A Verdict On Our Times: How The Senate Trial Left Us With Rage Over Reason

Below is my column with the BBC on the impeachment verdict and its aftermath. A new Hill/HarrisX poll shows President Donald Trump at a record high of popularity — finding the same 49 percent level of the earlier Gallup poll. In other words, people heard what they wanted to hear in the trial — and most heard nothing at all by tuning it all out. Indeed, as discussed below, it ultimately did not seem to matter what anyone actually said as opposed to what people wanted to hear.

Here is the column:

The predictable conclusion to the Trump impeachment leaves the trial as the perfect embodiment of our times – reason found little space in a Senate chamber filled with rage.

Trials often reflect societies and times – captured by jurors selected from the surrounding community. It is not surprising therefore that a jury composed of political representatives should perfectly mirror our politics.

What we saw was hardly flattering for either side. One of the most striking aspects is that it really did not matter what people actually said whether it was witnesses or the accused or even the Framers (the people who drafted the US Constitution).

It was the first entirely dubbed trial where advocates simply supplied the words that fit with their case rather than reality.

I personally watched this phenomenon firsthand as my own views were presented in highly tailored fashion by both sides. It included on videotape played by the House managers showing my rejection of the theory, advanced by one of the White House lawyers, Professor Alan Dershowitz, that crimes are needed for impeachments.

The edited tape cut off just before I said that, while you can impeach for just abuse of power, it is exceedingly difficult. It did not matter.

It also did not matter what President Donald Trump himself may have said.

The Republican majority in the Senate was not interested in hearing from National Security Adviser John Bolton, who reportedly was prepared to say that the president lied in denying that he connected the Ukrainian aid to an investigation of Bidens.

Indeed, while news reports recounted what Bolton said in his book, the White House said that it was merely hearsay since he did not say it directly. It then opposed any effort for him to say it directly as a witness.

In the end, however, it did not matter what any witness might say on that or other subjects. Their testimony was presumed and many senators declared that, even if they said something against the president, it would not matter.

That is the real takeaway. It really did not matter what anyone had to say.

It did not even matter what the Framers said, even when they were being cited for what they said.

As a Madisonian scholar, I was particularly aggrieved to see Founding Father James Madison used like a marionette to either vilify or vindicate the president.

The most maddening were the references by Dershowitz, who argued that Madison clearly indicated that a non-criminal act could not be an impeachable offence.

It did not matter that Madison said the opposite. He not only referred to such non-criminal allegations as “the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate”, but the “loss of capacity or corruption” that “might be fatal to the Republic”.

Moreover, in a letter in June 1833, he wrote to Senator Henry Clay over the withholding of a land act as a type of pocket veto. Madison assured him “an abuse on the part of the President, with a view sufficiently manifest, in a case of sufficient magnitude, to deprive Congress of the opportunity of overruling objections to their bills, might doubtless be a ground for impeachment”.

That is precisely the type of non-criminal conflict that Dershowitz claimed could not be impeachable. But it did not matter. Those were Madison’s view of Madison, not ours.

I wrote once that Senate trials are always about the senators, not the accused. By extension, they are also about us. This country remains divided right down the middle on Donald Trump.

The trial was like watching a movie where the audience heard only the lines that they came to hear. Indeed, studies indicate that this may be hardwired with people subconsciously tailoring facts to fit their preferences.

Researchers at Ohio State University have found that people tend to misremember numbers to match their own beliefs. They think that they are basing their views on hard data when they are actually subconsciously tailoring that data to fit their biases. In other words, people selectively hear only one side even when being given opposing evidence.

People today receive their news in news silos, cable programming that reassuringly offers only one side of the news. This “echo-journalism” is based on offering a single narrative without the distraction of contradiction.

Recently, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell declared that his show will not allow Trump supporters on as guests because all Trump supporters are “liars”. Likewise, Trump recently denounced Fox for even interviewing Democratic senators. When that is the state of our news, why should trials be any different?

In our hardened political silos, even Framers are bit players in a crushingly formulaic play. Witnesses are as immaterial as facts when the public demands the same predictability from politicians that they do from cable hosts.

We are all to blame. Politicians achieve their offices by saying what voters want to hear and today voters have little tolerance for hearing anything that contradicts their preset views of Trump.

As a result, the trial was pre-packed by popular demand. Speaker Nancy Pelosi even declared that Trump would “not be acquitted” even if he was acquitted. When the actual vote doesn’t matter, why should the actual testimony?

Just as voters get the government that they deserve, they also get the impeachment trials that they demand. Watching on their favourite biased cable networks, voters raged at the bias of the opposing side in the impeachment as refusing to see the truth.

Viewers thrilled as their side denounced their opponents and hissed when those opponents returned the criticism. The question and answer period even took on a crossfire format as senators followed up one side’s answer with a request for the other side to respond. It was precisely the “fight, fight” tempo that has made cable news a goldmine.

As the trial ends, perhaps justice has been done. The largely partisan vote showed that the trial could have had the sound turned off for the purposes of most viewers.

