It’s OK to admit that our attention spans are fried.
We’ve become accustomed to simplicity and instant gratification. We want soundbites, tweets and a quick headline we can react to in our social feeds.
The impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump is none of those things. It can feel sleepy and sluggish, simultaneously complex and underwhelming.
“Boring!” quickly became a Republican talking point in the inquiry’s public hearings. NBC proclaimed the proceedings lacked any “pizzazz.”
But the career diplomats who have testified so far are not here for our amusement.
They are, by their own admission, offering up a factual account of White House actions they found to be “irregular” and “concerning” so that lawmakers can decide whether or not the president deserves to be impeached.
They have told a story about a president who seemingly abused his power and charted an unusual course with a dependent American ally based on wild conspiracy theories and a personal obsession with a political rival.
They have explained how this effort was undertaken outside the normal channels of diplomacy and defied America’s stated goals and promises to support a nation struggling against Russian aggression.
More importantly, what Ambassador William Taylor and State Department official George Kent offered is a roadmap for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry.
They have established a pattern of conduct that merits investigation, and they have told congress where to look and who to talk to for a first-hand account of it all.
This is the most serious, solemn proceeding the U.S. Congress can undertake. And by this time next week, Trump and his Republican defenders may well be yearning for these slow, early days.
Here’s why: as the schedule currently stands, the second week of public hearings will include testimony from several people with first-person knowledge of Trump’s conversations and actions with respect to Ukraine.
One of those people is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated American military officer who was privy to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Recall that Vindman was so concerned by what he heard from Trump that he reported it to his superiors twice.
The other is Gordon Sondland, the Trump mega-donor who now serves as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Sondland has been named as a central figure in the “irregular” communications channel with Ukraine and has already revised his testimony to corroborate the allegation that the Trump administration withheld military aid as a way to pressure the Ukrainians to launch an investigation into Trump’s political rival, former vice-president Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, that first supposedly “boring” day of the public impeachment inquiry actually brought significantly damaging testimony from Taylor, who said that one of his staff overheard Sondland on the phone with Trump discussing “the investigation.” Sondland also allegedly told that staff member that Trump’s interest in the Bidens outweighed his concern for Ukraine.
Before Taylor had finished his testimony, the House committees investigating Trump had scheduled a closed-door deposition for that embassy staffer, a man named David Holmes.
The Associated Press reports a second U.S. embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard the phone call, too.
Day 1 opened this door to a new allegation that directly implicates the president. It also opened the door to a whole bunch of new questions for Sondland when he appears next week.
And that’s how it works: it’s not about quick, easy answers. It’s a slow and methodical search for the truth and it takes time.
That truth also includes what’s not being said.
Largely absent from Day 1 was a vigorous Republican defence of the president’s conduct.
Questions from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) focused largely on conspiracy theories and wild accusations that are incomprehensible to almost anyone who isn’t fed a steady diet of Fox News opinion programming.
REALITY CHECK: A closer look at claims made during the impeachment hearing
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) tried to corral the witnesses into asserting that an impeachable offence had been committed.
“I’m not here to do anything with having to do with deciding about impeachment,” explained Taylor.
While it’s impossible to pretend these public hearings aren’t about swaying public opinion, it’s worth noting that the witness list is tightly focused on the people closest to the alleged scheme.
These are largely career civil servants — people trained to remember nuance and detail. They are not professional performers, politicians or massive personalities.
Whether they are believable and whether their testimony documents an impeachable offence is for Congress to decide and for the public to consider.
What is clear is that the supposedly “boring” first day of public hearings gave us good reason to keep tuning in.
Jackson Proskow is Washington bureau chief for Global National.