Whether it's a case of projection, an assumption or just a deep-seated hope, Republicans in the impeachment hearings Wednesday revealed their expectation that no one's really done the reading when it comes to the case for President Donald Trump's impeachment. "You couldn’t have possibly actually digested the Adam Schiff report from yesterday or the Republican response [from Monday] in any real way," House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins, R-Ga., told the assembled legal scholars set to testify before the committee.
One of those witnesses, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, begged to differ. “Here, Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor, I don’t care about those facts.”
Of course, Collins had plenty of reason to assume that the witnesses hadn't done the reading, as many of his Republican colleagues had already proudly pronounced themselves unfamiliar with the evidence assembled by the Intelligence Committee.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., hadn’t gotten around to it. “I’ll eventually read the transcripts,” he said, referring to when the Senate potentially begins its impeachment trial of Trump. He later tweaked that answer for CBS’ Margaret Brennan, saying he had “read some, but any lawyer — in my judgment — who knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog knows that a sterile transcript is no substitute for live witnesses.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who also admitted Nov. 10 that he hadn’t read the deposition transcripts, blamed his busy schedule. “I haven’t gotten my calendar organized yet for next week,” he said. "But I will certainly anticipate, that when the time comes, that I will give this very thorough dedication and evaluation.” (To date, there’s no sign he actually found the time, though he told the Salt Lake Tribune just before Thanksgiving that he's "following" the investigation.)
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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham took a different approach when asked if he planned to read the transcripts: He said “no” and dismissed them as meaningless. “I’ve written the whole process off,” he said. “I think this is a bunch of B.S.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who is conducting the latest impeachment hearings, even once said, “You can’t expect people to read lengthy documents in large numbers. They have their own lives to lead.” Maybe he’s right, but then again, maybe we should.
The problem is that most Americans don't do much reading at all these days.
According to the Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey, between 2003 and 2016, our own personal reading times fell from 21.6 minutes a day to 17.4. The Pew Research Center’s numbers on our news consumption habits paint an equally bleak picture: Since the mid-2000s, the subscriber base for newspapers has steadily declined, and the average number of monthly unique online visitors to the country’s top 50 newspapers (11.6 million visitors) has remained stagnant for over two years.
Newspapers and books aren't the only thing no one’s reading. The month after former special counsel Robert Mueller released his long-anticipated Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, a CNN poll found that a mere 24 percent of Americans claimed they read any of the report; only 3 percent said they read it cover to cover.
Those numbers reflected the sentiments of many Republicans in Congress. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., asked, “What’s the point?” of doing so. But most telling was the response of Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who said he hadn’t read it because “there’s no drive and push in my district specifically for impeachment.”
And therein lies an important question: Why should we expect our elected officials to give a damn about any of this if their constituents — their bosses — don’t either?
As a communications director and a senior policy adviser to a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, reading such documents isn’t a choice; it’s my job. Still, I have no illusions that, unlike most Americans, I’m being paid to analyze these materials as they’re released to the public. Most people don’t have a dedicated team of staffers working shoulder to shoulder with them to ensure tasks aren’t being overlooked. (I also recognize that being relatively young and childless leaves me with even more time and energy to devote to reading anything at all.)
But despite family commitments or our financial hardships, it’s dependent on us to ensure that threats to our democracy, like those posed by this White House, are met with resistance that extends beyond posts, protests and even votes. They must also be confronted with knowledge, facts and reason.
I believe it’s time that we ask more of ourselves as Americans and to actually read these important public documents as part of our responsibilities as participants in our democracy — especially since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now called for the committee to draft articles of impeachment against the president. It's perhaps even more important to do the reading because the people who have the most to lose by us doing so truly don't expect us to.
During a November rally in Lexington, Kentucky, Trump strategically placed a group of young people behind him donning red-and-white “Read the Transcript!” t-shirts, a reference to his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden. It was a game of chicken the president played with the American people, challenging us to read a document that clearly showed his guilt. And while some saw that as a gamble, he didn't think (possibly based on our reading habits) that it was risky at all. He thought it was a safe bet.
When the president sees our country’s literacy gap — he "love[s] the poorly educated," recall — he reads it as a constituency paralyzed by apathy and laziness. If we’re going to prove him wrong, everyone who hasn’t read these historical artifacts, regardless of party or politics, has to finally call his bluff.
In the age of Trump, let us take it up as a new part of our civic duty, and make up for our nation’s knowledge deficit, by doing a little homework. We all have skin in the game when it comes to the impeachment of Trump, so let’s act accordingly.