The Jan. 6 Committee: An Exercise in Cinematography

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The Jan. 6 Committee sitting at trial (Image Credit: The New York Times)

A Monmouth University poll showed that the July 2021 hearings of the January 6th Committee had little impact on public opinion; the largest numerical shift was that 4% fewer respondents saw Trump as directly responsible. Following the ninth televised hearing on October 13th, 2022, I remain similarly unmoved. I was hoping to see Cheney box Trump there and then; instead, I was met with liberal usage of the “Animations” function in a well-curated PowerPoint. In my opinion, the committee’s good intentions have fallen victim to the machinations of US politics we have come to know so well. Regrettably, I do not believe that the committee has meaningfully furthered (to the public’s knowledge) our understanding of the events of January 6th, 2021. Additionally, no legislative action been taken as a result.

However, my disappointment was anticipated – despite claims of bipartisanship, nothing has been seen across party lines. Republicans filibustered against a dual commission to investigate the attack; Pelosi appointed seven Democrats and Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump, to the new committee; Kevin McCarthy recommended five Republicans, four of whom had voted to overturn the Electoral College results; Pelosi appointed the only other Republican to have voted for Trump’s impeachment, Adam Kinzinger.

Furthermore, these nine individuals are not fully united under the aim of seeking justice; personal agendas have sometimes skewed the focus of the committee. For example, some time has been spent by Liz Cheney defending the Electoral College, a system which Jamie Raskin (another committee member) argues allowed Trump to gain and misuse presidential powers. These are valuable discussions to be had, as the current system has its clear shortcomings; however, the more radical the committee’s recommended changes, the more credibility it will lose among politicians and citizens alike. This catch-22 has only been reenforced by Kevin McCarthy’s election to Speaker of the House.

Thankfully, the committee agrees on the substantiveness of Trump’s role in the events. Nevertheless, an extra effort has been made to portray him as democracy’s kryptonite. Fifteen months have been spent reasserting what they hold to be the truth – Trump’s reaction to his loss prompted the attack on the Capitol. Yet great rhetorical, technological, and cinematographic efforts have been undertaken to explain the Trump administration’s “sophisticated seven-part plan” to overrule the 2020 election, beginning with his efforts to spread misinformation and ending with his inaction during the attack itself.

This process has been so arduous partially due to the committee issuing subpoenas to over one hundred individuals – including sitting House Republicans and the U.S. Secret Service. The call for Trump himself to testify only followed a unanimous vote from the committee at the end of the ninth hearing. This was hailed as a significant achievement of the committee, one that might possibly signify the end of televised hearings. While this might go some way to clarify the circumstances of the attack, Trump is unlikely to appear. Thus, the subpoena, might go no way towards the committee’s central aim – to provide evidence for the Department of Justice. In fact, this might even encourage more divisions, despite the committee’s attempts at bipartisanship; with Trump calling the process a “witch hunt” and some Democrats calling for him to be banned from running for office, the subpoena might have fewer benefits than it seems.

Although the committee has been eager to scrutinise and vilify Trump, this has had an unfortunate side effect. Other members of his clique who also acted unconstitutionally have taken their subpoena as an opportunity to paint their involvement in the campaign, election, and attack in a more flattering light. During the second hearing, William Barr, a former Attorney General fired only two weeks before the attack, suggested that Trump had become “detached from reality” after showing little heed of “what the actual facts were”. However, in the run-up to the 2020 election, “I have common sense” was his rationale for asserting that foreign countries would sway the result with counterfeit ballots, alongside other similar statements echoing Trump’s claims of election fraud. The inconsistency of his and other witnesses’ testimony increasingly mystifies Trump’s behaviour during this crucial period, contrary to the committee’s aims.

Ultimately, these testimonies, and everything else discussed here, is a matter of sides – at this moment, seemingly Trump v. Everyone Else. Sectarianism has haunted the committee throughout its hearings as both sides continue to uphold “the truth”. However, the Jan 6. Committee has neither the setting nor the people to effectively hold Trump accountable. The committee has not been able to convince Trump of his guilt, and I doubt it ever will. Unfortunately, it has managed to shine a light upon the dwindling levels of trust in contemporary politics.

Written by Lyndon Chen

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