The impeachment inquiry was only a few hours old when even the hardiest of political junkies began to tune out. They'd read fervently about the closed-door depositions and scanned reams of released transcripts, only to bail when the House hearings arrived in their living rooms and offices, on their TVs and car radios, when the proceedings kicked off Wednesday morning. "I can't watch this," said one over the phone. "This is making me sick," texted another, accompanied by the vomit emoji.
They were hardly alone. Echo chambers across social media reverberated with similar sentiments from both the left and right. Three years of divisive spin, "alternative facts" and partisan thuggery had dulled their senses, dampened their outrage, zapped their zip.
Now they were just -- tired. And when it came down to a question of self-preservation versus witnessing history, well, weren't Clinton and Nixon just impeached?
Wednesday's hearings represented the fourth formal effort to unseat an American president since the office was established in 1789, the first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and perhaps the only time "constitutional crisis" felt like "business as usual."
After all, contention, maleficence, finger-pointing and lies are Washington's main exports, and we're in a glut economy -- still wading through residual angst from the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's downer testimony, every White House news conference since February 2017 and the incessant hum of the news cycle.
And Wednesday looked as if it'd be more of the same when William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy, testified before the House Intelligence Committee. The main subject: the alleged quid pro quo in Trump's call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked for a personal favor (dirt on Joe Biden and his son) while withholding military aid.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the grandstanding.
Career diplomat and Vietnam veteran Taylor kicked off the proceedings with a cogent, 41-minute opening statement that contextualized and connected the role of Russia in Ukraine, the plight of Ukrainians and the critical importance of America's relationship with Ukraine to Trump's phone call.
He explained that there "appeared to be two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular." The "irregular" channel included the involvement of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. And the "irregular" channel, Taylor said, ran "contrary to the goals of long-standing U.S. policy."
Kent, who oversaw European and Eurasian affairs with deep knowledge of the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine, explained step by step why the GOP's assertions that Trump was trying to combat corruption in Ukraine with the now-infamous phone call were not in line with any sort of operation he recognized or witnessed as a long-time diplomat.