THE CONVERSATION: Video footage shows the grounds of the United States Capitol being breached as the House Jan. 6 committee holds its first public hearing. Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP Prime-time January 6 hearing exposes violent images and dramatic evidence — the question is to what end? | New

A violent mob of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021, intending to disrupt a joint session of Congress that was meeting to count electoral votes and declare Democrat Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election of 2020.

They failed to prevent Biden’s certification as president, but seven people died in the attack and its immediate aftermath and around 150 police officers were attacked and injured.

This event did not take place in a vacuum. For months, President Donald Trump had maintained that if he lost his re-election bid, it would be the result of fraud. His fictitious claims of victory have been repeatedly refuted throughout the post-election period.

The first public hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol was held on June 9, 2022. It began the process of revealing what the committee learned so far on planning and carrying out the attack. about American democracy and Trump’s role in it.

“Our work must do more than look back,” said committee chairman U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi. “Because our democracy remains in danger.” We asked three academics to watch the audience and respond.

Theatrical? Yes, but also substantial

Claire Leavitt, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, Grinnell College

First, let’s be realistic about the scope of the committee’s investigation. Expert observers said that was unlikely to result in criminal charges against Trump or boost Democrats’ November midterm prospects.

But what viewers saw is perhaps even more significant: it was history being written in real time. These hearings will inform future history textbooks, films, and novels that depict the first non-peaceful transfer of power in American history.

The first of several hearings scheduled for the coming weeks was theatrical and skillfully produced. Former ABC News President James Goldston advises the committee and helps maximize viewership, producing the ratings as a mini-drama.

Evening session speakers, including the committee’s vice chair, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, added violent new footage of the Capitol attacks to their comments.

But don’t confuse theatricality with lack of substance.

Cheney and committee chairman Bennie Thompson peppered their statements with extensive primary evidence, including video testimony from Trump administration figures, including Ivanka Trump. This, it seems, was intended to bolster the argument that the evidence presented was non-partisan.

“I repeatedly told the president unequivocally that I had seen no evidence of fraud,” former Trump attorney general William Barr said in an interview.

In another exchange presented during the hearing, Greg Jacob, former attorney for Vice President Mike Pence, wrote in an email to Trump attorney John Eastman:Thanks to your bullshit, we’re under siege.”

The committee’s first witness, Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, was a wise choice: Far more Americans trust the police than Congress.

Edwards explained how she suffered a concussion after rioters pushed a bike rack at her and she fell down a flight of stairs. She regained consciousness, then continued to push people away, as they “started to dominate us”, she recalls.

Edwards and another witness, documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, may not be the big names expected to testify at future hearings.

But neither seemed to have any political axes to grind, and both exuded a very precious political good: sympathy.

Show, don’t tell

Mark Satta, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wayne State University

The House committee faces the challenge of trying to provide the American public with truthful information about the Jan. 6 attack at a time of deep partisan divisions and historically low levels of public trust in government.

Faced with this reality, the committee seems to have decided on an intelligent response: Show, don’t tell.

Rather than simply telling the American public the facts, the panel’s first public hearing focused on what former President Donald Trump’s allies and supporters themselves have said and done. They linked this to the testimony of seemingly nonpartisan figures like Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and documentary filmmaker Nick Quested.

It is unclear whether these hearings will make a demonstrable difference in public perception of the January 6 attack. Maybe they won’t. Perhaps America’s partisan divisions run too deep.

But the committee’s choice to show the words and deeds of others is in line with philosopher C. Thi Nguyen’s 2019 observation that “the crucial question right now is not what people hear, but in whom.” people believe”.

The committee chose to emphasize the words and actions of figures that Trump supporters and other Republicans would seem inclined to believe, such as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his former attorney general, William Barr. Importantly, the committee chose to do this not just by reading the statements in the minutes, but by showing videos, tweets, and text exchanges. The facts were reported directly, not interpreted by the members of the committee.

The committee could have told the American public that the mob that stormed the Capitol was violent. But they couldn’t have conveyed the gravity of the situation in the same way Edwards did when she testified about her experience during the Jan. 6 attack.

“I was slipping into people’s blood,” she said. “I was catching people as they were falling. It was carnage. It was chaos… Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that as a police officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle.


A battle on many fronts

Ken Hughes, Research Specialist, University of Virginia

Like the televised Watergate hearings half a century ago, the January 6 committee hearings are essential.

But an avalanche of evidence against a president was not enough to secure the republic then, and it is not now.

During the Watergate era, congressional Republicans failed to hold the president accountable until they feared a majority of American voters would hold them accountable for not doing so.

Long before Richard M. Nixon resigned in August 1974, we witnessed televised congressional hearings that revealed evidence of high presidential crimes, heroic investigative journalism, and numerous criminal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.

None of this was enough, so long as Republicans feared their primary voters would punish them for not supporting the president.

With their primaries behind them, these same politicians feared that general election voters, the American majority, would punish them for continuing to support the president, even when his serious crimes were evident.

The revelation of the “smoldering” tape in August 1974 was the occasion for Nixon’s resignation, not the cause.

The Republicans then abandoned the president because they realized that the majority of voters were abandoning them.

What’s different in this era is that the Republican political elites are calculating that they don’t have to serve the majority.

Constitutional provisions designed to protect minority rights – the courts, the Senate and the Electoral College – have become the instruments of minority power.

Even when the majority votes against them, they can control the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate and, through state-level gerrymandering, the House of Representatives.

This is why the fight to preserve the republic is a battle on many fronts, fought not just at the federal level, but in state races and at polling places where votes are counted and certified.