Long before Trump was president, when he was just a third-rate TV game show host and a failed businessman, Orin Kerr wrote a prescient post about confirmation bias: Brilliant people agree with me.
It’s a natural instinct, if not watched carefully. If you read something that reflects or resonates with your own views, you’ll agree with it. Upon agreeing with it, you’ll think it is highly persuasive.
Today’s New York Times editorial has a one-word title:
You can read the editorial if you like, but will it persuade anyone? Did anyone harbor a doubt, even for a second, that the Times would come out in favor of impeachment? The editorial does a yeoman’s job of making its case, which involves nothing new or profound, but other than feeding the same meal to its readers that it’s been feeding them daily for years, it’s the nutraloaf of thought.
“I know this moment must be difficult, but you still have a choice,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York told his Republican colleagues at the start of more than 17 hours of debate on whether to remove Mr. Trump from office.
A short time later, the former Republican chairman of the committee responded with a plea to Democrats to abandon impeachment: “Put aside your partisan politics,” Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin implored, “because the future of our country and the viability of our Constitution as the framers decided it, are at stake.”
Each had a role in the Passion Play, and each performed their lines adequately.
But the appeals to rise above the tribalism of the moment from the two veteran lawmakers fell on deaf ears. They persuaded no one, and only served to contrast with the rancorous, sometimes personally vindictive debate that unfolded over the next two days in the Ways and Means Committee Room not far from the Capitol.
That each side sees the other as intransigent and tribal isn’t surprising, although there is a strong likelihood that the Democrats have the upper hand this time, given that there are facts in support of their cries. But that misses the point in a battle of persuasion. Much as there might be a hope that someone will break ranks.
And, indeed, Democratic Congressman Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey will switch parties, joining the Republicans. His position, apparently, isn’t so much that Trump didn’t do what he’s alleged to have done, but that it’s not removal worthy. Then again, his red district polling numbers suggested he’d be primaried and lose if he remained a Dem and votes for impeachment, so there’s that.
The point is that the usual suspects say the usual things, and the people who already believe the same agree with them and find their arguments “brilliant.” No one is moved. No one is persuaded. No mind is changed.
But then, Bryan Garner, who was BFF with Nino Scalia and, on his own merit, has established not insignificant credibility as a person who thinks clearly and independently, whether you agree with him or not, offered a remarkable twit.
I’ve always called myself Republican. I keep my Twitter feed generally apolitical & will continue to do so. Generally. But as of today, I’m switching parties. Over impeachment. The Republican positions aren’t consonant with intellectual honesty. As of today, I’m an Independent.
— Bryan A. Garner (@BryanAGarner) December 14, 2019
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has affirmatively stated that the Senate will not find Trump guilty of the Articles of Impeachment and will not remove him from office. He has further stated that Senate Republicans are coordinating their effort with the Trump White House. In other words, the outcome in the Senate is a foregone conclusion, according to McConnell.
This will surprise no one. This is also intellectually dishonest and an arrogation of the Senate’s constitutional duty. Hear the evidence presented before you. Consider it in good faith. Reach the conclusion you will, but perform your constitutional duty whether you want to or not.
Garner’s twit will likely not reach many people who wear MAGA hats, as his world is law and academia. But within his world, he carries some sway. It doesn’t hurt that he can claim legitimate conservative bona fides, but more than that, he can lay claim to being an honest broker, an individual who would not let tribalism dictate his views even when he knows that he will be branded a heretic by the tribe.
Garner, recognizing that the handling of impeachment by the Republicans has been disgraceful and dishonest, has chosen to break ranks, to leave the party behind and become an independent. Notably, he has not claimed status as a Democrat, as have some other lapsed Republicans. While I can’t presume to know why, as he hasn’t explained, it’s likely that he can no more support the Democratic agenda than be party to the Republican dissembling.
There is a belief on the part of Democrats, that intelligent, moral and decent people cannot hold views other than theirs. Or as Orin would put it, they’re brilliant, meaning they are intolerant of heresy and anyone who strays over the line of social justice ideology is a conservative, at best, or even a white supremacist for their failure to be a critical race theorist. That’s a pond into which some of us are unwilling to take a dip.
So the New York Times editorial board members say “Impeach,” dripping wet and wrinkled like prunes from their three years submerged in the progressive pond. No one cares because no one ever thought they would opine otherwise. After three years of screaming that the sky is falling, there was never a doubt how they would come out on the question.
But Garner has some influence because he is not a dedicated follower of fashion. That Bryan Garner has broken ranks for no reason other than the intellectual dishonesty of the party he called home speaks volumes, whereas the Times is just static. That’s why Garner is persuasive where the Times is not.