By coincidence or convergence, one of the two bylines on a New York Times story about how no one is holding Donald Trump accountable, or even really trying to hold him accountable, was that of Glenn Thrush. It’s been less than 18 months since the Times reported, reporting on the Times, that Thrush had been “removed from the team covering the White House” because, in the words of a statement attributed to executive editor Dean Baquet, he had “behaved in ways that we do not condone” and had “acted offensively.”
One of the great questions hanging behind the revelations of the Me Too movement has been how, exactly, the centrality of sex creeps and misogynist bullies in various industries has invisibly affected the mass culture—not just how Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly set the tone for the militant masculinism of Fox News, but how, say, the reported habits and attitudes of Les Moonves shaped programming on CBS for more than two decades. At any rate, there was Glenn Thrush, explaining to the readers of the Times that applying consequences is no one’s particular responsibility, and that sometimes the general public just doesn’t care as much as the most aggrieved people want them to:
House Democrats, frustrated by President Trump’s efforts to stonewall their investigations and eager to stoke public anger about the president’s behavior, are pinning their diminishing hopes on Robert S. Mueller III yet again.
“Eager to stoke public anger about the president’s behavior” was a neat way to set aside questions of right and wrong: the issue was not the substance of the president rejecting Congress’ oversight powers, but whether the optics of the situation were favorable to Congress, or could be made favorable. Beyond that, even, it framed the desire to see the president obey the constitution as a matter of “anger,” the unreasonable and unsavvy emotion, and as something to be manipulated for partisan gain. It was the kind of cynicism that is an exercise of profound stupidity.
Thrush was also on Twitter yesterday, weighing in on Bill de Blasio’s presidential candidacy:
Jokes aside: The trains are literally not running on time, the city’s public housing is a mess, affordable housing is beyond the reach of an increasing number of New Yorkers, and the kind of unfettered development he promised to curb is running rampant.
Someone then pointed out to Thrush that the mayor, whatever his other faults may be, is not in charge of the subway system. He responded:
I covered the MTA for years. It’s the mayor’s city, if he/she makes it his monomaniacal concern — lives it and breathes it — it happens. Hard stop.
Hard stop: the governor is in charge of the MTA. Glenn Thrush, in a display of raw anti-expertise, was trying to brag that his personal understanding of the subway was more important that the substantive facts about who controls the transit authority. As with Congress’ impeachment power, the only real issue, in his view, was the magical application of will and feelings.
The same kind of magical thinking, attributed to the House Democrats, pervaded the impeachment story. What the Democrats needed for impeachment, the story went, was Robert Mueller:
“We cannot count on anyone but Mueller to tell us what he was thinking, and it should not be filtered through anyone else — seeing is believing, hearing is believing,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee…
Representative Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat who sits on the Judiciary Committee, added, “If the people who are referenced in the Mueller report won’t testify, then we need to hear from the author of the report.”
It is depressingly likely that the Democrats do mean this, that they are still, after everything, unable to let go of the notion that Robert Mueller will stand up and offer to solve the Trump problem for them, somehow making the process of rooting out a partisan presidency into a nonpartisan process. But part of why they think like this is that whatever they try to do about Donald Trump is going to have to be mediated through people like Glenn Thrush.
So the story gets told like this:
Democrats involved in the investigations insist that they still have options. They can hold hearings with empty chairs, summon friendly witnesses and mount new and novel challenges against the administration on health care and other issues. On myriad looming legal fights, they are confident they will ultimately prevail in court — and there is always the possibility that a high-impact witness will be willing to buck Mr. Trump and emerge John Dean-like and unexpectedly.
But those options lack the possible impact of Mr. Mueller, the most recognizable figure behind the investigation.
Mueller is the most recognizable figure, wrote the people whose job is to help the public recognize the figures. The Democrats can’t change that; like the use of “public anger,” the choice of “insist” stacked the deck. The professional political journalists have decided on a set of premises that will be treated as facts, and they will enforce them. Among those premises, maybe chief among them, is the belief that nothing truly new can happen—that no development can match the “impact” of Mueller; that even if any new development did, it would just be John Dean all over again; that nothing can possibly be happening here that they haven’t seen before.