It was a word, in the Twitter feed: emoluments. William Barr, the nominee to be attorney general, was saying he didn’t know what it meant. The Senate had asked him about the emoluments clause, Twitter said, and he said he hadn’t studied the question.
When the Senate asked Brett Kavanaugh questions and he gave ridiculous answers, at least everyone still stopped to listen. Barr was only auditioning to run the Justice Department, to have final authority over the investigation into Donald Trump. He hadn’t thought about the constitutional clause that people had been warning about Trump violating since before Inauguration Day.
In the early days of the Trump administration, the news moved impossibly fast because of the slapdash and impulsive nature of the president himself, and the fumbling incompetence of the people he’d brought with him. Now the president has gone torpid but what’s left is an unimaginable backlog of messes, left by a top-to-bottom breakdown of government that had already happened even before the official, formal shutdown. William Barr is going to be the attorney general and he doesn’t even know, or won’t admit he knows, what’s in the Constitution.
Trying to get caught up on the story only demonstrated that it wasn’t really a story, only a thing that some people had had the time to notice, briefly. Vox wrote it up and it was fine; it just wasn’t news. News happens when information moves through the world and makes a ripple. Nobody was responding to Barr’s incredible dodge in any meaningful way. Hey, he didn’t make any bogus legal threats to bully any victims of a fraudulent marketing company—that we know of—the way Matthew Whitaker, the person who is somehow currently doing the job of the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, did. What’s anyone going to do, try to delay or defeat Barr so Whitaker can keep running things?