Here come the hearings for January 6

The House Select Committee investigating former President Donald Trump’s attempt to void the 2020 election and stay in power despite his defeat — in other words, overturn or effectively overthrow the Constitution — is finally here. ready to present its findings, starting with a prime-time hearing this Thursday. This will be followed by three daytime hearings next week, one more the following week, and then a final prime-time event on June 23. We don’t know everything the committee will come up with, but what we do know is bad enough. Just Security’s Ryan Goodman and Justin Hendrix have a great overview of what’s been revealed so far and the questions that still need to be answered. The first key point: as they say, this is not just the attack on Capitol Hill, “but rather a much broader and multifaceted effort to stop the transfer of power.” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein add context by putting the riot (and Watergate) in perspective as threats to the republic. And while Trump is removed from office, attempts by him and his associates to undermine the rule of law have not diminished. That includes a slew of elected Republicans, and more who are running this year. The subject of these hearings is therefore very serious. Most people, of course, won’t watch these events. And those most likely to seek them out already overwhelmingly believe that Trump is guilty. Still, if the committee does its job, many people who don’t try to watch will still end up seeing clips, highlights, and related coverage. And while a perfect presentation won’t change everything, the Senate Watergate hearings seemed to have had little or no direct effect on Richard Nixon’s popularity; the big changes were driven by events before and after – don’t fall for the cynical idea that the committee doesn’t matter at all. It’s not about mid-terms. No matter how well the committee does its job, the fact is that no one is likely to base their votes on it in November. Most voters are strong supporters who almost always vote for their party, and others have multiple concerns, from inflation and gun safety to abortion and the pandemic. Very few people can be persuaded that their senator or representative is primarily important because of how they would vote on fundamental democratic issues. This is the Republican Party. We can probably divide Republican Party players into three groups. There is a small faction led by Liz Cheney that actively opposes Trump and authoritarianism. There is a larger group, almost certainly less than half the party, that actively supports Trump and his turn against democracy. And then there’s a large middle group, including many business interests, who aren’t thrilled with Trump’s excesses but don’t really think he and his allies are a threat to the Constitution; considers what the Democrats are doing to be similar if not worse; and thinks most of what happens is the normal back and forth of parties seeking an advantage. Many in this group really consider themselves strong proponents of democracy; it is at least possible that they are convinced to try to turn the party around. They are also “neutral” elites, especially in the media. Strong standards within many professions, including in the non-party aligned media, call for neutrality between political parties – but do not require neutrality to the rule of law or democracy. So there is a lot at stake in convincing journalists at these outlets that accurate coverage requires that supporters of Trumpism be treated as opponents of democracy rather than the Democratic Party. These journalists are the one big exception to the general indifference to hearings. They will pay attention and collectively add what they learn to their assessment of what it really means to be neutral. they treat things very differently depending on whether they view them as part of the mainstream or not, which itself is subject to revisions over time. (So, for example, the media used to treat lesbians and gays as crackpots or worse, but now tend to treat opponents of sexual minorities as crackpots or worse; their perception of the mainstream has changed.) It can also be s apply to basic facts. Sometimes the party spin achieves the goal of integrating arguments with facts, and sometimes it fails. If the committee does a good job of presenting the evidence, these reporters will be an open group for persuasion, and that could make a big difference in their coverage in the future. Among others? Even though Republican politicians want to be seen as firmly integrated into the party team, at least some of them are worried about appearing too far removed from the mainstream. I’ve been complaining for months that the committee hasn’t put enough emphasis on its public education rule, and that these hearings are too few, too late. But political scientist Norm Ornstein argues that “by focusing on a powerful narrative and not just on uncooperative witnesses, limiting hearings to accommodate public attention, and doing a few in prime time listen, the committee is doing it the right way. I hope he is correct.

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