The season finale of the January 6th committee showed Republicans wallowing in the former President’s dishonor.
July 22, 2022
So now we can answer the question: How does democracy die? It dies not in darkness, as the Washington Post’s Trump-era slogan would have it, but in the White House itself, in the private dining room off the Oval Office, with the sound of Fox News blaring in the background.
That private dining room was Donald Trump’s de-facto headquarters for much of his Presidency. It was where he watched television and where he tweeted about what he watched on television—two of the activities that, perhaps more than any others, defined his tenure. It was also where Trump, on January 6, 2021, remained holed up for a hundred and eighty-seven minutes, as his followers stormed the U.S. Capitol, until he finally, reluctantly, released a video urging them to go home and telling them that he loved them.
On Thursday night, the House select committee charged with investigating January 6th concluded a two-month run of blockbuster hearings with a searing, minute-by-minute account of what Trump did—and didn’t do—in the dining room that awful afternoon. The words “dereliction of duty” came up a lot, as did phrases like “stain on our history” and “betrayed his oath of office.” It all added up to a portrait of something that the United States has not seen in its more than two hundred and forty years: a President who abdicated his role as Commander-in-Chief, having unleashed a violent mob of his own making and then chosen to sit by and do nothing as his nation’s Capitol was besieged and overwhelmed by that mob. “President Trump did not fail to act,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, the renegade, anti-Trump Republican from Illinois, who presented much of the evidence on Thursday, said. “He chose not to act.”
The hearing, like the seven that preceded it, was, in all honesty, a bit of a mishmash. There were damning new revelations, greatest-hits reprises, earnest and preachy lectures about the fate of the Republic. There were even moments of cringe-inducing comedy, like the blooper reel of Trump balking, on January 7th, at reading words that his staff had written for him renouncing his rigged-election crusade after the previous day’s debacle. “ ‘Yesterday’ is a hard word for me,” he says. It was as if the screenwriters for “Veep” had conjured the moment. But it was both revelatory and deadly serious to hear Trump, in that previously unreleased footage, refuse to give up his lies. “I don’t want to say the election is over,” he says. Which might as well be Donald Trump’s petulant political epitaph. As unbelievable as it still seems, a year and a half later, America had a President who was willing to burn down democracy itself rather than admit he lost an election.
Of course, the hearing started out with a built-in problem: we already knew that Trump did not do a damn thing to stop the attack on January 6th, and that he had, in fact, incited and encouraged it. It is hard to produce a season-ending cliffhanger when the conclusion is never in doubt. And yet it was still transfixing, and terrifying, to listen as the committee played newly revealed audio and video detailing how Vice-President Mike Pence’s security detail feared they were about to be overrun by the mob—fears so acute, the committee revealed, that some even called their loved ones to say goodbye. We knew, but still it was something to hear the rising terror in their crackling voices, to understand that they had seconds to decide whether to race Pence through to safety or get stuck and risk being overwhelmed by the fast-approaching mob. They chose right, as it turns out, but what if they hadn’t?