Reality TV That Matters

Matt McClain(2)/Joe Raedle/Leigh Vogel/Molly Riley — Getty Images

When the Watergate hearings were underway, during the summer of 1973, I was riveted to our family’s low-budget television. A fun-loving 16-year-old, I stayed in to watch. The hearings culminated in Richard Nixon’s resignation (catch the flavor of this here).

Almost 20 years later, in 1991, I was mother of three young children and working hard at The Atlantic. I was glued to Senate hearings again — this time for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, whose professional evaluation was dominated by the sexual-abuse allegations of his young associate, a Yale Law School graduate named Anita Hill. Which ended in a 52–48 vote to put Thomas on the Supreme Court. Where he has been ever since.

Fast forward to 2017: never mind Netflix and Hulu, live television is incomparably more riveting these days.

As the Senate hearings proceed, with troubling repercussions in all directions, here’s a takeaway: when a poised, absolutely confident, apparently sincere, proudly “transparent,” articulate, silver-coiffed authority named Rex speaks, one tends to believe him.

He’s so American! He’s such a grown-up! He’s an Eagle Scout! He’s a John Wayne CEO variant in bespoke Brioni, surrounded by family, including his wife of many years. I wanna go to his house for a cookout!

“The science isn’t conclusive on climate change,” he says, a tinge of regret coating the conviction.

“I came to my personal position over the course of about twenty years as an engineer and a scientist, understanding the evolution of the science. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that the risk of climate change does exist, and the consequences of it could be serious enough that action should be taken.”

Watching this smooth assertion, if you didn’t know better you‘d be sufficiently confused to believe what the grown-up says.

Fact is, because of his previous position this particular man has been especially steeped in the most accurate climate science for decades. In his previous role he was surrounded by other top engineers and regularly briefed by expert employees and colleagues.

This man knows the science extremely well.

This guy could teach us all about it.

Observe him under oath, before the Senate. Abraham Lincoln’s marble bust looms down the hall. Aren’t you aren’t riveted, too?

What happens next?

The globe will continue to warm. Particulates per million will continue to spew forth into the atmosphere. Scientists will continue to post record-breaking data. International authorities will continue to warn of certain, catastrophic tipping points. People will continue to deal the myriad bad impacts on every continent on earth.

Our great-grandchildren, including those named Trump, Pence, Putin, and Conway, will not thank us for this.

A new Cabinet will assemble. A new President will be sworn into office next week. The planet will keep on spinning.

Stay tuned.

Originally published at on January 13, 2017.