Be forewarned: Now is the time when politics here and in Washington become a bit more tricky — and even icky— than usual. Some power brokers and dirty tricksters want to sow confusion, label what’s at stake “petty” and convince most of us to tune out.

But don’t fall for the okey-doke.


What’s at stake in Washington as impeachment hearings get underway this week is the future of our democracy, which requires adherence to the rule of law. When all else fails, it is that which binds together disparate people with disparate priorities in disparate parts of the country.

Some of our 24/7 television air-wave filler would have us treat the impeachment hearings as some sort of entertaining trivial pursuit. Brian Stelter, CNN’s media analyst, put it this way Monday: “Will the Democrats put on a powerful first episode? Will they convince people to keep watching?” Such round-the-clock chatter that at most points out lies that fly from the president’s mouth like spittle encourages us to fiddle while our modern incarnation of ancient Rome burns.

For his part, Mr. Trump is running from the truth like a scalded dog. But he is relying on his old playbook for masterminding chaos. Team Trump is counting on beating us down and wearing us out with inanities repeated constantly in news conferences, on television, on talk radio and in social media. They have two goals: to downplay the seriousness of the accusations against Mr. Trump and to distract us fro impeachment with silly counter claims.

To be clear here: What is being investigated by congressional Democrats is whether this president strong-armed a foreign leader into looking for dirt that could weaken a political nemesis — Joe Biden — and whether Mr. Trump threatened to withhold military aid desperately needed to fight off Russian interlopers until said leader caved. The president, it seems from a reasonable reading of a phone call with the Ukrainian leader, resorted to blackmail that invited a foreign power to upend the American political system.

We first learned about this fine mess through a person who has come to be known as a whistleblower. That person deserves a medal rather that the steady drumbeat of disparagement from the president and death threats from overzealous minions.

Since the whistleblower’s information set off various investigations, including those in Congress, other seemingly credible, upstanding civil servants have corroborated what the whistleblower said. They actually have more direct knowledge than the whistleblower. Their identities are known. They have agreed to testify. But the president demands that the whistleblower and anyone she or he knows, and anyone the president may have urged the Ukrainians to investigate, be called to testify in public. Team Trump is trying to turn this into a circus while also muddying the waters so much that the casual observer won’t be able to see through the tomfoolery.

I don’t think we’re as dumb as they think we are. To be safe, I suggest that, as much as possible, you follow the hearings on C-SPAN so you won’t have the voices of the chatterati on the right or the left dancing in your head. Trust you own ears and eyes.

Meanwhile, in the 7th Congressional District here in Maryland, what’s at stake for thousands of people, including me, is who will represent us in Washington. It seems that just about all who ever considered themselves close to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings are now vying to fill the seat left vacant by his death. Family. Staff. Mentees. Friends. Come on now.

While no one who has announced is without flaws, keep in mind that we’re electing a political officeholder, not a saint. So don’t get mired in the gutter. Stay focused on records of public service. Figure out who’s backing a candidate, who’s calling the shots. Ask who is electable who also offers the best chance to do what you and your community want done. Here’s another piece of advice: Make it a point to have at least one member of your circle (prayer band, book club, running group, neighborhood association, whatever) go to meetings or rallies or study the news to report to the group each time you get together. Educate each other. Challenge each other. Then make you opinions known in forums — online and in person. Write letters to editors. Seek answers from those in office and those hoping to be.

By all means, don’t turn away now.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.