The Jan. 6 hearings are exposing just how divided America has become
Last Thursday, the first of seven televised hearings of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack mesmerized many, mortified most and probably made no impact on hardline supporters of former President Trump. Whether Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) or Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) channeled Henry II in thinking “Will no one rid me of this turbulent [president]?” a convincing case was made as to Trump’s disgraceful conduct on that fateful day.
Perhaps most importantly, in this era, when Massive Attacks of Disruption (MAD) have become the looming existential danger to a divided nation, several consequences of this hearing are sadly clear.
First, this and future hearings will further divide, disrupt and alienate Americans over the former president’s behavior. Based on all the evidence in the form of 81 million popular and 302 electoral votes and the sworn testimony of Trump’s Attorney General William Barr and daughter Ivanka, the White House knew the president lost the 2020 election. Yet, Trump continued to insist that he had won.
Whether Trump was using that as an excuse to remain president is unknowable and unprovable. But that leads to the second consequence. This assault on American democracy and the peaceful transition of power has conflicting and explosive legal and political aspects. Will the committee provide sufficient evidence that, if taken to a jury, would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump committed a crime? Or, at a minimum, will the commission’s hearings compel the Justice Department to file charges?
But what about the more sensational and volatile political consequences of the hearings? In Watergate, there was the absolute and agreed upon fact of a crime — the cover-up of the break in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that even President Nixon’s most ardent supporters could not deny. So far, what was Trump’s crime? And if there was one, Trump has already been impeached and acquitted of high crimes and misdemeanors over Jan. 6. Double jeopardy is thus an issue.
The first hearing also ironically answered the question of whether the nation’s political divisions are overstated. Is the nation as divided as it was in 1861 or even 1776, when most American colonists favored remaining part of Great Britain? Or is this phenomenon a consequence of social media and the ubiquitous coverage and sensationalism of the news cycle?
The answer is chilling. Not only is the nation divided on virtually every issue. Every issue has become a single massive attack of disruption. Jan. 6 is just one example.
Consider the past eight decades. In December 1941, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor rallied a highly divided nation over the ongoing war in Europe. More Americans have died of COVID-19 than were killed in battle in every war America fought since 1775. Yet COVID didn’t unite the nation but disrupted and divided it over lock downs, masks, vaccines and super spreader events.
The same divisive effects apply to inflation, immigration, the price of gasoline, mass shootings and guns, gestation periods and transgender rights. The sheer number of divisive issues is unique. Historically, divisions have been dominated by single issues such as states’ rights in 1860 or Vietnam and race a century later. The critical question is whether the Constitution and a system of government based on checks and balances can survive this onslaught of massive attacks of disruption.
Assume Trump truly believed the election was stolen and he was the legitimate president. Does that then give him the authority and reason to use all means, fair or foul, to prove his case and reverse the results? What are the legal and constitutional restraints on a president under these circumstances, if any, despite the unanimous body of evidence and court cases proving well beyond a reasonable doubt that Joe Biden was the duly elected president? If Trump’s actions are allowed to stand, will it mean that there is no rule of law and that the Constitution has been permanently revoked?
The implications are frightening to consider. Yet this is the dangerous state of America today. The Jan. 6 commission opened a Pandora’s box. That will not rid the nation of an ex-president. But it will release all the harpies from a political hell.
Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is senior adviser at Washington, D.C.’s Atlantic Council and the primary author of “shock and awe.” His latest book is, “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and that World at Large.” Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.