The plain truth can often be so obvious as to be invisible. That’s my more charitable interpretation of the press corps’ coverage of Qassem Soleimani’s assassination. My less charitable interpretation? Reporters and editors in Washington, D.C., will find a way to avoid seeing the plain truth because the plain truth is too unbearable to see.
It would be unbearable to think the president ordered a man dead in order to give Republican Senators a means of defending him against an indictment for abuse of power and obstruction. It would be unthinkable for him to bring America to the brink of war in order to create an image of a “war president” too indispensable to remove.
As a result, the press corps has been busy this week reporting in granular detail virtually every aspect of Donald Trump’s decision last week to target and kill Iran’s top general in Baghdad. Everything, that is, short of reporting the plain, obvious and unbearable truth: the president ordered a man’s death because he was impeached.
That reporters and editors in Washington, D.C, find ways to avoid seeing the plain truth was brought to mind by this morning’s Wall Street Journal. In a piece about the president’s new national security team—how its “cohesion” resulted in Soleimani’s assassination—seven esteemed reporters committed one of journalism’s professional sins. They buried the lede. Nearly 30 paragraphs into a 2,200-word story, they said:
Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said (my italics).
Now, these are unnamed sources. They were speaking on background. In isolation, I wouldn’t make much of this. But in context, it matters—so much so, it warrants its own reporting, which we have not yet seen. That context would be the absence of legitimate non-political reasons for ordering Soleimani’s death. In all the reporting I’ve read, administration officials can’t keep their stories straight. On the one hand, that suggests no good reason. On the other, that suggests the most obvious one.
The buried lede suggests something else worth exploring. The president may not have been alone in seeking to please Republican senators who will sit in judgement of him during the impeachment trial. It may be that a Republican senator—Lindsey Graham comes to mind—encouraged the president to act on Soleimani. In that case, we would have to face yet another unbearable truth: some Republicans in the United States Senate are conspiring with the president in defrauding the people to maintain power.
Though unbearable, it’s plain and it’s obvious. The Republicans really are dumping constitutional principles once dearly and closely held for the sake of power. Graham and other Republicans declared their intent to violate preemptively the oath all impeachment jurors take to “do impartial justice, according to the Constitution and law.” Graham and Mitch McConnell, the current Senate majority leader, were highly principled during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Now that the defendant is a Republican, however, those principles are beside the point. Both worked hard to ensure Trump a rapid acquittal without his having to work too hard for it.
What’s good for Clinton is not good for Trump—that’s not a matter of hypocrisy. I can’t stress that enough, because that’s another unbearable truth. There are two value systems, according to the Republican theory and practice. There is one set of laws, rules and norms for Republicans. There’s another set for Democrats. One protects. One punishes. The GOP benefits enormously when the press corps sees just one.
It seemed hypocritical when Rand Paul, a Republican senator, said yesterday he was ready to debate separations of powers after administration officials told him and GOP Senator Mike Lee not to talk about military intervention in Iran. Lee said “it was un-American. It's unconstitutional. And it's wrong.” Their Democratic colleagues might have thought they prepared to support the conviction of Trump for the same offense. Lee made it clear he wasn’t. He told Fox News Thursday the president is the best.
Again, this isn’t hypocrisy. According to Republican theory and practice, Republicans get to be principled. Democrats do not. Republicans have the right to respect and deference. Democrats do not. When the Republicans impeached a Democrat, they stood on high moral ground. When the Democrats impeached a Republican, according to Republicans, the Democrats did no such thing. The Republican got to call witnesses. Democrats do not. There are two value systems—separate and unequal.
That, to me, is not just a plain truth. It’s not just an unbearable truth. It’s a pernicious truth. The Republican Party can and will commit unthinkable acts to maintain power—like permitting foreign interference and encouraging acts of war, not to mention suppressing the vote and enshrining minority rule in constitutional and statutory law—even if those acts slowly eat away the foundations of our democratic covenant.
Now imagine the press corps reporting the obvious truth.
I think things would be different.