Now that the January 6 hearings have apparently come to an end, it’s fair to ask just what the committee has accomplished, besides, that is, driving Donald Trump even further around the bend.
I’ve got a few thoughts. I bet you do, too.
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One: Let’s begin by agreeing that the committee was more effective than anyone could have reasonably expected in showing the case against Donald J. Trump was even more open and shut than we knew. Each hearing built upon the previous one, and at the end, they left all fair-minded people in beyond-reasonable-doubt territory.
I’m even starting to think that Attorney General Merrick Garland will be left with no choice but to indict Trump for one or more crimes against democracy, especially now that the Department of Justice has evidence of Trump directly participating in hiding subpoenaed, top-secret documents he had taken with him to Mar-a-Lago.
Two: To be truly successful, the committee had to change minds. If you trust the polls, or even if you don’t, it seems that hyperpartisan Americans are no longer willing, or maybe no longer capable, of changing anything other than (we hope) their underwear.
Three: GOP leaders made a huge mistake in not allowing mainstream, pro-Trump Republicans to participate in the hearings. They could have presented the former president’s case, such as it is, or, at minimum, cross-examined the witnesses. Instead, it was left to two never-Trumper Republicans to give the committee even a semblance of bipartisanship. And one of the heretical Republicans — yes, that would be Liz Cheney — would become the star of the hearings, finally laying out her case for criminal referrals thusly:
“The vast weight of evidence presented so far has shown us that the central cause of January 6th was one man: Donald Trump.” She added, for good measure: “None of this would have happened without him. He was personally and substantially involved in all of it.”
Four: It seems clear that anyone who actually watched the hearings couldn’t help but understand that the Big Lie of a rigged election was, well, a huge lie, and one set in motion long before the election even took place. We know this not only because nearly all the testimony against Trump came from Republicans. And not only because we didn’t need a hearing to know that Team Trump election-denying leaders — Rudy, Sidney, Bannon, the Pillow Guy, Roger Stone, and let’s add Tina Peters for local color — are either corrupt or crazy or both. We know it because we can either believe Trump or our lyin’ eyes.
Five: Don’t put too much money down on lyin’ eyes. According to the New York Times, whose reporters must be putting in a lot of overtime, more than 370 Republican midterm candidates — for U.S. Senate and House seats, for governor, attorney general and secretary of state offices — have either fully embraced the Big Lie or at least questioned the results of the 2020 election. That’s 370 out of 550 Republican candidates, of which, according to the Times’ count, hundreds are favored to win. The Times calls it the new normal for Republicans. I’d call it the new abnormal, but I guess now it’s the same thing.
Six: I have to admit I’ve been a tiny bit skeptical of some of the reporting around whether U.S. democracy is truly endangered. First, let me say that democracy in our democratic republic has never been all that democratic. I don’t have to go through the whole list, but we can start with slavery and Jim Crow and women’s suffrage and Manifest Destiny and all the other stuff Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott don’t want you to know and go from there — say, to a Senate that, as designed, gives way too much power to small states or an Electoral College that ignores which presidential candidate actually wins the popular vote.
I’m a child — OK, an old child — of the ’60s, and remember the assassinations, the riots, the ugly war in Vietnam and the secret one in Cambodia, LBJ, Nixon, Watergate. Is our democracy in worse shape now than it was then? That might be a close call, but this isn’t: American democracy has often been under challenge.
Seven: And yet now I become less skeptical by the minute. You can start with Trump’s humiliating embrace of Vladimir Putin or the conservative movement’s obsession with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has systematically done his best to kill Hungarian democracy. But this is how you really know: because the January 6 insurrection was, in fact, an insurrection. And some of the “very special” people/rioters whom Trump said he loved were apparently headed to Washington to “kill.” And not just Mike Pence and/or Nancy Pelosi.
From the committee, we saw evidence piled upon evidence that the Capitol assault had all the hallmarks of an attempted coup. And the evidence was clear that Trump — who had been warned that some in the crowd were armed — intentionally sent an angry, dangerous mob to the Capitol to obstruct the Electoral College vote, even after Pence, though a sychophant’s sycophant, had refused Trump’s many appeals for him to undermine the vote.
It was a mob, you’ll remember, that Trump desperately wanted to join at the Capitol, but the Secret Service, who got the “kill” tip, refused to take him. You may remember, too, the mob of elected Republicans, including Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn, who voted — after the riot — not to accept legitimate slates of electors.
Eight: We got an encore video performance from Cassidy Hutchinson, the aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who quoted Trump as telling Meadows, “I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out.” That was just one of many pieces of evidence showing that Trump actually knew he had lost.
Nine: The highlight of the final hearing — even beyond the not-so-surprising surprise ending when the committee voted to subpoena Trump, who, of course, will never testify — were clips from documentarian Alexandra Pelosi, who was at the Capitol on January 6 to experience the thrill of, uh, the peaceful transfer of power.
Instead, she started filming as her mother, Nancy, and other Republican and Democratic leaders were led from the floors of Congress to an undisclosed location, which turned out to be nearby Fort McNair.
As Trump, we’ve been told, was happily watching the insurrection on TV and doing nothing to stop it, we saw Nancy and the rest of the leaders trying desperately to find someone to quell the riots. We saw her speaking to Pence, asking if he’s OK, telling him not to tell anyone where he is, trying to ensure that the vote would take place that night, as the law requires and as Trump’s mob was trying to prevent. And we saw Nancy Pelosi, in full Pelosi mode, say, “If (Trump) comes, I’m going to punch him out. I’ve been waiting for this. For trespassing on the Capitol grounds, I’m going to punch him out. And I’m going to go to jail, and I’m going to be happy.”
Finally, we saw Pence call Pelosi back to tell her that the vote would actually take place at the Capitol, the way it was planned.
Ten: That could have been a semi-happy ending if Trump had left it there. He did not, of course. He did not leave it at all. And now — speaking of threats to democracy — Trump is threatening to run again in 2024 when, if he’s not in prison, he would likely have hundreds of elected election deniers by his side.
And this should be the final verdict on the hearings: Whatever happens, nobody can say the January 6 committee didn’t warn us.
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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