Why the UkraineGate Hearings Didn’t Move the Dial

CNN and MSDNC’s talking heads seemed surprised and disappointed that the recent televised impeachment hearings do not appear to have moved any but a small number of Republicans into supporting the impeachment and removal of the demented fascist oligarch Donald Trump.  Liberals roll their eyes while discussing surveys showing that Republican voters are unmoved by clear evidence of Trump’s corrupt conduct in trying to extort political dirt on Joe Biden out of Ukraine with the bribe of American missiles.

But there’s nothing remotely surprising about Republican Amerikaners’ refusal to abandon their Great Tangerine God in the wake of the daytime UkraineGate television show. It’s not just that the most ordinary people of any (or no) political party don’t have time to stay seated for hours in front of telescreens during the workday.  Equally significant is the ongoing savage partisan polarization of U.S. politics, so extreme that Trump could commit almost any crime (dare I say “shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue”?) without losing Republican backing (just as President Barack Obama could have done very little that would have cost him the support of mainstream “liberal” Democrats.)  Partisan polarization has been erasing red lines on executive branch behavior for quite some time when it comes to voters and presidents in the same party.

Another factor is the related extreme partisan polarization of U.S. political media.  Liberals get their political news and commentary from CNN, MSDNC and (further up the class pyramid) the New York Times and Washington Post.  Republicans take their political news and commentary from FOX News, right-wing talk radio, and other starboard outlets where media operatives take their cue from Dear Leader Donald by reporting and discussing UkraineGate as nothing more than a silly but vicious Democratic “hoax” and “witch hunt. The right-wing media bubble relays and amplifies the Trumpified Republican Party’s preposterous assaults on establishment UkraineGate whistleblowers and witnesses as “partisan Democrats” and “Never Trumpers” (a truly strange term of supposed abuse).  It spins wild right-wing conspiracy theories that both influence and reflect the paranoid-style mind of the neofascistic president himself.

Also relevant is the very different way in which the nation’s white Trumpenvolk understand the problem and meaning of corruption.  Trumpists think that Caucasians are becoming a besieged minority targeted for discrimination by “politically correct” liberal and left elites who are turning the nation against proper white values, culture, needs, rights and prerogatives. This “reverse discrimination” victim-whiteness (devoid of evidence for its claims) informs the Trump base’s understanding of the meaning of the word “corruption” in ways the liberal writer Peter Beinart captured well after Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified to Congress about his collaboration with the president in the classically corrupt violation of campaign finance laws. For Trump’s base, Beinart wrote in August of 2018, the idea of corruption isn’t so much about politics and the law as it is about racial and gender purity:

‘Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history. … Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies [of race and gender], their behavior makes more sense. … Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that [Hillary] Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption…. [Michael] Cohen’s admission makes it harder for Republicans to claim that Trump didn’t violate the law. But it doesn’t really matter. For many Republicans, Trump remains uncorrupt—indeed, anti-corrupt—because what they fear most isn’t the corruption of American law; it’s the corruption of America’s traditional identity. And in the struggle against that form of corruption—the kind embodied by Cristhian Rivera [the “illegal immigrant” accused of murdering the young white woman Mollie Tibbetts in rural Iowa two weeks ago]—Trump isn’t the problem. He’s the solution.’

Trump violated established presidential and foreign policy norms by trying to trade arms to Ukraine in return for political filth on Biden.  Even for Trumpenvolk who are willing to acknowledge this impeachable offense, however, it’s a big so what? The corruption that matters to Trump’s heavily identity-politicized “heartland” base is the purported liberal and left-led assault on and erosion of white-male supremacism.  Donito Assolini is the Amerikaner cohort’s anti-corruption crusader, nobly dedicated to making White Men Supreme Again.

Alongside the polarized partisans, there’s also a vast swath of Americans who checked out from the nation’s nonstop media-politics circus long ago.  Their opinions on Trumpeachment ala Pelosi and Schiff (TAPS) haven’t moved because they couldn’t have cared less before it started and couldn’t care less now.  They don’t see why UkraineGate matters – an all-too understandable sentiment since the Democrats are pursuing impeachment over a relatively small and very intra-elite crime among Trump’s long list of more socially, morally, and environmentally significant transgressions.

Meanwhile, as U.S. public Trump opinion remains largely unchanged in the face of the non-stop Trumpeachment carnival, the media can barely bring itself to report a recent United Nations warning that global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century – a “catastrophic” rate of increase that calls for urgent global efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).