We are left with our rage undiluted by reason. It really did not matter what anyone had to say because we were only hearing half of the trial anyway.

It provided the perfect verdict on our times.

Jonathan Turley is legal analyst for the BBC and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He testified at both the Clinton and Trump impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee

89 thoughts on “A Verdict On Our Times: How The Senate Trial Left Us With Rage Over Reason”

  1. “This country remains divided right down the middle on Donald Trump.” That’s why he was acquitted.

    Why does the professor assume that everyone watched on some biased cable network? Perhaps he’s projecting. I’m not sure what he watched, but I watched a streaming video without commentary. I believe it was C-Span. During breaks, whenever commentary was being made, I shut it off. He’s correct, however, that one could watch certain portions of the trial with the sound turned off. When you’ve heard Adam Schiff say the same things over and over ad nauseam, you tend to reach for the mute button.

    Turley gets in one more dig at Dershowitz. (Is he jealous that he wasn’t hired by the defense?) Apart from that, the purpose of this diatribe escapes me.

  2. Gordon Chang – “The Coming Collapse of China.” It hasn’t happened yet. China may manipulate data on economics and outbreaks. Many mature, western financial concerns still categorize communist China as part of the emerging markets. China may have prospered only on the theft of intellectual property, labor market subversion, currency manipulation and domination of the tchotchke markets. China may actually be faux or a “Paper Tiger.” America and Western economies could force the issue as Reagan did with the USSR but it’s not PC to kick a– and take names. “Co-existence,” aka globalization, actually means total global communist domination and enslavement of the world’s population. It’s not PC to win. The communists (i.e. liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats) in America endeavor mightily to “fundamentally transform the United States;” to Make America Equal Again; to Make America Weak Again; to Make America Effeminate Again; to Make America Subservient Again; to Make America Communist Again.

  3. Centers For Disease Control Faces 18.6% Cut In Trump’s Proposed Budget

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, key to the government’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus and Trump’s efforts to end domestic HIV transmissions, would see its budget cut by 18.6 percent. CDC’s discretionary budget authority would be reduced by $1.28 billion for fiscal 2021.

    The administration is trying to refocus the agency around responding to crises like the opioid epidemic and halting the spread of infectious diseases. Trump’s budget plan would cut CDC funding for chronic disease prevention by 34 percent and consolidate efforts addressing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions into a single block grant for states.

    Edited from: “The Quirky, The Odd And The Baffling In The Trump Budget Shuffle”

    Today’s Politico

    NOTE: Just below this post, Commenter Kurtz predicts a 50-50 chance that China’s autocratic leader will fall as a result of the Wuhan virus. Kurtz is possibly right on this. But why, in God’s name would Donald Trump pick this moment to cut CDC’s budget by close to 20%..??

    1. good question, worst idea trump has had by far if you ask me

      cutting entitlements is probably a good idea but the CDC is public health. crazy. some nutty staffer prolly thought that one up.

      1. Call me a Nutter Mr K.

        Trump should Bulldozer that Disease Spreading CDC, FDA & burn those bio level 4 labs for safety.

        Only a Fool would think they are trying to help US citizens with their health.

        Sorry, the world won’t long suffer a fools.

        Get out more, maybe read others that don’t believe all the govt paid for propaganda vomit.

        Need facts? Just look at the number of vaccines & vaccinated kids 49-50 years & the number of retarded kids then, “” Autism Spectrum”” retarded kids then compare those stats to today.

        It’s an Ph’in explosion in the numbers & as others & I speak out & meet those who’s family member have been harmed, more & more every year, this army of Pro Safe Vaccines gets Larger & Larger Exponentially every year.

        Are you ready to be “Rounded Up for your Safety” by the CDC/FDA/Govt here & your Corona Virus Untested Vaccine?

        It may happen sooner then any of us thought.

        It’s already started with 250 in the UK.


    2. But why, in God’s name would Donald Trump pick this moment to cut CDC’s budget by close to 20%..??

      Do you even read your own posts? Or is it you don’t understand your own posts?

      The administration is trying to refocus the agency around responding to crises like the opioid epidemic and halting the spread of infectious diseases. Trump’s budget plan would cut CDC funding for chronic disease prevention by 34 percent and consolidate efforts addressing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions into a single block grant for states.

      1. Olly, block Grant’s can be used for whatever. That’s not a positive step. This sounds like a retreat from public health.

        1. Here, give it a think and report back when you fully understand the CDC block grant process. I’m certainly no expert, but I do favor states having more control over their specific needs.

          The Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant Program allows the 50 states, the District of Columbia, 2 American Indian tribes, 5 US territories, and 3 freely associated states to address their own unique public health needs and challenges with innovative and community-driven methods.

          1. Olly, block Grant’s mean that locals decide. That’s fine if state and local officials are honest and intelligent. But that’s not always the case. Certain states, especially in the deep south, have long histories of dropping ball on public health.

            1. block Grant’s mean that locals decide. That’s fine if state and local officials are honest and intelligent. But that’s not always the case.

