Impeachment hearings are all about non-fictional and fictional storytelling

A few months ago I first heard someone on TV talk about “the server in the Ukraine.”

It was a Republican congressman talking, and he was behaving in a way I’ve now come to realize is the delivery system for nonsense: the non-stop yammer. On and on he went, in a loud monotone. Most of it I tuned out until that “server in the Ukraine” business. At which I went, “WHAT?”

Because I’d never heard about a server in the Ukraine, nor did I know which server he was referring to. And I’m pretty well-informed about what’s been going on. After all, I’ve read the Mueller Report so I know who hacked what server and who assaulted the 2016 presidential campaign and in favor of whom. I could name names.

But. No Ukraine server, no Ukrainians. It was the Russians.

So that “Ukrainian server” landed in my ears out of nowhere, because although I’d been keeping up with the facts, I hadn’t been keeping up with the wackadoodle fiction that the Trumpers have come up with.

Now, having listened to the GOP congressmen do their performance art piece today during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on impeachment, I had a couple of realizations.

First — and other people who have paid more attention to this have said it previously — it’s a sheer invention kneaded into the shape of a paranoid conspiracy.

And, second, someone might whisper to the Republicans that what’s crucial in writing a fictional story is really solid, connective storytelling. You have to provide a persuasive, propelling narrative that begins here and ends there.

But they didn’t. They dropped in bits like that Ukraine server and jumped around into Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election (?), and bobbed over to Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and the Obama administration. Hard to pronounce or remember Ukrainian names of prosecutors or ex-prosecutors got lobbed into the story, out of context and out of any memorable time line. And some names were alleged to have done something maybe dark and bad but it wasn’t clear what they did or who they were. I’d never heard those names before.

The GOP performance in that hearing felt as if I were listening to a Game of Thrones enthusiast do a really lousy job of telling me — I’ve never seen the series nor read the books — what went on in episode 25 and who was killed, and how.

The “questions” Jim Jordan and the others “asked” — loud, angry speeches about what they say actually happened — were so convoluted, so disconnected with the precise and dated citations and recitations from the witnesses, they vroomed into the air and dissipated. Nothing remained in my memory. What were they yammering about? What was the (fictional) story they were trying to pitch as fact?

I’m back to thinking about the two ultimate spy stories, David Cornwell’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and Great Betrayal.

The second is the non-fiction basis for the first fictional story, just as the Mueller Report will be the non-fiction basis for somebody’s Trump-Russian spy novel, published maybe in 2021. Or earlier.

A Spy Among Friends, similar to the Mueller Report, was long, elusive, detailed, fascinating. It was jammed with names of real people and real events, many of which seemed minimally consequential and it was riddled with logical gaps.

Because that’s how fact — or truth, if you prefer — works. It’s complicated, not always exciting in its well-researched minutiae, somewhat pedestrian in its pace. Although great non-fiction may provoke great fiction, it usually doesn’t read the same way, it isn’t a page-turner. It doesn’t make you stay up until 4 am, reading.

Fact is an education. Fiction is an entertainment.

Before this hearing, all the pundits and experts were going nuts about how the Democrats must must must provided a simple, persuasive narrative out of the facts. As anyone who has read the Mueller Report and the documents and depositions that have emerged from this investigation has realized, fact, i.e., non-fiction is really difficult to present. Because it’s complicated. There is no one, simple story line.

Non-fiction does not come with easy yes-or-no questions. The time line the Democrats are, I’m sure, compiling and working with is long and, although not tangled (because that’s what a time line does — it untangles complexities), is difficult to present in anything like a terse, straightforward way.

Yet Adam Schiff, Dan Goldman and the Committee did it. The witnesses made clear sense. They knew their own facts, their times lines and spoke of them persuasively.

The GOP does not grasp that their job should be easier than the Democrats. It’s hard to tell a non-fiction story in a compelling way. Fiction is easier. But to tell a fictional story in a compelling way, you’ve got to be a good storyteller. And the Republicans are not. So instead of selling a set of relevant-sounding “alternative facts,” they all sound crazy and not very smart.


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