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How Democrats Lost the Impeachment Debate

In a left versus right brain world, bureaucrats and careerists have no chance against the Trumpist opposition.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) delivers opening remarks during an open hearing in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified before the committee about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential elections and his department's response to the threat. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

To put it mildly, House Democrats’ impeachment scenario hasn’t gone as planned. According to the Real Clear Politics polling aggregation, since the end of October, Trump’s approval rating has ticked up a little, while his disapproval has ticked down. And according to FiveThirtyEight, support for impeachment has declined slightly over the last month. 

These small shifts might not seem earth-shattering, yet the failure of the hearings to dump Trump seems to have been shattering to some Democrats. Hence this November 22 headline in Politico: “Vulnerable Democrats panic amid GOP impeachment ad onslaught.” We should note that the headline was later softened, such that “panic” became merely “spooked.” Still, Trump foes have been disappointed to discover that “Ukraine-gate” hasn’t been the Watergate II they were hoping for.

To be sure, the Democrats and their allies fervently believe they have made their case, that President Trump attempted to manipulate U.S. foreign policy for political advantage—even if, of course, he ultimately delivered to Ukraine the very military aid that the Obama administration had denied. 

Nevertheless, that legal case, such as it might be, has been obscured by poor optics—which are obvious to see. As Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican though hardly a partisan barnburner, observed on Meet the Press, “I think the Democrats had a bad week.”  

Of course, with Trump, one dreads making any prediction about what could come next. There’s always another bombshell about to go off—and who knows where the shrapnel will fly. 

Still, it is possible to look back at the hearings and assess what went wrong for Team Impeach. In a nutshell, House Democrats gambled that a procession of witnesses, most of them careerists—or, if one prefers, foreign service and military officers, yet still careerists—would deliver a knockout blow to Trump. Yet what emerged from their testimony was that, well, they were bureaucrats

As Mark Hemingway wrote for The Federalist, these people were mortified by the fact that Trump administration policy was made by…Trump. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Trump’s Ukraine policy was “inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency”—that is, the interagency process of which Vindman was a part. Yet as Hemingway added tartly, “Nobody elects an ‘interagency consensus.’”  

Indeed, as Byron York of The Washington Examiner pointed out, Vindman’s perspective “is a classic bureaucrat’s view of government and the world.” York then added, speaking of the fabled interagency process:

Needless to say, Trump does not do that sort of thing. The president is remarkably freewheeling, unbureaucratic, and certainly not always consistent when it comes to making policy. But he generally has a big goal in mind, and in any event, he is the president of the United States. He, not the interagency, sets U.S. foreign policy.

In the words of Harry Truman, “The buck stops here.” Here, that is, at the desk of the commander-in-chief, not in the cubicles of bureaucratic functionaries. 

So now we begin to see how the Democrats made their mistake. Having gotten their inspiration in the first place from that Deep State whistleblower, they then assumed they could carry on their “investigation,” relying on still more Deep Statists. But these individuals don’t typically make for good witnesses—at least up to the level of convincing people to think, okay, having heard these second- and third-hand allegations, I now agree we should impeach Trump.

On November 25, Congressman Matt Gaetz poured acid on the political effectiveness of the Democrats’ chosen witnesses:

In the State Department…people think there’s only one way to do things. That they have to do it through their precise diplomatic channels & only in the way they all learned going to the same schools & working at the same think tanks.

Thus we can see a wide cleft here, between the delicate and precise culture of the bureaucracy and the churning and heaving culture of the anti-bureaucracy, led by you-know-who. For their part, the Democrats made the mistake of siding with the bureaucrats—and when was the last time a bureaucrat won an election, to say nothing of a national election? 

In fact, if we peer down into that wide cleft, between bureaucratic super-ego and presidential id, we see something even deeper than the Deep State—we see the fundamental workings of the human brain. 

Here we might summon up the work of Roger W. Sperry, who in 1981 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Sperry argued that two hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different functions: the “left brain” deals with words, facts, and sequences, while the “right brain” deals with visuals, emotions, and intuitions. The theory further holds that for most people, one hemisphere or another is stronger; thus left-brainers are more words and facts driven, while right-brainers are more visuals and emotions driven. 

Now it must be footnoted that as a matter of medical physiology, the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is debatable. Yet as a matter of pop psychology, it’s even more debatable, in that the duality is seemingly irresistible as a matter of parlor discussion. Why? Because each of us can see see the dueling personality types all around us—and there’s nothing more compelling, of course, than human nature. 

For instance, the left-brain/right-brain concept helps explain the rise of political correctness. According to Greg Piccionelli, a Los Angeles-based attorney-inventor-biologist, the hard categorical thinking of left-brainers can easily turn into hard-left dogma. 

Dogma isn’t new, of course, and it’s always been spread across the left-right spectrum. But these days, left-brained PC dogma has received an enormous reinforcement: from the PC. That is, political correctness has been bolstered by the personal computer—and by supercomputers, artificial intelligence, and big data. 

Of course, when everything is online, it’s hard not to be cyber-immersed. And that’s the point: to borrow a phrase from Marx, computers are the dominant mode of production, and so it’s no surprise that thinking machines are affecting our thinking. (Last year, this author wrote about PC/PC dogma in regard to the censorship of the Monty Python comedy troupe, as well as re: Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings.) 

Of course, in this world, everything has its dialectical negation. And for left-brained culture, that dialectic is Trump, who is obviously strongly right-brained. Whatever else one might think of him, Trump is real and raw, the exact opposite of ordered and dogmatic. No wonder he and Marie Jovanovitch didn’t hit it off. 

It’s this mental cleft, left-brain versus right-brain, that provides the ultimate backdrop for the impeachment battle. As brain-pundit Piccionelli puts it, “If there was a personification of left-brain-ism, it’s Adam Schiff, and most of the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. And those witnesses—they were even more left-brained.”

Of course, one could say that it’s in the nature of such hearings to be dry, procedural—and left-brained. To which Piccionelli answers, “Okay, but nobody told Trump and the Republicans they had to play by those rules. They were emotional and passionate—right-brained—and it worked better for them.”  

What the Democrats needed, Piccionelli says, is some right-brained passion of their own. “They needed someone to look directly into the camera and say, ‘This is wrong!’” Piccionelli says. “They needed someone—Member of Congress or witness—to connect with the ordinary right-brain emotions of Americans.”  

To be sure, practicing politicians, in both parties, tend to be pretty good at connecting to voters—that is, after all, how they got elected. Yet Piccionelli speculates that the Democrats, as the tech-ier party—if anyone in Silicon Valley likes Trump, he, she, or they hide it well—have been more influenced by politically correct modalities. 

That is, without even realizing it, Democrats have slipped into the sort of PC consciousness that makes for cold dogmatism, the attitude that just can’t believe that everyone can’t see the obvious truth of its argument. And here we might pause to note the baleful influence of ultra-woke college campuses, which provide up-and-coming Democrats with great skill in one-way preaching, but less skill at actual debating. 

Meanwhile, lower-tech Republicans—who probably didn’t go to Woke U.—are more in touch with right-brain humanity.

So lotsa luck, Democrats, if you pass impeachment in the House. That Senate trial, dominated by Trumpy right-brained Republicans, won’t be in the least bit woke, but it sure will be lit. 

about the author

James P. Pinkerton is a longtime contributing editor at The American Conservative, columnist, and author. He served as longtime regular columnist for Newsday. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, National Review, The New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Fortune, and The Jerusalem Post. He is the author of What Comes Next: The End of Big Government--and the New Paradigm Ahead (1995).He worked in the White House domestic policy offices of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and in the 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns. 

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