Capturing the Reality TV Drama of a Divided Congress

As TV genres go, national politics in the Trump era is as on-the-nose as it gets—delicious instability, blatant backstabbing, legislative high-drama, and daily presidential temper tantrums. The political shade-serving is squarely, unmistakably, reality TV. It’s all but embedded in our DNA. As Michael Thomsen wrote last year, “The logic of reality television—that the raw material for cinematic truth is dormant in all experience, merely awaiting its staging as entertainingly dramatic conflict—has roiled American culture.” In the modern era, where politics and pop culture go hand in hand, the nation’s leaders have become unlikely genre avatars for these warped times, skillfully blurring the real and the bizarre like no other.

Today, in the latest episode—a very special Halloween edition titled “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”—a combative House of Representatives voted on a resolution for an official impeachment inquiry. It passed in a vote of 232 to 196—split almost right down party lines, with Democrats getting a much needed win. Still, in a season that has offered little surprise until recently—You get a subpoena! You get a subpoena! You get a subpoena!—the finale is gearing up to be one of the series’ most unforgettable episodes.

For those just tuning in, the matter at hand concerns President Trump’s abuse of power; he is accused of colluding with a foreign leader to leverage influence over democratic opponents in the 2020 election. The process began five weeks ago when, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Bethenny Frankel to Trump’s Ramona Singer, Democrats initiated an inquiry into the president’s dealings. All good TV is contingent on volatility, surprise, and the kind of succulent hyperbole that has made genre staples, like Big Brother or RuPaul’s Drag Race, hypnotic cultural engines. It’s the same reason we refuse to change the channel from the disaster that is our national government: We love to be entertained; we want to know who will ultimately win.

Predictably, the House floor today teemed with all the chaos of a high school cafeteria: animated by thick egos, tables separated by deep allegiances. According to The New York Times, the vote commenced after “an impassioned 45-minute debate that was fraught with the weight of the moment,” in which House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said, “Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they can’t defeat him at the ballot box,” which wasn’t really true, but, hey, every star is only as memorable as their most GIFable line. Not easily cowed, Pelosi offered a counter: “What is at stake in this is nothing less than our democracy,” she said.

On Thursday, just past 12 noon Eastern, and after what we are likely to learn was years of presidential abuse, photographer Win McNamee captured a moment as it erupted on set. The exchange is one of administrative frenzy: Pelosi, with gavel in hand, striking the podium with earned validation. Strangely enough, for all the character in-fighting and for what essentially makes the show what it is, the vitality of McNamee’s image is best illustrated by the inanimate objects within the frame: the American flag, four marble columns, the message “In God We Trust” kindled by a single pane of light underneath.

It’s here where we are presented with a subtle reminder. The stars of the show will eventually change, and we will have new storylines to bicker over. What we will be left with, McNamee suggests, is what fundamentally matters: trust in a stable democracy. Stay tuned.


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social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/depth-of-field-impeachment-inquiry-vote