Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

America Is Lucky Bolton Didn’t Testify During Impeachment

It's better to suspect that the Constitution is deeply imperiled than to remove all doubt.
June 19, 2020
America Is Lucky Bolton Didn’t Testify During Impeachment
(Ilustration by Hannah Yoest / photos: GettyImages)

1. Better Lucky Than Good

I’m going to swerve on John Bolton’s initial revelations:

America is tremendously lucky that Bolton did not testify during impeachment.

Walk down that road with me for a moment and pretend that Bolton had testified, under oath, to everything that’s in his book.

Now ask yourself: After intaking that information, how many Republican senators would have voted to convict President Trump on the articles of impeachment?

My guess: One.

That’s it. I do not believe that any of this information would have changed a single Republican vote.

So in that timeline, the Senate would have ratified not just Trump’s Ukraine scheme, but even worse as acceptable behavior by an American president.

The practical effect of which would have been to reduce the constitutional mechanism of impeachment to its component atoms with no hope—none—of every reconstituting it.

Instead, we are now in a timeline where, in theory, Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump can say,

“Gosh golly gee, I had no idea the president had done such wicked things. If only only I had known, thenof courseI would have voted to convict.”

This won’t be true and in any case, I suspect that most Senate R’s won’t take that line.

But it’s there for them if they want it. It’s a viable position.

And if they were to take it it would at least leave open the theoretical possibility that the U.S. Senate is willing to impose some oversight on the actions of the chief executive.

Better to keep your mouth shut than remove all doubt, etc. etc.

Yes, I’m grasping at straws. Yes, this is a distinction with very little difference.

But I think about Bolton’s possible testimony the same way I think about the possibility of finding a tape of Trump saying the n-word:

If it had happened, then Republicans would have defended it and it would have collapsed yet another set of norms.

By not having it, we can at least hope that, at some point in the future, some of these norms might be restored.

2. Pandemic Reminder

I know it’s hard to keep track of, with everything going on, but there is still a pandemic.

Every six days right now, COVID-19 is killing about as many Americans as were killed on 9/11.

And this week our official death toll surpassed the number of U.S. dead in World War 1.

It’s very hard to get our arms around what the real state of play is on the virus. Looking at numbers of confirmed new infections is a function of testing, as well as infection rates. Looking at number of hospitalizations is a function of behavior and availability.

My view is that the death totals are the best metric to watch in terms of having a real view of the virus. The drawback is that deaths don’t give you a view of where we are right now. They’re the after image of where we were two to four weeks ago.

Anyway, the death numbers have continued to trend in the right direction, though the curve has been shallower than we’d hoped.

This is, relatively speaking, good news. Deaths going down is better than deaths going up.

But at this point we’re on track to have a preliminary death total—and remember, this number will almost certainly go up by a large percentage when in-depth accounting is done in the coming months—that’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 140,000 by the end of the summer.

One of the things we’ve done is constantly reset our sense of what is “normal” or “acceptable” over the last six months. Back when the total number of dead was 100, there were people yammering on about how it was obvious that Trump had handled COVID-19 better than Obama had handled H1-N1, because just look, only 100 people were dead!

If you had carried a report back to these people from 20 weeks in the future proving that 120,000 Americans would be dead and asked them what they thought about it, I suspect most of those people would have had their heads explode.

But we are where we are and so people have gotten used to the idea, like the frogs in the boiling water.

It turns out that the models were more or less in the ballpark even though the epidemiologists were working with wildly incomplete information and changing habits of behavior. The Imperial College model on deaths minus mitigation efforts now seems pretty reasonable based on the number of dead even with intense mitigation.

And the University of Washington’s IMHE model that everyone mocked? Its first projection in late March was 161,000 dead.

That’s pretty close to the pin.

Meanwhile, the people insisting that the coronavirus was no big deal, that it was nothing worse than the flu, that the death total wouldn’t even hit five digits—they were wrong.

Wildly, completely, fully-verifiably wrong.

Don’t forget any of this.

3. Any Given Sunday

Oliver Stone’s masterpiece about the NFL is on my short list for greatest sports movie ever made. This old Ringer oral history of it is wonderful.

Stone: At that time, the commissioner of football [Paul Tagliabue] was an asshole. God, what an arrogant asshole, I’m sorry. The NFL’s attitude is: “This is our domain and no one can fuck with us.” They’re all private and they have billionaire owners and they’re pretty tough. They didn’t want anything to do with the movie. It was like the Pentagon on Platoon. . . .

Weiner: We brought Pacino to the 49ers. As the 49ers break a practice, we’re walking into the wave of players. I’ve got Pacino on one side and Oliver on the other and Garrison Hearst walks past, looks at Pacino, and says, “Say hello to my little friend.” . . .

Vernieu: When Dennis Quaid came in to meet, we just sort of knew that he was the guy. He felt like an American guy, in every way. He was at the right place in his career, as well. You want to be able to build in what their persona is to the public.

Stone: I went to George Clooney first on that role. Clooney turned it down and told me, “I thought you were going to rewrite it for me.” I tried to tell him we have like 70 characters in this movie, it’s impossible.

Quaid: Oliver said he had a part for me playing Cap Rooney. At that time you could say there were three or four quarterbacks he was like, and it was an interesting role, a guy at the end of his career. He’s having misgivings and insecurities, things like that.

Weiner: He was a lefty, so we had him work with Steve Young.

Quaid: I was at San Francisco training camp, it was 120 degrees. But to stay back there and see that wall of violence coming at you, hands raised up in the air, jumping. That wall is about 10 feet tall really, and it’s coming at you, and you don’t even see where you’re throwing. You’re throwing it to a spot. But I’m sure Steve Young saw a lot more than I do.

Pacino: I had dinner with Dan Marino. I said, “What is it like playing quarterback?” He said, “Think of the freeway, and you’re walking up the freeway with traffic coming at you trying to read Hamlet.” When you get the insights from the actual players and coaches, it helps. Still, it’s a language you have to learn.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.