The Lesson of 2016: Rabid Congressional Investigations Work

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


So what did we learn this year? That America is more susceptible to authoritarian populism than we thought? Not really. Trump’s victory was a fluke, driven by Russian hacking, James Comey, and some bad polls in a few states.

That racism is on the rise? There’s really no evidence of that.

That Democrats need to pay more attention to the white working class? Maybe, but no matter how many times people say otherwise, that really wasn’t a root cause of Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

I could go on, but instead I want to suggest something the 2016 election does teach us: persistent, obsessive investigations pay off. In the 90s, Republicans started investigating Whitewater. Even Ken Starr knew there was nothing to this after a couple of years, but he was put under pressure to keep at it, and eventually he hit some fluke paydirt: Monica Lewinsky. This had nothing to do with Whitewater, but who cares? Scandal is scandal, and it rubbed off enough on Al Gore that Republicans took back the presidency in 2000.

Fast forward to 2012. Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong related to Benghazi. That was clear pretty quickly, but Republicans kept at it. I laughed at them at the time, but they had the last laugh when they once again hit a fluke bit of paydirt: Clinton’s private email server. Clinton didn’t really do anything seriously wrong here either, but it didn’t matter. Republicans kept at it for the next year and a half, and that was enough to convince a lot of people that Clinton was, somehow, corrupt and untrustworthy. That allowed Republicans to retake the presidency.

There was lots of other stuff going on too, but this is now twice that maniacal dedication to an investigation has paid off for Republicans. It’s basically a way of hacking the media, which feels like it has no choice but to cover congressional investigations on a daily basis. It’s news, after all, no matter how you define news.

So that’s a lesson for sure. I’m just not sure what the solution is.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate