We’re only two installments into the limited-run production of the January 6 hearings, and so far, I think they’ve been great. But I also think they’ll leave almost everyone, except for me, unsatisfied.
For many Democrats and Never Trumpers, the hope is—or was—that this would lead to criminal prosecution of Donald Trump. On Sunday, Rep. Adam Schiff chummed the waters for those already ravenously hungry to see the former president in leg chains. Schiff said on ABC’s This Week that he’s seen what he believes to be “credible evidence” that Trump broke the law in his effort to overturn the 2020 election.
Schiff might be right that Trump broke some laws, but if you’ve got your hopes set on Trump filling Truth Social with complaints about the food in the prison commissary, you’re destined for disappointment.
Some Democrats have high hopes that the hearings will rescue the Democrats from electoral catastrophe in the midterms. That’s very unlikely, too. Whatever the hearings do, they won’t solve inflation, the border crisis, crime or Joe Biden’s dismal approval rating.
And some, including me from time to time, had a vague hope that these hearings would so conclusively prove Trump’s lies about the stolen election and his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol that Trump would be permanently discredited and that his defenders would admit their error like Claude Rains in the climactic comeuppance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
That’s not going to happen either, at least not in the satisfying, schadenfreude-rich, cinematic way, we feel we deserve.
But I’ve decided that’s okay.
Because here is what the hearings are well on their way to do: Create a safe space for elected Republicans, activists, and conservative media figures to state openly what many already knew—the election wasn’t stolen, Trump lied about it being stolen, and he bilked hundreds of millions of dollars from the poor marks he conned.
Sadly, very few of them will say it so bluntly. But you can already see the migration out of crazyland. Take Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, who was supposed to testify in person on Monday, but canceled at the last minute because his wife went into labor. Stepien told investigators in taped testimony that he considered himself to be on “Team Normal” as the Trump White House descended into post-defeat madness. Team Normal knew Trump lost and told him so. The implied Team Abnormal included everyone from Rudy Giuliani and the whole Four Seasons Landscaping team to Trump himself.
Stepien is letting himself off the hook more than some would like. The Bulwark’s Tim Miller lays out a good case against Stepien’s hypocrisy and “self-flattery”—for instance, Stepien’s cowardly refusal to correct the record when it mattered. He was willing to privately contradict Trump’s lies but stay quiet about them when they mattered most.
But if you take a step back, Stepien’s rebranding is still a good sign. Most of the pro-Trump “influencers” were always cynical opportunists, letting the political winds guide them. That Stepien wants to publicly declare himself on Team Normal is a sign that the winds are blowing in a better direction.
The same principle applies to many of the witnesses—all from the campaign or the White House—including Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, a once celebrated administration official. Former Attorney General William Barr, long a hero in Trump world, surely broke some congressional hearing record for using the word “bullsh–t” to describe virtually all of Trump’s election fraud claims.
Tucker Carlson and his primetime Fox News colleagues may never give up the dream of convincing their audiences that there’s no “there” there, but Fox’s news side has covered the hearings as, well, news.
And while you might sometimes get the sense from Fox News that the big story out of these hearings is that Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan should have been seated on the panel to represent Team Abnormal, from what I’ve seen, the hosts and the legal experts, not to mention Rupert Murdoch’s other media properties, are perfectly content to let the underlying evidence and testimony go unrebutted, even if they call it “old news.”
In other words, most conservatives, borrowing a tactic from the Clinton impeachment, are arguing that we should “move on” from Trump’s misdeeds. I get why that bothers people—including me—but arguing that we should move on requires conceding the facts of what happened. And that alone would make these hearings worth it.