WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol...
Drew Angerer

Ratings for Comey hearing reflect broader civic awakening

Donald Trump takes great pride in generating large television audiences, which is why he has yet another reason to be angry with James Comey right now. The New York Times reported:

It was the testimony of a once-obscure former law enforcement official. Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. At 10 in the morning. On a workday. Not your usual ratings gold.

No matter. Roughly 19.5 million Americans tuned in on Thursday to watch James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, unspool the tale of his awkward, unsettling and, at times, ethically questionable encounters with President Trump.

That is about the same number of people who watched Game 2 of this week’s N.B.A. finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Note, that 19.5 million figure is a low estimate. It doesn’t account for people who watched on PBS or C-SPAN, those who attended viewing parties, or those who tuned in online.

And given the fact that the hearing was at 10 a.m. (ET) on a weekday – a time when millions of Americans were already at work – it’s likely that the online audience was considerable.

All of this certainly reflects an enormous public appetite for information related to the president’s Russia scandal, but I also believe this is emblematic of a broader civic awakening that’s quite encouraging.

After Election Day 2016, it wasn’t at all clear how Trump’s critics would respond to his victory, and it was easy to imagine much of the country giving up, withdrawing, and disengaging from the political process altogether.

But by and large, it seems the evidence is now pointing in the opposite direction. We’ve seen enormous rallies and protests, with attendance that’s far exceeded expectations. We’ve watched people who aren’t generally active in politics pick up the phone to register concerns with their representatives on Capitol Hill. We’ve seen lawmakers face town-hall crowds larger than at any point in their careers. We’ve seen Americans holding placards such as, “Not usually a sign guy, but jeez.”

And we’ve seen tens of millions of Americans watch a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with testimony from the former director of the FBI.

Sure, showing up for the women’s march takes considerably more effort than picking up the TV remote on a Thursday morning, but I think there’s more than one to way to demonstrate civic engagement, and the more Americans give a darn about politics, the healthier our democracy becomes.

I heard MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently refer to the “awakening of civic consciousness” in response to Trump’s presidency, and with each passing week, it’s heartening to discover fresh evidence of that phenomenon spreading.

James Comey

Ratings for Comey hearing reflect broader civic awakening