent in Clinton's time, too, there was a nationally shared understanding of the daily unfolding of the world.
There was still vigorous disagreement about the details and meaning of the surrounding reality, but generally people at least agreed on what that surrounding reality was.
That's been missing for some time. What's new since January is that the president of the United States is now someone who actively encourages his followers to believe fantasies and dismiss realities.
Only the beginning
Trump labels negative stories about him as "fake news" and repeatedly claims certain false stories are true. He launched his political career on the phoney conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is a Muslim from Kenya and continues to insist without evidence that the former president "wiretapped" Trump Tower during the election campaign.
How is it possible to build the necessary public consensus for impeachment, if that's necessary, when Republicans control the Congress and can be held in check by the significant number of their supporters who are disillusioned, distrustful and disbelieving of everything about the institutions of government?
It is entirely possible that the special counsel will find nothing through his investigation requiring any action against the president.
It is also possible that another version of what former president Gerald Ford called "our long national nightmare" is only just beginning.