The Select Committee

      2 Comments on The Select Committee

I am watching bits of the hearing of the Select Committee on January Sixth—I’m not entirely sure I think the House is handling this in the best way right now, but somehow I keep getting all teary-eyed about the whole thing.

Among the problems is that the putsch attempt was simultaneously a terrifying assault on America that did quite a bit of real harm and nearly did much more, and also a pathetic handful of deluded losers who were never any threat to the country at large. It’s clearly very important to know what precisely happened, and to make clear to all of us what happened, so that there isn’t any significant force to ‘alternate facts’ about the events of the day. It’s also a good idea to know what procedurally worked and what did not, so that the Capital and other seats of government and the people who work in them are prepared against future putschists. The truth is that if it weren’t for some good luck, some good thinking, and an incredible amount of restraint by the law enforcement officers on the spot, there would have been a whole lot of dead people that day, most of them on the side of the putsch.

At the same time, there was never any possibility that the day would end with the putsch in charge and the elected federal legislature out of power. There was never any possibility that the election would be thrown out and the votes of the electors rejected. As much damage as the putschists did, and as much more as they were likely to do, none of it was any kind of threat to the ultimate transfer of power to the new President, or to the country as a whole. We’ve seen how successful coups work; we know what a leader needs for a successful autogolpe. This crew ain’t it. They were, and are, a weak and tiny fringe. They’re not entirely powerless, but the power they have is to disrupt and damage, not destroy, and certainly not to build.

This is, I have to say, the same feeling I had after a different group of pathetic losers destroyed the World Trade Center—it was a terrifying assault on America that did real harm, but it was never a threat to the country as a whole. I was worried (and stayed worried) that portraying them and their supporters in Al Qaeda and elsewhere as some sort of existential threat, as a hugely powerful force that was on the verge of destroying the entire American government, made them actually attractive to a wider range of people who disliked us but generally acquiesced to our hegemony. I don’t know if that happened, or if a different narrative would have had any different result, but I’ve never been convinced that our reaction was the better one. Similarly, I feel as if we are running the risk of making the putschists attractive to a wider range of people vulnerable to fascist appeal, by suggesting, as I’ve seen done, that ‘next time’ such an attempt might ‘succeed’. My instinct is to portray the putschists as they actually are: deluded dopes, so far outside the mainstream of ordinary Conservatism (to say nothing of the country at large) that they couldn’t even understand that the Party leaders were going to obey the law, so pathetically useless that they couldn’t even delay the acclimation of Joe Biden as President by a single day, and so contemptible that even their leaders who brought them together couldn’t be bothered to march with them or back them up.

All of this, of course, is my fussing over how my Party should attempt to control a narrative that is already well beyond them. And which they (and we) are specifically ill-placed to control anyway—anyone who believes that the election was not counted properly through the intervention of Democrats and RINOs, or that the Deep State conspired with legislators to thwart the President’s agenda, is not going to be persuaded by any framing of any kind coming from me or my Party. Even if they should happen to learn about that framing in the first place, which there’s no reason to believe they would.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “The Select Committee

  1. Chris Cobb

    I’ve been working on and off on a comment in response to this post for a couple of days, and I always end up with something that’s too long. So here’s an attempt at something shorter.

    The seriousness of the insurrection’s attack on democracy is not measured by the quality of the persons who carried it out. They were “pathetic deluded losers,” but they did very serious harm to the country. The Jan. 6 insurrection did threaten the U.S. as a whole in ways that the 9-11 terrorist attacks did not because the insurrection was quite effectively designed to disrupt the functioning of representative democracy under the rule of law, whereas 9-11 merely struck at the symbols of U.S. hegemony. The insurrection succeeded in disrupting the work of democracy for no more than half a day, but even that was traumatic, and if they had gotten their hands on some number of Members of Congress, they could have created weeks or months of chaos in the federal government, which would have heightened the likelihood of chaos and violence outside of Washington, D.C. as well. Although the attack was largely carried out by useful idiots who were hung out to dry after they had performed their function, the operatives who orchestrated the insurrection were skilled and dangerous. They need to be identified and, so far as possible, brought to justice.

    To place this frame on the insurrection is, I think, exercising considerable control over the narrative. The purpose of that control is not to sway those “vulnerable to fascist appeal” — I agree with you that this frame does not accomplish that — but rather to keep everyone else committed to doing what is necessary to protect U.S. democracy. The more people stay focused on the Jan. 6 insurrection and the seriousness of its attack on U.S. democracy, the more the Democratic Party’s base will stay unified and committed, the more Independents will continue preferring the Democratic Party, and the longer the Republican base will stay divided and demoralized. Despite the shows of unity among Congressional Republicans and their efforts to make apostates of Cheney and Kinzinger, a significant minority of the Republican Party did not like what they saw on Jan. 6 at all and wants to be rid of Trump. If the Republican leadership can’t quit Trump and can’t reject the Jan. 6 insurrection, that damages their electoral prospects significantly. The pressure on the Republican Party has to be kept up until it is more electorally painful for them to stay allied with the fascists than it is for them to break with the fascists. Since the first impeachment, the Democratic Party has been essentially saying to the Republicans, “So, are you going to ditch the fascists?” and the Republican Party has said, “No, we would lose!!” They have then proceeded to lose. So far, they think they are not losing as badly as they would if they ditched the fascists, and they are trying to shape the electorate so that they don’t need to get majorities to win. As the Republicans face 2022 with the Select Committee at work, with several hundred insurrectionists being tried and convicted by the bucketload, with their unscrupulous attorneys getting disbarred, and with the legal noose tightening around Trump himself, the pressure to ditch the fascists to save the Republican Party will continue to increase. That’s what I think Democratic control over the narrative outside of the conservative news bubble is accomplishing, and the penetration of this frame into that bubble has the possibility of increasing as a result of the Select Committee’s ability to do its work without providing a stage for Jim Jordan’s gaslighting antics.

    That’s how I see the Select Committee at this point in time.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      I am largely in agreement with your comment—I am not entirely convinced that the people who orchestrated the putsch were skilled, although they were and remain dangerous. I do think that investigation into those people is vital, and I think it’s surprising that we don’t know more than we do about it all.

      And I do think that the Republican Party is divided over how to treat both the putsch itself and whatever has evolved from the ‘alt-right’, and that it’s important both politically and for the sake of the entire nation to press on that fault line in hopes that it will break (and in further hopes that the putschists will be the smaller part after the break).

      And yet, is the Select Committee pressing in the right place, or with the right angle? The people who are making those decisions are smarter than me and better informed, but that doesn’t actually mean that they’re right. In this case, I’m afraid that they are too close to the center to see it clearly, or that they are focused on part of it at the expense of the rest. At any rate, the first hearing—which was oddly timed, honestly, since the Committee had barely staffed up and was unprepared to follow up that hearing with any further adjustment of that pressure—kept veering from what seemed to be its best and most useful purpose: to show how bad the putsch was, how vile and violent and vicious the behavior of the putschists. Even I was surprised by the extent of it, honestly—some of that video, particularly, was startling to me. And given both the outright lies and the perhaps more forgivable reluctance to credit the severity of the events, the Committee provided a much-needed corrective. But, of course, they will have to do it again, because people will forget, and block it out, and be lied to. And there’s a risk, at least, that when they do it again, journalists and their editors—and social media elites—will consider it old news and not shine lights on it.



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