The anticlimax that is/will be the Comey testimony proves something I have always thought about skeletons in the closet. They should be released early when not everyone is paying attention.

The premise is that outrage is something that needs to be coordinated. Its not enough for everyone to feel outraged. Its not even enough for everyone to know everyone is feeling outraged.  The feeling of outrage has to be common knowledge. Only that way enough people know that when they act on their outrage there will be enough others acting on their outrage for it to be a movement that can have impact.  (Outrage is a scarce resource.)

So skeletons released sometime in the past when nobody was actually looking for skeletons is a way to dampen that coordination. Because then when the time comes and people are actually focused on you and any skeletons you might have, the old already-uncloseted skeletons can’t have the same impact as a brand new one released right now when everyone sees it for the first time.  They are “old news” (and its no wonder that’s a go-to line of defense against resurrected skeletons.)  Strategically everyone infers that since the skeletons didn’t cause outrage at the time they must not be that outrageous to that many people and so they are not a call to outrage now.

So despite the several outrageous things in the Comey statement, they are all old news and that feeling of anti-climax is a symptom of the above logic. If Comey had not previewed his testimony in the preceding weeks but instead dropped it as one brand new bombshell on TV in front of a Super Bowl audience (paging Michael Chwe) the same skeletons would cause significantly more outrage.

An interesting corollary is that leaks are actually Trump’s ally. Leaking the scandal little by little through varied and segregated media channels is a way of getting the skeletons out with minimal impact well in advance of any chance of outrage.

(There’s a new paper by Gratton, Holden and Kolotilin that also looks at bombshells but I think the argument is a little different.)

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