As a political animal all my life, I can vividly recall the Nixon impeachment hearings and being surprised as a 10-year-old that the president was a "crook." During the Clinton impeachment hearings, as an adult and by then a political and media veteran, I was shocked that a president could be foolish enough to have an affair with an intern (having been one myself in Congress) but nevertheless unimpressed that it could lead to removal from office. The whole thing seemed sordid and misplaced.
Well, I'm not just fastening my seat belt but tripling up, adding a shoulder belt and a safety bar for what lies ahead with the start of the public impeachment hearings next week. A bumpy ride? That's an understatement. It will be a high-speed, banging luge run that violently jumps the track -- more than once!
If you have not read The New York Times' thorough and extensive examination of Donald Trump's Twitter account, you are missing out on something that will astound you. The rate, repetitiveness, and revulsion that ricochet from his Twitter feed around the social sphere amount to a slapdash of scorn, scam, and sham. The frequency of his ire on Twitter has increased dramatically in the two-plus years since he's been in office (over 11,000 tweets). And next week we should see an off-the-chart explosion of Twitter tantrums. Those tweets, a burgeoning media, and unruly social media are what makes this impeachment not only different but more dangerous than its predecessors.
Last week, in a media and psychology course I teach, I talked about how the media covered the Nixon and Clinton impeachment proceedings. The press exposed Nixon as a crook via the investigative work of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for The Washington Post. The media was the hero that helped reveal an Oval Office crime and cover-up.
In 1998, the media made the Clinton debacle a salacious sex scandal, at the dawning of the internet where unique daily visitors started to mean something, and when cable, network television, and print news were working feverishly to outpace each other in ever more heated ratings and circulation wars.
This time, the media doesn't just cover and unearth the news, nor does it just sensationalize, but it goes further than ever, acting as home bases of information for the right (Fox, TheWall Street Journal) left (MSNBC, HuffPost), and center (CNN, USA Today). While it's divisive, it also sounds neatly ordered and crisp. Until it isn't.
Add the plethora of digital outlets, infinite social media accounts, the desperate need for clicks and shares, and now the spectacle of a once-in-a-lifetime (well, three in mine) impeachment proceeding, and you've got a perfect Category 5 storm firing up, gearing to cause upheaval to an already tattered landscape.
Trump is keenly aware of the devastation that will hit him next week. Undoubtedly, his plan will be to go to great lengths to gin up and charge up those home bases and digital outlets. His tweets will seek to destroy the reputations of lifelong diplomats who will testify, scream for the head of the whistleblower (even though exposing this person is against the law), double down on degrading the process of the inquiry, and trash and tear apart the Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, and then some. And he will almost certainly try to divert attention from the ominous facts of the hearings through any number of other errantly tactical tweets featuring racist language, ribald words, and ridiculous theories.
Then, in the middle of all this muddled chaos, arrived the eagerly awaited book by the same anonymous author who penned last year's "resistance" op-ed in The New York Times. The tantalizing tome slammed, embarrassed, and exposed the Trump presidency. In another attempt to slice and distract, Trump will most assuredly rip up, smack down, and do a digital destruct of Anonymous, the book, and all the stories it spawns. He will need an extra hand and fingers to keep up with the mudslide of meaningful, malicious malevolence thrown his way next week.
That won't be the end of the nastiness. It stands to reason that the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee will disrupt any attempts for clarity and civility during the public hearings. You can be sure Republicans' number 1 intent will be to create a sense of pandemonium that tries to dilute the adverse testimony being broadcast.
The public impeachment hearings are designed specifically for the media so that they can convey the testimony into sound bites and succinct statements that can be digestible to the average American -- particularly those who are not politically attuned and who will start to pay heed next week because of the seriousness of the situation.
The Democrats in Congress have already started injecting the full testimony of the transcripts into the public domain in order to get a "leg up" on owning the message and driving home key points and personalities prior to next week's hearings. Trump, for all intents and purposes, hasn't even begun his assault. What's upcoming will be a battle of compelling sound bites from the media versus social bytes from the Twitterer in Chief.
There will be so much news, noise, and nonsense next week that the media will be in delirious overdrive, and your social feeds will be chock-full, brimming with memes, links, commentary, captioned photos, facts, fake news, truth, innuendo, and on and on and on.
Does this all sound overwhelming? Does it sound almost farcical? Does it sound like someone opened the cages to the zoo to let the animals run wild? Does it sound like a Netflix series? Does it even sound real? Heck, does it even sound unreal? And the answers to all these questions are a definitive yes.
And unfortunately, those yeses are the only degree of certainty that can be derived about what's to come next week. I have dealt with and studied the media for 30 years, similarly with politics, and I can honestly say I have no idea what will transpire next week. But what I do know is this: It is likely to be one of the most tumultuous weeks in the history of the press, politics, and social media. And like a Category 5 hurricane, you know it's coming, you've been warned of its severity, you can start to prepare, but until it hits, you really have no idea what to expect.
Oh, how we should long for the simple impeachments about crooks and sex scandals!
JohnCasey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.