Commission President Rep. Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson outlined how future hearings would focus on the details of the conspiracy and the careful construction of Trump’s knowing lies — committee members explained that in Trump’s behavior they were a “refined” seven-step plan for annulling the election, but Thursday’s hearing focused primarily on reminding Americans of the interests involved. This was no ordinary political protest. This was no ordinary election loss. Donald Trump’s actions before, during and after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack ended America’s 240-year tradition of peaceful transitions of presidential power.
Instead, Donald Trump began a concerted effort to use the tools of the presidency and the US government to undo the legitimate, authentic election results — though his own staff told him, according to their statements broadcast during the hearing on Thursday. “there wasn’t there.”
First, Trump lied to the public. He then tried to arm the Justice Department to substantiate his lies. He pressured state election officials and lawmakers to embrace far-fetched legal theories and change the election results of their states. His team worked to devise and send invalid voter rolls to Washington, hoping Congress would recognize them and allow him to reverse his loss. He called on supporters and encouraged armed groups to join him in DC on Jan. 6, promising in a tweet that it “will be wild.” He then pressured Vice President Mike Pence to violate his constitutional oath and refuse to confirm valid election results before January 6. aid as the Capitol and the Legislature were violently attacked for hours. Instead, according to the committee, only Vice President Pence — who hid in a secure loading dock in the Capitol after being hastily evacuated from the Senate chamber above — contacted the military and ordered them to respond and secure the Capitol.
All things considered, this is the most daring, calculated, and unconstitutional conspiracy that America has faced in its history—a plan that was much closer to success than anyone ever imagined.
Over the course of those two hours, the commission managed to reframe the national conversation and focus on the true horror of January 6. In doing so, it certainly increased the pressure on the Justice Department, which is conducting an apparently slow parallel investigation that has seen hundreds of low-profile charges and charges against the Jan. 6 rioters, including the to arrest yesterday from a GOP governor candidate in Michigan — and some more serious ones”seditious conspiracycharges against Oath Keepers and Proud Boys leaders. So far, it has stopped penetrating Donald Trump’s motley crew of enablers, scammers and hangers-on.
Despite the shocking clarity of the commission’s opening presentation, it remains uncertain at best whether it will be able to break through America’s political polarization and its increasingly segregated and unequal media ecosystems. Fox News, the only major broadcaster, refused to broadcast the hearings live and instead allowed host Tucker Carlson, who increasingly takes open white nationalist stances, to spew poison on his millions of prime-time viewers during a show from a hours, unusually uninterrupted by advertising.
In many ways, Fox’s decision to double down on Tucker Carlson’s lies Thursday night isn’t surprising. The network’s decision in the weeks following the 2020 election — when Donald Trump built the Big Lie and set the kindling for January 6 — to embrace Trump’s lies and legitimize then-President-elect Joe Biden’s victory makes it all but an unheralded co-conspirator in the Capitol Hill violence.
The challenge America now faces, heading into next week’s follow-up hearings, is that none of us know which part of Donald Trump’s story we live in — the beginning, the middle, or the end? The commission’s job is to persuade America to see January 6 as a turning point, not a warning that we will later say has been ignored.
After all, there is a saying that there is no such thing as a failed coup. A failed coup is just practice.