The solemnity trap

I think it’s hilarious that the Democratic Senators running for president are stuck in Washington, D.C. attending the entirety of the impeachment trial. There’s no need, other than a political one, for them to do so.

What’s the point? Sens. Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, et al. know they will vote to remove President Trump. Presumably, they are conversant with the evidence. But even if they aren’t, there’s a .000000 chance that anything they hear during the trial will cause them to vote to acquit.

Nor, to my knowledge, is there any actual rule that requires their attendance at all times. As I understand it, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer issued decorum guidelines for the trial that say “senators should plan to be in attendance at all times during the proceedings.” But that’s just a guideline, and it doesn’t say that senators must be in attendance at all times or even every day.

Why, then, do Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar feel compelled to be at the trial at all times, to the detriment of their campaigns? Because Democrats have to maintain the pretense that there’s something serious and solemn about the trial House Democrats have forced the Senate (and the nation) to endure.

Thus, Sanders, who surely would like to be elsewhere, dutifully intones:

My focus today is on a monumental moment in American history: the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history.

But this is not a monumental moment in American history. It’s a footnote.

Nor will Trump be defeated at trial. And in the unlikely event that the trial causes Trump to lose in November, it won’t be because Bernie Sanders sat through the whole thing. But all Democrats have to play along with the fiction Sanders articulated in the quotation above.

Republicans don’t — at least not those who aren’t worried about winning when their term expires. If I were a GOP Senator with a safe seat, or one who doesn’t plan to run for reelection, I’d be sorely tempted to thumb my nose at the McConnell-Schumer decorum guide (and at the notion that this trial is a solemn proceeding) and take a day or two off from the tedium of the trial (picking days when no motions are likely to be voted on).

Senators should not regard themselves as jurors the way citizens reporting for jury duty are. Citizen jury duty truly is a solemn undertaking, but only because citizens don’t know in advance of trial what any of the evidence will be or how they will vote in the jury room.

Nearly all of the Senators know these things, and the Democratic presidential candidates among them certainly do. These particular Senators — the ones running for president — must subscribe to Nancy Pelosi’s solemnity myth, and I find it delicious that they do.

But we don’t have to go along with the gag, and neither do most Republican Senators.