Some quick thoughts on tonight's hearings
Despite intending otherwise, I ended up watching the hearings tonight on the events of January 6. I don’t think anyone can say exactly what, if any, their impact will be. We’ll see how many people end up tuning in, what kind of coverage they receive and whether any significant new revelations emerge.
But the presentation tonight by the select committee, led by its chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, and the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney, was compelling. It included hard-to-watch video of that day’s events, as the angry mobs gathered and began to descend on the Capitol. Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer, who was at the center of the maelstrom, provided powerful testimony of how she tried to hold the line as the rioters pressed toward the building, knocked her unconscious and how, even after that, she continued to try to resist the rioters. The committee also emphasized the links between Trump and the Proud Boys, the would-be shock troops of his would-be putsch.
It’s common, of course, for us humans to say about something we already know or an event we’ve already lived through that, well, we already know. Therefore, we say, we don’t need to re-live it. But sometimes, actually, we do need to re-live it. It’s natural for us, over time, to discount that which we’ve already experienced, including what felt momentous at the time. It’s part of our adaptiveness, our ability to forget, to move on.
But that ability to forget is both a weakness and a strength. David Brooks wrote an op-ed in the New York Times this morning declaring that the hearings, before they’d even begun, were already a failure. That in essence, there was no point in rehashing what had happened. If Congress wanted to use its time productively, Brooks asserted, it should not engage in staging a pointless spectacle about the past. Instead, it should focus on how to prevent threats to democracy in the future.
I thought that view was wrong before the hearings began. But it took watching them to crystallize why. People need reminders of even disturbing events. Congressional proceedings about the future of democracy would be little more than an inert, bland, intellectual exercise, without some clear, fresh animating sense of fear and urgency about how close we are to the brink.
What the select committee presented, in its opening salvo tonight, was precisely that: a sense of immediacy, of threat, of urgency.
Below are three observations I tweeted during the proceedings. They’re all things I “knew” before 8pm this evening. They’d all faded in my mind until the footage and the testimonies tonight brought them back to life.
Perhaps the biggest advantage Republicans have over Democrats is that they understand, instinctively, that just reciting facts in order to get your points across is just a waste of time politically. You need to remind your target audience, over and over and over again, of the emotional urgency and the stakes of whatever point you are trying to drive home. They don’t trust their audience to hear it once and assume they’ve “gotten the message.” They press their key lines of attack relentlessly, on FOX, on talk radio, on social media. It’s that constancy and urgency that galvanizes and mobilizes people.
One set of hearings can’t do that. But it is an absolute good to create an historic record of what was an unprecedented attempt to overturn an election and carry out a coup. And beyond that, if you want to have any hope of ensuring that people *continue* to take seriously what happened on January 6, 2021, you have to remind them of what happened. Not only by bland recitation of timelines of events, but with powerful, memorable images and remembrances. If you want people to remember who Donald Trump is, his lack of conscience, his bloodlust, the lengths to which he would go to hold on to power and the violent groups he gleefully enlisted to realize his ambitions, you can’t assume that they’ll just remember how they felt a year and half ago. Especially for people who weren’t there that day, that’s not how memory and emotion work for most people. You have to remind people who he is and what he represents. You have to show them. Again and again.
I’ll be tuning in from here on out, not because I don’t know what happened on January 6, but because the stores of fear, urgency and outrage that were tapped that day need to be replenished.
If you watched, what did you think?