With half of the six scheduled Hearings by the House Jan. 6 Committee behind us, it’s time for an assessment.
The MMM (mainstream mass media) and what remains of the once robust but never very large print alternative media think so. The unmeasurable (how many people really watch Fox News or read confused, intemperate Tweets?) right-wing media may think so, too. Though using the word “think” in their connection is a stretch. Everyone in the large live TV audience drawn to the relatively brief Jan. 6 Hearings has their favorite moments.
Mine came when Greg Jacob, an obviously uncomfortable but engaging former chief counsel to vice-president Mike Pence testified on Thursday. Jacob is what passes for a standard upwardly mobile Republican lawyer in Washington. He’s 47 years old, from a well-to-do family in suburban Virginia. An atypical graduate of the intellectually distinguished Amherst College he’s also a typical graduate of the right wing legal incubator University of Chicago Law School. He worked with Pence for a little over a year before gravitating to a less stressful job with a staunch Republican law firm in D.C. According to the right-wing lawyer’s club, The Federalist Society, “he regularly defends (businesses and corporations) against Department of Labor investigations for violations of government laws and regulations.” Witness after witness like Jacob, at the Thursday Hearing, (all Republicans and all white men), testified, live and via depositions about the dangerous lunacy that was Trumpland on January 6. Each recounted their experiences and gave their opinions of Trump’s words and behavior as the demonstration turned into a riot. Their conclusions ranged from “Trump was just being his inattentive, deluded self” to “he was behaving like a crazy man, angry, frustrated, dangerous…”
Witnesses described how Trump spent nearly four hours not coming to the aid of his Vice-President. He had to have known, via his Secret Service guards in the White House, that Pence, via his Secret Service guards on Capitol Hill communicating to the Secret Service guards at the White House, was in danger. Jacob says the invasion mob was within forty feet of where he, Pence, and a handful of others, were hiding from that mob, which they could hear shouting things like “Hang Mike Pence!” Trump’s only communication during that time was a Tweet that encouraged the mob. “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”
There were cars waiting to take Pence and his family away from the mob. One of those sheltering with Pence was the Naval officer who carries “the football,” an electronic device that enables a launch of nuclear weapons. It’s usually with the President. Someone – we may find out who as these hearings continue – had gotten it out of Donald Trump’s mercurial clutches into the supposedly safer custody of his Vice-President. But Pence refused to leave the Capitol building. His refusal, and his determination to remain and co-preside over Congress as it ratified the obvious result of the election, is part of what Trump told the mob, and keeps repeating, Pence had a “lack of courage.” “Courage,” for Trump, would have meant Pence violating his oath to defend the country against its enemies, and uphold the United States Constitution. The country’s enemies, having lost the election, wanted to hang the man who Trump was encouraging them to think of as an enemy. Pence (and also House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to an informant among those storming the Capitol) were targets because of what they didn’t do: violate their oaths of office.
As Jacob described the dangerous and dramatic scene, I thought back to my own Capitol Hill days, as anchor for the Iran-Contra hearings radio broadcasts 25 years ago. I knew the rooms where Pence had taken shelter. They were off a loading dock, two irregular stories and several dark and narrow passageways below the Senate chambers. My producer for the since disappeared Pacifica Radio network and I had to navigate through those “crypt” passageways two or three times a week. We needed to steer bulky carts loaded with equipment (live broadcasts in those days involved a now obsolete quantity of tape recorders, mixing consoles, telephones, headsets and big coils of electric and audio wires). Because the Iran-Contra Hearings - unlike the current January 6 Committee - were conducted by a Senate and a House Joint Committee our live broadcasts had to shift buildings, as a gesture to the supposedly equal authority of both parts of Congress. Going from one side of the Capitol to the other always involved passing through where Pence, Jacob, the “nuclear football” et al would shelter a quarter of a century later. For Pence, it was a matter of life and death. Jacob estimates there was just forty feet between his cohort and the rioters seeking them out.
If the Republican Party had a leader – which it doesn’t – and simple electoral sense – which it also now lacks – they would immediately be trying to unite behind Pence as a 2024 Presidential nominee. It’s hard to see how Joe Biden, if he’s the Democratic nominee, would be able to defeat a perceived man of great rectitude, who would pummel Biden with references to Covid mandates, Gun Violence, Inflation, and mini-terrorists sprouting nonsense and erupting into occasional violence.
So if there’s a hero here, for now it would seem there’s something of a consensus that it’s Mike Pence. Though that will have to be rethought if Pence continues to state, as he does in current Weekend Wall Street Journal (“Pence Hits the 2024 Trail, Carefully”): “The President and I were working shoulder to shoulder, and we delivered for the American people.” For Pence, it just comes down to “different styles.” Better choices for such a hero would be the Democratic Chair of the Jan. 6 Hearings, Bennie Thompson, and its Vice-Chair, Republican Liz Cheney. Each has spoken forcefully and to the point about January 6 and what their committee has found and will continue to explore for its final report, due in September. Thompson has an impressive background, as a descendant of slaves who continues to serve in government with distinction, and has lived his entire life in the same small Mississippi town where he was born. Cheney has broken with the reactionary Republican Party typified by her father, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a staunch supporter of corporate America and its enabling militarism. He’s also a staunch opponent of environmentalism and workers’ rights. Liz Cheney has a well-funded very Trumpy opponent in the August Wyoming Republican primary.
The three more sessions of the January 6 Hearings will tell us a lot more about Trump’s dangerous mess and irresponsible, if not crazy, behavior. But we are now not only at the midpoint of these public hearings but also at an equidistant time between January 6, 2021 and November 8, 2024, the next Presidential election. Seventeen months is a long time to wait for a full (if not complete) chronicle of a major historical event. It’s also a long time to calibrate the future parameters of government, with an election that may well take place while Trump and others are facing legal proceedings resulting January 6.
More Trumpism without Trump? Or?
(Larry Bensky welcomes your comments and questions: LBensky@igc.org)