For just a minute, let’s be honest. We still don’t know yet whether the first hearing of the House January 6 Committee changed anyone’s mind about Trump’s complicity. Judging from both news analyses and conversations with friends from both parties, the hearing was widely watched and substantive, but is that enough?
Speculation since Thursday’s hearing has turned to whether we already have seen the much-ballyhooed “bombshells” teased by Congressman Raskin (D-MD), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and others. If we have, we need to be worried. It will take more than former Attorney General Barr calling Trump’s claims of election fraud “bullsh*t,” or even Ivanka Trump admitting that she accepted Barr’s conclusion, to change minds that seem impervious to the reality that Trump schemed to hold onto power in 2021 by any means possible.
Is the January 6 committee about to fail? I hope not, but if something doesn’t happen, Trump and Trumpism (the latter more dangerous than the former) will soldier on, poisoning the 2022 midterm elections and setting the stage for worse in 2024. “Worse” means an end to representational democracy as we currently know it.
What signs of success should we look for? First, we need to see Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), and swaggering right-wingers like Josh Hawley (R-MO) start to see more risk in defending Trump than in ignoring or condemning him. That transition already has taken place with Mike Pence and, to a lesser degree, Mitch McConnell. Even Mo Brooks (R-AL), a featured speaker at the infamous Save America rally on the morning of January 6 has spoken out, suggesting it is time to move on. (That so-called courageous statement cost Brooks Trump’s endorsement for a Senate seat. Trump called him “woke,” which means “dead to me” in Trump’s mind.)
Second, we need to see Trump shut up. While most people who face criminal charges for tax and business fraud in New York, and for interfering with the election would follow the advice of counsel and stop talking, Trump has done the opposite. In doing so, he produced the strongest evidence yet of his mental illness and that nothing the January 6 committee proves will get him to back off his crusade to end democracy in America. Trump’s statement was to call the deadly January 6 insurrection “the greatest movement in the history of our country.”
Third, we need to see signs of life at the U.S. Department of Justice. Why hasn’t the attorney general indicted Trump yet for sedition? Legal scholars believe there is enough evidence to indict Trump now. Why hasn’t Merrick Garland acted? Are the indictments being held back so as not to energize Trump voters in the 2020 mid-term elections? I do not know but suspect that is part of what is going on at Justice.
Fourth, we need to see Trump candidates defeated in elections. Encouragingly, a few hand-picked Trump candidates have flopped. Former Senator David Perdue’s effort to win the Republican nomination for governor of Georgia over incumbent Brian Kemp comes to mind. But for every Perdue, we have a J.D. Vance, Dr. Oz, or a Hershel Walker. The election of any of this trio is unwelcome news for democracy and the Senate.
Assuming the Committee fails, meaning that the Trump base shrugs off the reality of an attempted coup, there is real reason to fear for the future of the Constitution. We will either have a civil war, started by states that will decline to remain part of a country that has abandoned free and open elections and that embraces white supremacy, or something worse. That “worse” could include wholesale expulsion of undocumented people from the U.S., warfare with Mexico, alliances with autocratic countries like Russia, Turkey, Hungry and Saudi Arabia.
That is why we need to hope that the January 6 committee, or, better stated, common sense, prevails. The insanity of Trump and the Pandora’s box of dysfunction he has set loose needs to end. America must come back together again. America’s current problems will not be solved without unity.
And lest anyone even think of responding to this piece by reminding me of how bad Joe Biden is, let me preempt you. Joe Biden had nothing to do with the January 6 insurrection. Criticize him for what he has done or not done as president, but do not tell me we would be better off with Donald J. Trump back in the White House.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.