One of the biggest lies associated with the Big Lie — one that Joe Biden still desperately wants to believe — is that the effects of that Big Lie will eventually wear away.
I guess that time may come eventually. I’m just not sure I’ll live long enough to see it. This country is damaged. Nothing tells us more of the damage than these hearings conducted by the House select committee and how Republican leaders are trying to undermine them.
Six months into Biden’s presidency, it’s all getting worse, and that’s the critical message to take from the start of the hearings conducted by the Jan. 6 House select committee, which promises to look into every aspect of the assault on the Capitol and on American democracy.
The hearings began on Tuesday with dramatic, and damning, testimony from four of the cops — two Capitol police officers, two D.C. police officers — who had tried to hold the line against the insurrectionists. It was testimony that cannot, must not, be ignored, not when a cop says he thought, “This is how I’m going to die,” and when a cop says he was electrocuted by his own taser and when a cop says he was repeatedly called the N-word and a “traitor” and when a cop says he doesn’t know he’ll ever get past this trauma.
If you missed any of the testimony, it’s worth watching, and the clips are easily found. It was the Big Truth we heard. And, if the House select committee does its job, we’ll hear more truth.
The Big Lie, you see, is not just that the election was rigged. The Big Lie is based on the concept that any lie Trump tells must be defended, no matter how absurd. That’s why the Big Lie matters in vaccination resistance, even though Donald Trump’s warp-speed project played a key role in speeding up vaccine production and even though Trump and his family have been vaccinated. It’s a strange phenomenon and one that is killing Americans.
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The Big Lie, of course, played the central role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was conducted, as several of the cops who tried to hold the line that day, said, not by antifa, not by BLM, not by the FBI, not by patriots, not by tourists, but by terrorists — the same ones Trump now calls a “loving crowd” who gathered to hear him speak that day and who he told to march to the Capitol.
As Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell testified, he’s still “recovering from the hugs and kisses” he received from the loving terrorists. Committee member Liz Cheney, the very conservative representative who believes you can be conservative and still believe that Trump was responsible for the insurrection, asked Gonell about the “loving crowd” line.
“To me, it’s insulting, just demoralizing because of everything that we did to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt,” Gonell said. “And what he was doing, instead of sending the military, instead of sending the support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense, he begged them to continue fighting.”
People died that day. Many scores of cops were injured, many seriously. The wounds, both physical and psychological, have not been wished away. And calling Liz Cheney a “Pelosi Republican” or a “Clinton Republican” because she and Adam Kinzinger are two Republicans brave enough to join the committee just reveals the long streak of hypocrisy. Kinzinger had to hold back tears during questioning.
So, yes, the insurrectionists were, in fact, terrorists. That’s the right word. They terrorized the overwhelmed cops who tried to stop them. They terrorized lawmakers who were attempting to formally certify the election results.
They constructed a gallows and chanted for Mike Pence’s head. They beat cops with poles holding, yes, American flags. They terrorized those in the Capitol and terrorized much of the nation as millions watched the Capitol being attacked for the first time in their lives, for the first time since the War of 1812.
We’ve seen the videos. But we never saw cops weep as they did Tuesday as they watched. And the testimony, which should make anyone weep, gave lie to any attempt at revisionism in what happened that day.
Maybe you’ve already seen D.C. cop Michael Fanone tell his harrowing story of that day when he suffered a heart attack and brain injury. But you haven’t seen him like this, calling out the lawmakers who he says have betrayed those who were defending them.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them, and too many in this room … are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or hell actually wasn’t that bad,” Fanone told the committee, furiously slamming a fist on the table.“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
“Nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day,” Fanone continued. “And in doing so, betray their oath of office.”
Conspiracy thinking is hardly new, and it long predates social media networks. I can remember when my mother, in most respects a sane person, was convinced that Lyndon Johnson was involved in the assassination of JFK. The Warren Commission changed her mind.
Will the select committee change any minds? I’m skeptical, but I’m also certain that all this must be put on the record. It’s funny, if not in a ha-ha way, that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who used to blame Trump for the insurrection before he forgot that he wanted to be speaker some day, is saying the committee hearings are biased and worse. Of course McCarthy and Mitch McConnell had rejected a bipartisan committee with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, with each party holding veto power over subpoenas.
And then when Pelosi decided the House should form its own committee, she asked McCarthy to name five Republicans. He added uber-Trumpist provocateurs Jim Jordan and Jim Banks as poison pills, knowing that Pelosi would reject them.
I’m wondering what Jordan or Banks would have had to say to the four cops. I’m not sure what they could have said other than to thank them for risking their lives to save their, uh, craven behinds.
If the committee does its work, it will look into what led up to the Capitol riot and what followed and why Gen. Mark Milley feared Trump would attempt a coup. It will see whether anyone in Congress was complicit. It will subpoena McCarthy, who will have to testify to how he begged Trump to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol.
It will subpoena those who were with Trump as he watched, some say gleefully, the insurrection in real time on TV and why it took so long for reinforcements to be sent to the Capitol, why Trump never called Pence to ask if he was OK, why Trump told the terrorists that he loved them and that they were “very special” people.
We need to know what Trump hoped to accomplish with his speech at the rally that day. Maybe Mark Meadows can answer those questions. Or Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner. For that matter, why shouldn’t we hear from Donald Trump himself (don’t hold your breath)?
The best antidote to the Big Lie is for the liars and their enablers to testify under oath. McConnell and McCarthy should have agreed to a truly bipartisan commission, but they couldn’t because too many Republicans feared Donald Trump’s wrath. They should have listened to the four testifying cops, those threatened and beaten and betrayed cops, who offered a lesson in the kind of courage that the Trump enablers badly need.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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