              The federal government is just as likely to have dishonest and idiotic representatives as at the state and local level. The key is state and local politicians are better positioned to know their needs than someone at the national level. State and local politics are easier for the constituents to measure and monitor. Most importantly, success or failure is contained at the state and local level. Other states have the opportunity to learn from them.

              To me, the difference between federal and state control is like the difference between chemo and targeted gene therapy.


    Jiang Zemin faction may scapegoat HIM for coronovirus.
    I would look for his right hand man Zhao Leji to stab him in the back

    While a hundred pundits dance on the head of the impeachment pin, dark clouds gather over China


    1. AS long as we are sticking our necks out

      I perdict Xi will be treated as a hero (both in and out of China) for his handling of the C-virus .

      1. Xi is scapegoating local officials who were following the Beijing orders to cover this up

        and they still are. as the crematoria in Wuhan are working 24/7 burning the evidence of mass casualties

        the phony number out of the PRC are a joke.

        this is of a piece with the HK uprising. I can’t quite make it out yet, who knows what the truth is.

        however, I notice the HKers are peeing their pants and done rioting in the streets now. isnt that interesting? what an irony

        and the ball’s in play, no telling where it will land.

        1. Mr Kurtz – the death toll is so high the are burning the bodies in pits. There was evidence of pits being dug near the new hospitals and it appears they are going 24/7. This belies the idea of using only commercial crematoriums and a lower death total. Estimates are coming out of China of an infection rate as high as 500,000. This is why Western medical agencies have not been let in..


      Since you gave a 50/50 odds and you consider that you would be right and Xi will be gone that provides the same odds that he will still be there. You must believe your 50/50 is covering both sides so you are right no matter what but if one looks at the equal and opposite side you are wrong no matter what. 🙂

  5. Mr. Turley, I respect you & your opinion on matters in the news everyday. The sad thing is both parties have degraded our constitution & laws for many years now.
    Both parties cover for each other as well.
    Morals have been degraded by the film industry & TV. Parents are no longer making it their priority to instill values in their children.
    I remember in the 50’s & 60’s when I was a teenager that our country & our leaders were not at each other’s throats like they are now. I don’t remember even knowing which party was in office during that time.
    I pray things will change for the better but it’s like the lever on the toilet bowl has been pulled & there is no turning back.
    I look forward to reading your opinion articles every day & will continue to do so.

    1. “Mr. Turley, I respect you & your opinion on matters in the news everyday. The sad thing is both parties have degraded our constitution & laws for many years now.”

      That is the understatement of the year.

      1. I agree with Anonymous on this…in a grown up moment, which I do have from time to time.

        Though, I must say, I do like to keep it light and fluffy…no, make that Lite and Fluffy.

        The whole world is but a stage, and life is but a mere dramatic comedy.

      2. Don’t worry Anonymous, someone in Oz-land let me borrow their brain, after mine broke down in the most epic MK Ultra breakdown you’ve ever seen….but in good news, the bailor was gratuitous to his baileee.

  6. I think 50% approval is pretty good when you consider the near total negative coverage by the MSM, and the fact that a huge number of Democrats are batpoop insane and still believe Russiagate despite Mueller, and that whole silly Impeachment stuff.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

      1. I like squeeky’s use of batpoop. She is probably referencing how SARS got started in China, pesky bats.

        1. But then again, why are they eating bats. I know culture, I am culturally sensitive, but some of the stuff they eat, and how they eat it….I just don’t know. You can’t expect a country to have great human rights, if it does not have great thought into the rights of the animals in and around them.

          Executions without trial or justice….China and Saudi Arabia….

  7. 1970 Simon and Garfunkel song says it all, ” A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”- The Boxer



    He’s not called ‘Absurd’ for nothing! In this instance Absurd asserts that like Trump, FDR ‘never served in the military’. Trump, it should be noted, got an exemption from military service (during the Vietnam era) for an alleged bone spur on his foot. The podiatrist who diagnosed that bone spur happened to be a tenant at one of Frederick Trump’s buildings.

    While FDR never actually served as a soldier, FDR was Undersecretary Of The Navy during WWI. In that capacity FDR was actually more active than the Secretary himself. FDR was an expert yachtsman highly knowledgeable of naval history. FDR toured Europe during WWI and happened to be in London when the city was bombed by German airships.

    The vast bureaucracy that FDR built, during the 1930’s, was essential for victory in WWII. Had the nation maintained the pint sized government of Coolidge and Hoover, mobilization for WWII would have been all but impossible. It was only ‘because’ America had a huge federal bureaucracy in place that the country was able to produce ships, tanks and planes at the astounding rate we achieved.

    Having been Undersecretary Of The Navy, gave FDR crucial experience for fighting WWII, especially in the Pacific which was primarily a naval war. Even seasoned admirals respected FDR’s knowledge of naval affairs.

    Therefore it is ‘absurd’ that Absurd would put Franklin D. Roosevelt on par with Donald Trump, the bone spur claimant. Trump is doing everything he can to sabotage government; precisely the opposite of FDR’s legacy.

  9. “It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
    -Mark Twain

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