Some observations from Thursday night’s prime-time opening hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol:
- Bennie Thompson’s starring role.
It’s ironic that a congressman from a state that voted heavily for Donald Trump is such a prominent figure in exposing the former president’s complicity in the riot.
How the majority of Mississippians stand on the House investigation is better reflected in fellow Rep. Michael Guest’s less-than-stellar showing in Tuesday’s primary than in Thompson’s leading role as chairman of the Jan. 6 committee.
Guest has been forced into a runoff by a little-known challenger, apparently because Guest was one of the few Republicans in the House who voted to create the committee Thompson chairs.
Thompson, in what had to be the most important political performance of the Democrat’s long career in Washington, carried it off well. His opening remarks were powerful, laying out, as did the next-most prominent member of the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney, the major outlines of the case against Trump: that the defeated president was unequivocally told by his own inner circle that Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate but still Trump carried out a public and private campaign to overturn the result; and in one last desperate measure, Trump provoked the violent assault on the Capitol, which he then enjoyed watching from a distance.
- Liz Cheney’s courage.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter may not politically survive bucking her party to serve on the Jan. 6 committee, but she will be judged well historically for doing so.
Cheney is not just standing up to Trump. She is standing up for the principle that defending the Constitution and the democracy that document undergirds is the highest obligation of anyone in public office.
Her chastisement of fellow Republicans, many of whom know better but have been cowed by Trump into doing nothing or even helping to peddle his lies about a stolen election, was especially stinging: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
- Abe Lincoln’s good example.
Even those who supported Trump while in office should be abhorred by his refusal to follow a 2½-century American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.
After elections much closer than the Trump-Biden contest, in times of war and in times of internal strife, the defeated presidential candidate has stepped aside gracefully.
Bennie Thompson told the story of Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of the Civil War thought it unlikely that he would be reelected. Even though Lincoln believed his loss could jeopardize his efforts to defeat the Confederacy and reunite the nation, he wrote down in a sealed memo, months before the election, that he would accept the result and cooperate with the president-elect, if voters decided they no longer wanted Lincoln in charge.
Lincoln, like all presidents before and after except one, understood that for America to not turn into a dictatorship, election results had to be honored, and that it was especially important for those on the losing end of an election to set a gracious example so that those who voted for them would not devolve into a riotous mob.
Trump willfully and with premeditation defied that tradition. The insurrection on Jan. 6 was the direct result of his self-serving defiance.
- Mike Pence’s reward.
Trump’s vice president found out how dangerous it could be to cross Trump.
When Pence refused to cooperate with Trump’s plan to keep Biden’s election from being certified by Congress, Trump set out to make him pay for what the president considered an act of disloyalty. In his speech on the day of the riot, Trump stoked the passions of the crowd against Pence, turning it into a literal lynch mob.
It was shocking to hear, but hardly surprising, that when Trump was told the rioters had constructed a makeshift gallows and were shouting, “Hang Mike Pence!”, the president allegedly seconded the idea.
- The hearing’s “grand jury.”
An NBC political commentator compared the presentations by Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney to the opening arguments of a trial.
A better comparison would be a grand jury proceeding, when only the prosecution gets a chance to present its case.
Unlike a criminal trial or even Trump’s two impeachment proceedings, there was little to nothing offered in the former president’s defense.
The House committee has already reached its conclusion of Trump’s guilt. Thursday’s hearing and those to come later this month will lay out the factual basis for that determination.
The grand jury, in this case, is the American electorate. If it “indicts” Trump, it will do so by defeating those politicians who still pay him homage.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or email@example.com.