Saturday, November 16, 2019

GateHouse: Impeachment represents very different things in a divided country

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 15, 2019
I grew-up in a small Italian community in western Pennsylvania. I was about 11-years-old during the televised Watergate impeachment hearings. Millions of Americans were enthralled by the hearings.
I remember “Briefcase Charlie.” He was the local barber who moved a television into his shop so that he, and his customers, could watch every minute of the hearings. About 10 days into the 51 days of hearings Charlie began carrying a briefcase to the barbershop.
Most of the time there was a lot more chirping than clipping, but people were genuinely interested in the proceedings. The three major networks and public television brought the hearings into everyone’s home, workplace and yes, even their barbershop.
There was no Fox News or MSNBC to parade an endless line of talking heads to tell viewers what they should be getting out of the hearings. There was Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor and Harry Reasoner, trusted news anchors who didn’t twist the news from any specific bias or on behalf of a political party.
That is the big difference between 2019 and 1973. Americans are not all watching the same thing. In 1973 there was a sense of community - a nation watching the impeachment hearings without a filter. The opportunity was there to make up one’s own mind.
Today, America is polarized and those interested in the impeachment hearings are not watching through the same lens - literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, viewers are watching the hearings through their favorite news lens - television (Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity) social media, podcasts, fake news or news prepared specifically for us based on our internet preferences.
The Washington Post characterized the cable news coverage after the first day of the Trump hearings like this - CNN and MSNBC focused heavily on the revelations made during the public hearing. Fox News, however, generally focused on the context for the hearing, disparaging Democrats and waving away the actual testimony.
The Post suggested, “What’s outlined is three hours not of coverage of the hearing but, instead, of framing of it.” CNN, MSNBC and Fox News anchors and guests interpreted for viewers what they just saw and heard for themselves.
In a figurative sense, most Americans don’t look at politics with an open mind, they are either “this” or “that.” Voters view issues through their own political lens. Political discussions play-out like this, “I support the Second Amendment, you don’t, so you’re a bad person.” We have become so polarized in this nation that we dwell on those things that divide us and ignore those that unite us.
There are 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the U.S. Senate. The primary goal of those 535 men and women is to get re-elected and keep their respective parties in power. Unlike those that John F. Kennedy wrote about more than a half century ago, there are no profiles in courage in modern American politics.
Politicians no longer even try to bring the country together. Instead of speaking to the entire country, politicians cater to their base. President Donald Trump talks to disenchanted white males and Nancy Pelosi panders to left-leaning progressives. Those in the middle are ignored and guess what - they are ignoring the process right back.
During the Watergate hearings, Sen. Howard Baker, emphasized that the only way the Republican Party could be “mortally wounded” by Watergate would be “for the public to think that we Republicans don’t have the courage, the stamina and the determination to clean our own house.”
Nobody is talking about cleaning their own house. Politicians, and their supporters, hoot and holler “drain the swamp,” “impeach him,” “lock her up” - those are not the rousing chants of statesmen, it is the divisive rhetoric of demagogues.
Maybe we shouldn’t wax eloquent about the comity of 1973 - there was certainly division in the country at the time - we should also not expect the same result as the 1973 hearings - a new president.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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