Ping pong and real reality TV

Dear President Trump,

Did you ever play ping pong as a kid? One of the quirky things about my family is that after our house fire and the rebuild, my parents thought it would be fun to have a pool table with a ping pong cover in the dining room. They didn’t really appreciate what a pain in the ass it would be to deal with taking the cover off and on for the play/eat cycle and they also didn’t realize that everyone but my very tall father would have to resort to hoarding telephone books to sit on in order to have anything but our chins clear the table top at meals. I came to loathe that damn thing, but I did get to shoot more pool and play more ping pong than most other kids, so there’s that.

I know ping pong seems like a totally random topic to write to you about, but it popped into my head last night as an analogy for what it’s been like watching the public debate about whether to initiate impeachment inquiries. The arguments on both sides are passionate and fierce, and while I am personally very much still in the “impeach the mother*cker” camp, the political arguments on the other side do have some heft in that the current public sentiment is not in favor of impeachment and the Democrats’ majority in the House likely can’t withstand an impeachment-backlash.

Both sides are attempting to anticipate the disruptor qualities you and yours bring to this since you are as likely to send someone in to steal all the balls as you are to come in yourself and shove the table out of the way with some huge-ass shiny-object distraction, like escalating 5% tariffs on Mexico. So this ping pong match that’s playing out has an oddly distracted and self-conscious feel to it; neither side is truly in “the zone” since it’s not enough to just focus on the direct opponent’s moves. This sort of complication isn’t unique to this situation; no momentous within party debate ever plays out in an ideological vacuum. What the other party is going to do with whatever is decided, and with the debate itself, must always be considered. Plus, the stakes are that much higher when the other party has no moral or ethical constraints on its behavior and is happy as hell to cheat like crazy. I wanted to come up with a good sport analogy for you all, but nothing is working except maybe the idea of cheating as sport – seeing what you can get away with.

Last night I read Donna Edwards’s WP opinion piece in which she argues that the Democrats need to get the players involved in the Special Counsel report on TV, in front of the American people – Mueller, people who worked with him, people from your administration who testified, etc. She said that showing us rather than telling us what is in the report, and what is behind the report, will be far more effective at helping the country come along to the need for impeachment inquiries than leaving it in massive tome-form that most of us won’t read and can’t really understand anyway.

I think she’s right. It was an altogether different experience listening to Robert Mueller on NPR the other morning, hearing the quaver in his voice and the solemnity with which he chose his words, than reading almost the exact same thing in excerpts of the report. We need real people with real connection to of all this to animate and breathe life into what happened and what the implications are if we don’t address it head on. We need real reality TV to help us sort through this mess and to take it out of the heady, “over-there” space it’s largely occupied.

The other wise person who weighed in on all this in the last 24 hours is Eugene Robinson (WP, again) and he said: “So I don’t think the political calculus is at all clear. The moral calculus is a different story.” Absolutely. The moral calculus is clear as day and it demands that impeachment inquiries begin and that we stop this damn ping pong game.

May we be willing to risk political consequences in service of moral clarity.
May we be willing to stop debating and move to impeachment inquiries.
May we be willing to care for the health of our democracy even when it is really, really hard.
May you not start a war (of any sort).

Tracy Simpson

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