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Reviews |  January 6 was a ‘scene of war’ and Trump was the director

There is every reason to be skeptical, even cynical, about the effect and impact of the January 6 hearings on the political landscape.

For one thing, most of the details of what happened are already in the public record. We already know that Donald Trump and his allies were engaged in a plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election and overthrow the constitutional order. We already know that one of their plans was to derail congressional certification of the election and use the resulting confusion to certify fraudulent voters for Trump instead. We already know that the “Stop Theft” rally on the ellipse in front of the White House was organized to pressure Republican lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to follow through and “do what he wants.” must,” as Trump said.

We have the memos, emails and text messages from Trump allies inside and outside Congress, each trying to do their best to help the former president achieve his autocratic dreams. We know that Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have corresponded with the White House, pledging support and assistance for the President’s efforts to contest the election. We know that John Eastman, a prominent member of the conservative legal establishment, wrote detailed advice for Trump and his team, giving step-by-step instructions on how Pence could abuse the process to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. .

We already know – we have already seen with our own eyes – the assault on the Capitol, the threats against the Vice President and the heroism of the Capitol police. And we know, or at least some of us know, that Jan. 6 was just the beginning, and that Trump continued to use all the power and influence at his disposal to put pro-coup Republicans in awe. state on the ballot in as many states as possible. possible. The insurgency may be over, but the plot to steal the presidency is intact.

If all of this is already in the public record—if all of this is already part of our public record—why bother with hearings?

The correct answer, I think, is the show.

Most political theater is tedious and partisan. Cheap meat for a hungry base. But there are times when these stagings can serve a real purpose for the general public.

In an article in the Fordham Law Review, Georgetown law professor Josh Chafetz draws a new distinction between traditional congressional oversight and what he calls congressional “excess talk.”

Oversight is (or at least is meant to be) good faith fact-finding for the sake of public accountability — a central part of the role of Congress as it has developed over time. From this perspective, writes Chafetz, monitoring hearings should be “primarily receptive in nature,” aimed at “bringing out new facts or at least new implications of old facts.”

Excessive talk, on the other hand, is “the use of the tools of surveillance” for performance, spectacle, and theatricality. Overspeech is used to communicate directly with the audience, to make an argument, and to shape one’s point of view. It is a form of mass politics, in which “overspeakers” adapt their approach “to the media environment in which they operate” and “shape their behavior in such a way as to increase the likelihood of favorable coverage”. .

If surveillance is meant to be the bloodless investigation of facts, then excessive talk, writes Chafetz, is defined by its “performative elements, ranging from casting to script, setting to costume, all aimed at communicating more effectively a public message”.

Because it is often partisan, excessive speech is also intentionally and deliberately divisive. And while that might seem to put him in conflict with the goal of persuading the public, Chafetz argues that the reality isn’t so simple. “In October 1973, the first votes in the House Judiciary Committee on matters related to impeachment were strong party-line votes,” he wrote. “Nine months later, six of the seventeen Republicans on the committee voted for the first article of impeachment.” What started out as a partisan issue, he continues, “became something else over time.”

The January 6 hearings are expected to cover more than the facts of the investigation. They should relate to the execution of these facts. The hearings, in short, should be a spectacle, aimed directly at the casual viewer who might be too preoccupied with the price of gas or food to pay attention to an ordinary congressional hearing. And Democrats inclined to make them “bipartisan” or impartial should reject the temptation; it would perhaps do more good—it would perhaps be more effective—if this spectacle were full of bitterness and fireworks.

The show is what we need and judging by the first night of TV ratings on Thursday, the show is what we’re going to get. Committee members were blunt and acerbic — “There will come a day when Donald Trump will be gone,” Rep. Liz Cheney told fellow Republicans during her opening statement, “but your dishonor will remain” — and they didn’t. not done. escape the chaos, disorder and atrocious violence of the insurrection.

At one point, an injured Capitol police officer, Caroline Edwards, testified to see “officers in the field. They were bleeding. They were vomiting. I saw friends with blood on their faces. I slipped into people’s blood. I caught people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.

“I remember my breath hitching in my throat because what I saw was just a scene of war,” she said. “It was something like I had seen in the movies.”

There is a broader point to be made here as well. Over the past year, Democrats have struggled to make inroads with the public; they struggled to sell their achievements as they are. The Biden administration, in particular, has made a conscious decision to stick with so-called kitchen table or wallet issues and let its actions speak for themselves. But such passivity only cedes the ground to his opponents.

‘Cause they promise to be one an event, the January 6 hearings give Biden a chance to take another approach: stir up emotion and use conflict, not conciliation, to make his point. There are no guarantees of success, but at the very least he and the Democratic Party have a chance to seize the initiative. They should take it.


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