Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside!

There behind the glass stands a real blade of grass
be careful as you pass
Move along! Move along!

Come inside, the show’s about to start
guaranteed to blow your head apart…

“Karn Evil 9” by Emerson Lake and Palmer

The Senate hearings are must-see government TV!

The news in that sentence is rare enough to sound like an oxymoron. We get it no more than once a decade. The contentious 1991 hearings over Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court earned better ratings than its baseball playoff competition.

Before that, Oliver North’s testimony at the Iran-contra 1987 hearings killed General Hospital in the ratings, and drew an cumulative estimated 55 million people to watch at least part of the proceedings. And before that, Watergate began in 1972 and dragged on until Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. America watched those hearings like a slow-motion prize fight.

Much of what we see in most government hearings is political kabuki, where the senators/representatives on the hosting panel spend more of their time entering their own opinions and ideologies into the public record (a.k.a. lecturing)—than they do asking useful questions of the people appearing before them.

This is the crap that earned C-SPAN its sleep-inducing reputation. And of course it is going on in the current hearings into Russia’s efforts to sabotage the 2016 presidential campaign. But these hearings have a red-hot heart. Did Trump’s campaign collude? Trump himself? His actions scream “guilty!”—and that’s on top of the explosive political atmosphere that has already divided the country into armed camps.

These days, those armed camps are paying attention in record numbers. One interesting aspect: remember how print news was dying? Newspapers going the way of personal checks? The reason for that—the multitude of ways to view news immediately over the internet—has in fact not killed newspapers, or television. It strengthened them. Newspaper subscriptions are up—and I’d love to know if the stats for that can be broken down by red state and blue state.

And what of television? People watched fired FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in viewing parties across the country as if it were a championship sports game. Bars opened at 10 a.m. with politics pushing sports off their wall-to-wall big screen TVs. Menus featured politically named choices such as the FBI Sandwich. Neilson put the TV ratings at 19 million total, fairly evenly divided between (in order) ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, NBC, and MSNBC.

Even more eyeballs dropped in via the internet. Facebook reported 26 million views of live video that was related to Comey’s testimony (along with 8 million comments) and 89 million views of recorded videos related to his testimony. Twitter partnered with Bloomberg to stream the hearing and reported 2.7 million views.

In another hearing less than a week later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was addressed repeatedly as “General Sessions.” He lived up to the title by stonewalling questions about his conversations with Trump—and then combatively dismissing accusations of that very stonewalling. A few times, the hearing devolved into angry arguments with Democrats on the committee.

All that figurative combat had me dressing “General Sessions” in a dusty gray Confederate uniform, with his middle name Beauregard embroidered above the medals on his chest. But in reality…

Resting Good Old Boy Face

The problem with most meetings—and not only in government—is boredom. Even contentious meetings. For most attendees, what goes on is irrelevant about 90% of the time. But that remaining ten percent is super important. The catch: which ten percent is it? You better not be sleeping.

John McCain drove this point home during his time with A.G. Sessions. First, he rescued his own reputation by seeming to reprimand Sessions about claiming to meet Russians as a member of the Armed Services Committee—yet never confronting them about the ongoing Russian attack on the election.

This was near the end of Sessions’ grilling, and I found myself drifting away. But McCain slapped me wide awake with a story about Russian diplomats observed “wandering around Kansas” who were in fact mapping our telecommunications infrastructure. And more: Russia has developed a cyber-weapon capable of taking that infrastructure down. Holy shit! We just got dropped into a Tom Clancy video game.

Are you waiting for the Republicans in charge of Congress—Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan—to start acting on behalf of the U.S.A. instead of their party? Now would be the latest of the many opportunities they’ve had. And another opportunity ignored, I’m guessing.

McCain’s need for redemption came from criticism of his pathetic water carrying, during Comey’s hearing, for the President who had dissed him so caddishly during the campaign. McCain, the 2008 “Country First” presidential candidate, looked old and confused during his transparent attempt to discredit Comey—attempting to connect the separate-and-closed investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server to the ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

More skirmishes in the ongoing battle to control the narrative…

  • One of General Beauregard’s (oops, I mean Attorney General Sessions’s) loudest and most indignant protests during his questioning: “I am not stonewalling!” sent me directly to Jerry Lundegaard dodging policewoman Marge’s questions in Fargo: “I’m cooperatin’ here!”
  • Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton got angry about all the questions and accusations and provided some distraction by asking Sessions if he enjoyed James Bond or Jason Borne movies, spycraft in general. Where were the complaints about the slow-burn fourth season of The Americans?
  • But speaking of distractions—the Trump administration did the one thing that it is brilliant at: a distraction that had cable TV tongues buzzing and newspaper headlines screaming on the morning of Sessions’s hearing: “Friend says President is considering firing Mueller.”
  • Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein, who refused to promise Mueller’s independence to Senator Kamala Harris during the Comey hearing, promised under oath that he would not fire Mueller in a hearing of his own, just before Sessions’s.

But of course Trump can always fire him and find another employee willing to do the dirty work, ala Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre.

  • Trump’s handlers achieved a minor miracle during Comey’s testimony—the president did not tweet even once. However, Donald J. Trump Junior could not be restrained. Like father, like son. Junior then went on Fox News and undercut his Dad and his dad’s lawyer, by affirming Comey’s version of being badgered in private.
  • And of course Breitbart New live-blogged the Comey testimony, labeling it with the diss du jour—“a nothingburger.” They must have gone vegetarian. I drooled over plenty of raw, red meat thrown at me that day!

These are tough times for liberals. People have come up with a lot of creative ways to handle the depression that goes with living under the Trump presidency…

  • For traditionalist cable TV junkies, Keith Olbermann continues to wave a fiery torch with his podcast The Resistance.
  • Emoluments Welcome was an art project that projected slogans such as “Pay bribes here”on the Trump International Hotel entrance—at least until the police chased the artist away.
  • And finally, you may wish to not watch this pathetic video: Trump Throws Himself a TV Pep Talk. Its display of fealty put me in mind of North Korean subordinates laboring to stay on the good side of Kim Jong Un.

This circle jerk of sycophants is doing a kabuki of what Trump claims he would never demand of James Comey. My personal disgust trigger? Trump taking in verbal fellatio and pronouncing it a “Good job.”

Don’t be a masochist! Scroll down that page, past all the Celebrity Apprentice videos—the reality TV antics that earned Trump his followers. What I really want to see released are those outtakes of Trump abusing the female contestants.

Watch the funny and frightening riffs on that subject instead. My favorites:

  • Kevin Kline actually draining the Capitol swamp, as the substitute President in the 1993 movie Dave.
  • Monty Python mocks Hollywood in a loyalty skit that translates all too easily to Washington, D.C.
  • Watch, through splayed fingers, Robert De Niro’s Al Capone pitch loyalty to his terrified dinner companions, from 1987’s The Untouchables.

The Political Apprentice #12

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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