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Hearing the Jan. 6 Hearings

If they stick to their announced schedule, the House of Representatives’ January 6 Committee will hold public “Hearings” seven times.

The stated goal is to provide a better understanding of who was involved in the storming, invading, and damaging of the U.S. Capitol building on the day seventeen months ago when when Congress was supposed to certify the 2020 Presidential election results.

The unstated goal is to lay most of the blame on former President Trump, whose electoral defeat was obvious to everyone but himself. And, by extension, to associate anyone who still supports Trump with the supposedly fatal “fringe” label. And perhaps along with Trump, inflict upon them criminal indictments.. 

Precedent would seem to indicate there’s a chance for this to happen. Precedent and current practice would seem to indicate it’s highly unlikely.

Hearings like this don’t take place often. When they do, it’s an indication that sometime serious is wrong.

Members of such committees sometimes justify their presence in apocalyptic terms. On the January 6 committee, they’ll ”blow the roof off the House,” said Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin, (who earlier chaired the unsuccessful Congressional attempt to impeach Trump.) January 6 “was a more serious a threat to this country than Watergate,” according to California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, who was a Congressional aide in 1972 when Nixon was threatened with impeachment. (He quit after the Hearings, before he faced trial). 

And in their opening statements, January 6 Committee chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi stated that what went on “should never happen,” while ranking Republican Liz Cheney said it was “an attempted coup.” 

Twenty million people watched the first 90-minute session. Countless millions more read about it in newspapers or on-line. Upcoming meetings will add significantly to the total.

But it’s impossible to say what military activities (Ukraine and beyond); ghastly deprivations of life (mass killings by deranged individuals); or climatic disasters (fires, earthquakes, et al) may vie for attention this summer, while the January 6 hearings continue.

Those of us who’ve lived through a lot of these can be permitted to wonder.

It all started with a change of information delivery systems. Something called “television” went from being in 1% of households in 1945 at the end of World War Two., to 90% of homes in 1951. A Senate Committee held televised hearings on “Organized Crime” 70 times in 16 cities, almost all of them live on the three then-existing networks.

By the time the hearings ended and a report was issued in 1951, 70% of the public knew about what “criminals” were doing, and thought they should be stopped. The Kefauver Committee ended. Organized (and disorganized) crime continued.

We’ve had another seismic shift in information delivery in recent years. Increasingly, the nation is “wired.” People walk down the street with their eyes on their palms, wherein their communications devices reside. They type or talk into them. Are these people more or less “well off”? Do they have more or fewer economic concerns? Do they accept or reject those who are more “like them” in appearance? Are they dreaming more or less about who they love or have loved, or might love? 

The MM (mass media) seem desperate for their divided and subdivided attention.

“Hopscotching the World for Headlines” was the way NBC news began its 15-minute nightly newscast when I was a kid in the 1940s, watching the Kefauver Committee after school, on our tiny, flickering black and white TV. The sponsor was Camel Cigarettes, the newscaster a ”personality,” the mellifluous John Cameron Swayze, who didn’t pretend to be a news specialist.

Let’s see what such a TV personality might find today, were he “hopscotching” the (to me) indispensable NY Times.

Jan. 6 Hearing: A News Event Cast As Drama”

“Cabinet Member Spoke of Ousting Trump Over Riot”

“Trump Snubs His Daughter for Accepting His Defeat”

“We All Have a Duty to Ensure that What Happened on Jan. 6 Never Happens Again”

“Trump, American Monster”

“He’s Not Going Away”

“When It Comes to the Jan. 6 Assault on the Capitol, the Spectacle is the Message”

“After Hearings, a Tenuous Path to Indict Trump”

“Top Lawyer Advised Pence Not to Obstruct Vote Count”

“Businesspeople Can Hire Consultants for Everything—Including Going to Prison”

“The End of Democracy: Looking for Ways to Heal America’s Political Divisions”

“Sentimentializing Slavery: The Racial Song that Became an Anthem”

Grazing behind the headline hopscotch, as NBC TV news didn’t do in my youth, and as TV news, national and local, still doesn’t do today, we find that a consensus has emerged.

Unless the January 6 hearings produce evidence of crimes, unless those crimes are prosecuted, unless those indicted for such alleged criminal activity plead guilty or are convicted, unless the Democratic Party retains control of Congress and its investigative machinery, unless racist, male-dominant behavior is marginalized and denounced, unless socialization in schools and communities turns to elevation of mutual well-being rather than legitimizing personal gratification….

All of that better hurry.

Meanwhile, follow the hearings on your device of choice.

And don’t forget to flush, on your way out!

(Larry Bensky can be reached at LBensky@igc.org.)

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